The Things We Love, We Let Them Be Essay Examples
Billy Collins’ “Bread and Butter” exudes an effortless simplicity that gracefully lends to its deeper, more delicate meaning. The underlying poise with which the narrator expresses his sentiments allows the reader to feel at ease and comfortable with the universal ideas being shared, while the use of literary tools such as point of view, symbolism, and imagery, serve to communicate a message that is best felt in the heart rather than heard by the mind.
In the first stanza, the narrator uses vivid imagery to bring the reader into an intimate setting when he says, “You could hear the ocean from my room.” Without hesitation, the narrator invites the reader to feel the warm closeness of the room. Using the second person point of view immediately allows the reader to feel involved with the scene. Combining the second person point of view with the first person point of view magnifies the connection that the reader feels with the narrator. The guesthouse room, a place where he says he “often stayed,” feels like a place that is convincingly close to his heart, a place where he has spent many nights like the one he is describing. The detail of the room being in a guesthouse suggests that the narrator returns to this place every so often, to retreat and find reprieve from the bustle of everyday life back home. The fact that it is a place he does not reside on a daily basis adds to the sense of stillness and centeredness that can arise within only when one removes himself from the apathy and stresses that often plague one’s day-to-day existence. Furthermore, the narrator invites the reader to join him in his almost sacred relationship with the ocean. The lulling sounds of the ocean combined with the intimacy of the scene offers the reader the opportunity to audibly enjoy the distinct echo of the sea. “That constant, distant, washy rumbling” reveals the narrator’s deep connection to the ocean. Using “that” to point to the ocean shows a closeness, a kind of remembering again and again of the effect this natural wonder has on him. The distance he speaks of adds to the grandness of the ocean and how it can feel so near to him, near enough to be heard by his own ears, yet feel so distant because of its unspeakable grandness. The mysteries of the deep, dark ocean are endless, and the distance affords not only a reverence to this natural element of life, but also a kind of humility that naturally separates the two forms of existence in size and importance. It is as if the narrator gains a better perspective of his significance in the world, which can often swell in the localized attention of his individual existence, when he is near the ocean. By experiencing its bigness, he can experience his smallness. In this, he is able to find peace again. Moreover, the “washy rumbling” allows for the power of the ocean to cleanse his soul and wash away the debris of an aggrandized ego. “Under the world,” the ocean remains, reminding the reader that there is a deeper meaning to all the events of our existence, all the happenings that demand our attention and drain our life energies. The reader is made aware that natural law supersedes all the petty concerns of human beings, and that no matter what occurs, there is an order to existence that cannot be thwarted.
In the second stanza, he narrator says that he “would sometimes slide back the glass door,” depicting a scene that shows the separation—physical and emotional—that houses can provide. The glass door allows the inhabitant to feel like he is still in the world, yet safe and separate enough to feel privacy and protection. By opening the door, the narrator is once again uniting himself with the outside world. The imagery remains strong here, as the reader can almost feel the fresh air on his face as he imagines the narrator sliding back the door. Standing on the deck “in a thin robe” symbolizes his nakedness as well as his diminishing separation from the natural world. He is barely covered, almost bare, and therefore utterly vulnerable to what lies before him. More than just a physical nakedness, here we see the symbol of emotional bareness, as he allows his self, and only his self, “just to be under the stars again or under the clouds.” There is no expensive clothing, adorned personality or golden set of achievements to hide behind. It is just he, and the stars or the clouds. To feel nature’s embrace again affords him to the ultimate freedom, one that the reader is able to experience alongside him.
In the third stanza, he brings in another element of existence—animals—and invites their wordless expression to add more simplicity to the poem’s already succinct nature. He extends his reverence for the ocean, the stars, and the clouds by naming the mother “brave,” as she cares for her pups, “all white” in their pureness, “bearded” in their experience, and “low to the ground” in their humbleness. The stark irony here is that these animals, looked down upon by ignorant human beings, serve a natural order of the universe that man seems to feel he is exempt from. The narrator’s attempts to pay more attention to the dogs “on the property,” which is man-made and of private nature, provides even more irony, as the reader experiences the respect and wonder that he feels for these creatures that man believes he is above.
In the fourth stanza, the reader feels a sudden shift. The first person point of view continues to provide an intimacy to the poem, a mixture of outside observation and personal experience for the reader. “And now something tells me that I should make / more of all of that,” he says, expressing a sudden impulsion to not simply pass by the experience before him. The reader experiences the gift of the present, the lessons that lay in between fleeting moments. The narrator brings the reader alongside him, to move “down and inward where a poem is meant to go.” The irony here is that the narrator makes it clear that this is a poem, which is slightly jarring to the reader who has since experienced crisp imagery and a collaborative point of view so as to feel like it is not merely a poem, but a visceral experience. In fact, this bit of irony provides even more humanity to the narrator’s voice, inviting the reader even closer to his soul.
In the last stanza, the narrator offers perhaps the most poignant thoughts about life. “But this time I want to leave it be,” he says, reminding the reader that oftentimes the best thing to do with the things we love is to simply leave them alone. Our frenzied attempts to extract as much meaning from wordless nature, in most cases, deadens the event that is meant to simply be experienced. “The sea, the stars, the dogs, and the clouds” are all elements of life that are, at their core, inexpressibly beautiful and gifts in and of themselves. The intimacy with which he concludes that he will leave these tokens of existence, “just written down, folded in fours, and handed to my host,” provides such affection inwardness that the reader feels he has almost been embraced by the words of the narrator. To be folded four times, and presented as a humble gift to his host, symbolizes the same serenity and poise that first drew the reader in.
Billy Collins commands a serene, intimate voice while masterfully using rich imagery, effective point of view, meaningful irony, and poignant symbolism to weave a poem that does not boast many words, but rather offers the heart and soul of a man that is full of hope, beauty, and faith.
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