Michael Harper “The Waterbowl” Essay, Research Paper
I have selected the poem titled “The Waterbowl” by Michael S. Harper from his collection Dear John, Dear Coltrane. Part of the reason why I have selected this poem is for its simplicity. Simplicity is a quality that I truly value in poem. I feel that poetry is left much more to the unsaid and the senses which the words of the poem trigger. In “The Waterbowl,” the simplicity of the poem can be seen through the elementary vocabulary used in each short line. The line breaks also add on to the whole simplicity effect by creating short lines with one main idea for every two lines, “…her eyes had turned the color of okra…there is no love in those eyes…” This break down allows the reader to easily process the information. In addition, more weight is given to each image and detail because of the emphasis that the line break creates and gives.
One aspect that I really like about this poem is the use of concrete details to create an image. Since I find it hard to do this in my own poetry, I felt that “The Waterbowl” was a good poem to look at since it uses this literary tool to make the poem work. Harper offers concrete details such as “her eyes turned the color of okra,” “I took her pock-boned jaws,” “a mussel clamped into darkness,” and “two matchsticks in a bowl of water.” All these details are concrete and are able to create an image for the reader. The paradoxical or ironic thing is that Harper uses these concrete images to lead the reader to an abstract image of “there is no love in those eyes, only loss, pregnant with intelligent shame.”
Lastly, another aspect of “The Waterbowl” is the use of metaphors. The most interesting part of the use of metaphors is to be able to draw similarities between two things that do not seem to have anything in common. For example, Harper compares eyes to waterbowls. Who would have thought of a pair of eyes as a container of water? However, this comparison works because eyes are containers of tears and that is what the poem is describing. Harper then takes this metaphor further by adding in the matchsticks, “…her eyes two matchsticks in a bowl of water,” which he compared to a pair of eyes so tightly shut, “like a mussel clamped into darkness,” that they are reduced to a mere slit which resemble matchsticks. In addition the simile “like a mussel clamped into darkness” which Harper uses to describe the tightly shut eyes is a very effective comparison because mussels are very known for their unyielding strength to hold their shell shut, it is one of nature’s defensive mechanisms. And in a way, Harper is also associating this idea of the defense mechanism when he compares the sad eyes to the mussels — it closes itself to separate itself from the outside world and to protect itself from getting hurt.
With Harper’s use of the metaphor, simile, and concrete details, the poem, “The Waterbowl” succeeds in creating the image of “there is no love in those eyes, only loss, pregnant with intelligent shame.”