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Edith L. Tiempo's “Bonsai”

Updated on January 1, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edith L. Tiempo

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Bonsai"

Tiempo's speaker in "Bonsai" offers a fascinating notion 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 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."

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.

Musical Interpretation of Tiempo's "Bonsai"

Commentary

First Versagraph: Folding 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" 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.

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. 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.

The speaker folds these items in order to, "To scale all love down / To a cupped hand's size." 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.

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 massive 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.

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 will 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." And she adds, "All life and love are real / Things you can run and / Breathless hand over / To the merest chid."

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."

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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