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Early In The Morning

Li-Young Lee

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2002-04-11
Added by: Melanie
I really enjoyed this poem. I read it for a poetry project.
Explication of Early in the Morning
2005-01-02
Added by: Lilly
Explication of “Early in the Morning”

In “Early in the Morning,” Li-Young Li uses the speaker’s retrospective account to support his precociousness as a child. The poem reveals what the child’s explanation is of a simple task’s sole purpose. By providing examples of Asian traditions, this poignant poem also embraces Li-Young Lee’s love for the Chinese culture. The use of diction and various types of imagery throughout “Early in the Morning” creates the themes of family and memory that are commonly present in Lee’s poems.
Both the title and the first stanza set the time for the beginning of the poem. Rice is a staple of Asian meals and is prepared in the start of morning in time for breakfast. The Winter Vegetable is another name for the Chinese vegetable bok choy, or Chinese cabbage. It is commonly eaten salted but can also be eaten unsalted in salads or dipped in sauces. This preparation takes approximately an hour; therefore, the description tells the reader how early before breakfast the setting is. The last account for the time of day is the introduction of birds. With the emergence of the morning sun, birds awaken and reveal their presence with their chirping or physical appearance. The setting is not only in the morning, but early within this time frame. Lee expresses this with common Chinese routines and the role nature plays in the persona’s life. The ivory comb put in contrast against the mother’s black hair provides visual imagery to assist the reader in vividly understanding the action. The description of hair being the color of calligraphy ink further emphasizes the deep contrast between the hair and comb; this also presents a reference to Lee’s Asian culture. Calligraphy is an art that the Chinese associate with beauty, agility and respect, all of which are characteristics of the mother.
After the time of the setting is introduced, the poet “zooms out” from the mother combing her hair, to the mother sitting on the bed with her husband. The child’s father is intent on his wife and the morning silence permits the sound of the comb against her hair to be heard. In turn, we can tell the child is not only watching his mother comb her hair, but also watching his father watching the mother. This action signifies the relationship among the members of the family. The father and son may seem aloof, but the intimacy between the husband and wife is apparent and strengthens throughout the poem.
The mother’s routine is meticulously explained like a set of instructions of how to neatly and efficiently put up one’s hair (Galens). This routine pleases the father because he explains, “..it is kempt” (20). Kempt means neat in appearance and this may be representative of a hypocritical characteristic of the Chinese, who are known to be overly concerned about organization (Galens). Lee compares the way her hair falls to how the curtain falls in the evening. The father pulling the pins out represents the intimacy (with sexual connotations) between the couple in the evening and after they close the curtains for privacy. The child is not fooled by the father’s reason for why he likes her hair kempt. He knows it is because of how his mother’s hair falls, but it is not clear whether the child is pointing out the connotations or if the father is aware of his unconscious desires.
Throughout “Early in the Morning,” sound, taste and sight imagery is used in order for the reader to become involved with the poem, as if he or she is in the situation and experiencing what the persona is. The sound of rice cooking and the mother combing her hair, the taste of the vegetable and the views provided all assist the reader in understanding the culture and relationship Lee portrays through this poem. In most of Li-Young’s poems, the persona is commonly himself and the situations presented are experiences that Lee encountered. Lee chose this specific memory of his family to write about because it remains significant to him now. Through other published anthologies (The Winged Seed and The City in Which I Love You), it is apparent that the emotional bond between his parents has been absorbed and carried to his adulthood.
Li-Young Lee shows intimacy in the relationship between father and mother through the action of combing hair. The persona in “Early in the Morning” is a child who is able to look past his father’s reasoning for having pleasure in seeing the mother’s hair “kempt”. The child’s acknowledgement of the true reasoning leads the reader to believe that he has experienced loss of innocence and coming of age.

*I just wanted to see if turnitin.com would kill me for putting this in here .. mwahahaha
I did Li-Young Lee for a poetry project, Mrs. Glucksman's class in LHS. He's a cool guy.

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