Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sunflower by Tita Lacambra Ayala (Poem) - Literary Analysis

I've heard (or read) a few times that Sunflower is supposed to be Ayala's first poem. Not only that, it's also her favorite or one of her favorites. I won't be surprised if these are indeed true. Sunflowers seem to be the flora she adore the most. After all, she has written a whole collection of poems around these gigantic organic yellow discs.

by Tita Lacambra Ayala

Poised to the sun, like warning of violence,
its neck arches subtly hiding there
whatever wistfulness it has from
the uninvolved eye. And its worship
is gay, bedecked in reflected sunshine,
honest as dress of green the coolness
of rivers. This is the plant of courage
growing rank among the stones (how well
it hides the bitter of its sap) preening
without pretense, loving itself as much
as the source of its roots and ends
in whatever season or age, warming
November and December’s gloom like,
wherever it can, a piece of sun.

Notes and Analysis / Study Guide for Students

- There are a few words in the poem that might require definition for an easier understanding of the poem's flow. Wistfulness - full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy. Rank - offensive in odor or flavor. Preening - to make oneself sleek. Take the time to internalize what these words mean then go back to the poem.

- What is the theme or meaning of the poem? The poem is basically a tribute by the poet to a flower that she loves. Think of it as a love letter by the poet to the reader announcing her adoration for the flower. The poem is almost like a list enumerating the attributes of the flower. It's like the poet is seeking validation from the reader that the sunflower is indeed a "piece of the sun". An alternative title for the poem could've been "The Sunflower is Just Awesome".

Understanding Phrases from the Poem

1. like warning of violence - The sunflower has an almost threatening stance when leaning towards the sun. Google images of "sunflowers" right now and stare at them for a while. They do look like a mob, don't they?

2. bedecked in reflected sunshine - The sunflower is awash in light. There's yellow everywhere.

3. plant of courage growing rank among the stones preening without pretense - Sunflowers are among the few flowers that don't smell good. Some hate them for how they smell. It's not "bad bad" but "enough bad" to make you not like them. The poet is saying that the sunflower is courageous for growing and showing off without pretense even though it doesn't smell as good as other flowers. I guess you could say that there is a moral lesson hidden somewhere in there. Something about being comfortable in your own skin. Don't smell as good as the rose or the sampaguita? Don't take it as a problem but as a source of pride. "Preen without pretense" like the sunflower.

4. warming November and December's gloom - Sunflowers bloom in the ber months which are usually cold and gray months. Like pieces of the sun, sunflowers offer some sort of respite to the enveloping gloom.