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Edith L. Tiempo's "Bonsai"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "Bonsai"

In four variably metered and unrimed versagraphs, the speaker in Edith L. Tiempo’s "Bonsai" offers an idiosyncratic and fascinating method for coping with her feelings. She claims metaphorically to be shrinking her emotions in order to render them more manageable; thus, she titles her strange tradition "Bonsai," after the tree that is nurtured to remain miniature.

The speaker represents her feelings through things that can be folded and easily kept in small places. And she freely admits that the purpose for such odd action is to gain "heart's control." Thus, by implication, the speaker is admitting that she is of a very emotional temperament. She must take steps to quell her overworked, lavish life of the heart.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Bonsai

All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe

All that I love?
Why, yes but for the moment-
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note, or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a young queen
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size.

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
All life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest chid.

Reading of "Bonsai"

Commentary

Metaphorically, the speaker is likening the act of folding and downsizing mementos representing her love and affection to the shrinking and limiting of the feelings accompanying those things. Her act of "bonsaing" things has become her unique way of controlling her emotion.

First Versagraph: Folding the Things She Loves

All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe

In the first versagraph of Edith L. Tiempo's "Bonsai," the speaker quizzically asserts that she folds up things that she loves, and then she places each item in some small, tight place. She adds that she may even place some items in a "hollow post."

At first, the speaker's strange declarations appear to be a bit frivolous; putting a little folded up note which you love into a "hollow post" may, at first seem, a bit bizarre, especially in conjunction with the next line wherein she claims that she might also place some small item in her shoe.

But the acts perfectly reflect the fact that the speaker is dramatizing and describing overemotional states that would cause likely irrational acts. The frenzied desire to quell overemotional states that may lead to heartache cannot be qualified or quantified but must remain uniquely idiosyncratic as they relation to each individual.

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The speaker is dramatizing her own felt experience—not attempting to insist on a universal, over-arching truth that holds for all other sentient beings who all have their own unique ways of meeting the challenge of emotional responses and reactions.

Second Versagraph: Recognizing the Bizarre Act

All that I love?
Why, yes but for the moment-
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note, or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a young queen
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It does seem that the speaker is anticipating being questioned about her odd claims; thus, she reiterates her opening line, adding a question mark: "All that I love?" Thus, as she pretends to answer the question, the result seems to contradict her original claim. She has said that she keeps those items in that small place, "but for the moment." But then she quickly adds the contradiction, "And for all time, both."

Clearly, at least in the literal sense, this time distinction is impossible. Thus, again the frenzy of emotion overtaking the mental facility becomes apparent. And while the speaker remains aware of her somewhat contradictory admission, she also remains resolute that she is merely dramatizing her experience, no advocating it.

The speaker then catalogues a few of the items that are examples of those easy folding, easy kept ones, from a note from her son to a "money bill." These are a few of the items that the speaker says she folds up and retains in a box, a hollow post, or perhaps her shoe.

Such intriguing behavior begs questions of why does the speaker place such heavy emphasis on shrinking items? And why does she find it necessary to fold and horde in tiny locations?

Third Versagraph: Keeping Control Over Emotion

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size.

Answers or possible answers soon become apparent as the drama continues. The speaker folds these items in order to make them small, that is, small enough to hold in one hand.

And why would she want to do that? She calls this act one of "utter sublimation" which indicates that she needs to refine and maintain power over her own emotional well-being. That she knows that this act is necessary for her gives her great emotional power that otherwise might slip out of control, had she failed to discover her workable technique.

The title of the poem then becomes realized: the bonsai tree is created by horticulturists who dwarf the tree, thus keeping it small. Such a feat requires masterful control over the nature of the tree, which would grow to an enormous size without being manipulated by the scientist.

The speaker is metaphorically likening her clipping her emotions to keep them within her control to the horticulturist’s clipping and controlling the size of the tree. The useful metaphor is skillfully employed by the speaker’s control of both her emotions and her dramatic representation of her act.

Fourth Versagraph: The Ability to Achieve Evenmindedness

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
All life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest chid.

Items that can be folded such as notes, ties, shawls, and money metaphorically exist to stand in for other things that signal the emotions of the speaker. Emotions can bring out the wild nature of the human being; they can lead one into areas where one does not want or need to venture. But if each individual is able to just "sublimate" them, that is, shrivel them down to a manageable size, one can control them as the horticulturist does the bonsai.

After the speaker shrinks the emotional entities of her life, she can control her emotional life, which will become "real." Thus, she concludes that there is reality in life and love, and there are things that represent that life and love, and because she has kept those things manageably small, she can bring them forward and hand them over even to a young child.

The bonsai metaphor also represents more than just the physical items such as notes and ties; it also represents slices of life experience that may need to be explained to a young child such as granddaughter or grandson.

The speaker, because of her ability to bonsai, then possesses the ability to explain her life and love even to the very young child. To that end, she has become like the "bonsai" artist/scientist to keep her life simple, no doubt, in poems that are orderly and at any given moment at the ready to "hand over."

Edith L. Tiempo

Edith L. Tiempo

Musical Interpretation of Tiempo's "Bonsai"

Questions & Answers

Question: Why did she fold them up?

Answer: She folds them up so they will fit in a box or in a slit in a post.

Question: Why did Edith L. Tiempo consider it sublimation in her poem "Bonsai?"

Answer: The speaker is dramatizing her novel way of coping with emotions.

Question: What is the main theme of Edith L. Tiempo's “Bonsai”?

Answer: The theme of Edith L. Tiempo's "Bonsai" is control of emotions.

Question: What is the inspiration of Edith Tiempo for writing the poem, "Bonsai"?

Answer: In Edith Tiempo's "Bonsai," the speaker is motivated to share her odd penchant for shrinking the details of her life.

Question: Who is the person of Edith L. Tiempo's “Bonsai” poem?

Answer: The only person in Edith L. Tiempo's "Bonsai" is the speaker.

Question: Why does the speaker in Tiempo's "Bonsai" miniaturize love?

Answer: The speaker is describing her method for coping with her feelings. She tries to shrink her emotions to make them more manageable; thus, she titles her strange tradition "Bonsai," after the tree that is nurtured to remain miniature. The speaker also represents her feelings through things that can be folded and easily kept in small places. And she freely admits that the purpose for such odd action is to gain "heart's control."

Question: What does the title symbolize?

Answer: The title, "Bonzai," represents cultivated smallness.

Question: Why did she consider it sublimation?

Answer: Because she thought that the act of making things small would render her feelings more acceptable and controllable.

Question: What things did the speaker love and fold up?

Answer: In Edith L. Tiempo's "Bonsai," the speaker says in the opening line that she folded up, "All that she loved."

Question: Who are the characters in Edith L. Tiempo's “Bonsai”?

Answer: The only "character" involved in Tiempo's "Bonsai" is the idiosyncratic speaker. The final line mentions a child, but it is a random, generalized child, "merest child," and thus doesn't appear long enough to qualify as a participant in the drama of the poem.

Question: What thing did the speaker love and fold up in Tiempo's "Bonsai"?

Answer: She says in the first line that she folded up, "All that I love." Therefore, according to the speaker herself, she folded up everything that she loved.

Question: What things does the speaker consider important to keep?

Answer: She wishes to keep mementos that remind her of her love for her loved ones.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on December 11, 2018:

Yes, poems can be fun and entertaining as well as poignant and profound. In this poem, the speaker desires the ability to explain her life and love even to the very young child. To that end, she attempts, like the "bonsai" artist/scientist, to keep her life simple, no doubt, in poems that are orderly and at any moment at the ready to "hand over." It is marvelous that she feels she can accomplish this task with poetry.

Thanks, Charity, for your response, and have a blessed day!

charity mtisi from Johannesburg on December 11, 2018:

Nice pice. I have always liked poems.. Thanks

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