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1. The reason I chose to analyze “You can Fall a Long Way in Sunlight” by Robert Hass in his book The Apple Trees atOlema: New and Selected Poems is because of the intriguing theme, which contains hidden messages and meaning. Being special to me because of its spiritual nature, the poem’s theme explores spiritual opposites: life vs. death-the sharp contrast between the dead and those enjoying life without them. Portrayed as a narrative poem, its spirituality is not blatant and needs to be searched for. My own life mirrors this as my beliefs and spirituality is not boldly visible and needs to be searched in order to be understood by others.
2. Intrigued by the concept of life and the hereafter, I often find myself comparing and contrasting this topic by researching various religious institutions. However, what I find comfort in most is my own ideas derived from art, including poetry. That is the main reason this poem attracted me I found a new interpretation of death and life between the lines. The narrator of the poem, the invisible voice is hidden behind a grim reaper’s mask in my mind, standing and silently watching the poem’s characters. I let him speak directly to me, allowing him to enlighten me with his knowledge of the unseen world.
3. Speaking in a “matter-of-fact” tone, the grim reaper tells me, “The ones who didn’t take the old white horse/Took the morning train,” and he does not have to explain as I understand the grim tone of his voice. He is warning that whichever reason a person misses death by; it will catch up with him or her through another path. Pointing to cemetery decorated with white-washed tombstones, he calls it “the city of the dead” which makes perfect sense to me, despite giving me nervous goose bumps.
4. Suddenly, the tone shifts to a happier one- yet filled with irony. I see from his words that the narrator wants me to see how people are enjoying themselves on the beach nearby. Describing people acting like tourists, enjoying themselves, sharing gossip and stories, he reminds me that they will soon be faced with the greatest adversity and pain-death. The stanza is full of irony as the people on the beach are so care-free in nature’s beauty that they fail to acknowledge the reminder of their imminent futures- the graveyard. It is as if there is a veil of ignorance blinding their eyes and I want to scream a warning to them to get out of their mystical and unrealistic bubbles. The narrator further taunts me by describing the setting as being tranquil, having natural commodities like valleys.
5. This makes me come back to an inner struggle which I often face. There is so much pain in this world yet God has placed beautiful events and ornaments for people to be delusional with. It is as if we are children being placated with toys so we can forget our pains for some time. I remember Eckhart Tolle’s “Pain Body” in his book A New Earth which he calls the part of the humans which carries the painful memories and experiences. Tolle claims that if we are able to realize where the pain originates from, we can tackle and fight it and move on. I ponder on this and realize that this is what I have been taught my whole life, that controlling one’s pain and posing a blind eye towards the negative, darker aspect of life will lead to God giving us salvation. After seeing the people at the beach, I cannot seem to agree with this life-long learned lesson anymore. At this point, I believe that one should not forget the pain completely as this will make us forget the true reality of what is to come and we will not be prepared to face it.
6. Turning to the dead, the narrator describes, “To hear what scraps you can bring/of the news of this world where the air is thin.” To me, this has a hidden meaning which is that the dead souls early await the arrival of the living people and try to listen in their secrets so they can be attached to this world somehow. The stories represent the personification of their lives and the souls continue to live vicariously through them. I remember watching movies about ghosts returning for unfinished business and their strong attachment to earth not letting them move on. My whole concept has changed and I ask myself would I come back or would I want to come back? Before, I can answer myself, the narrator answers for me.
7. He is pointing again but in a different direction, this time to a single man- the arborist. He describes what an arborist is through his actions of tending to the trees in and around the cemetery. The arborist is so absorbed in his work and so passionate about it that he does not mingle with the beach tourists nor does he listen to their stories. Here, the narrator clarifies that arborist is curious just like all other human beings but his love for his job overweighs his curiosity. I receive my answer here- I want to be like this arborist, having found my purpose in life, fulfilling it, keeping away from distractions, and finding peace after death. The arborist has found balance in life doing what he loves, enjoying nature’s beauties, and satisfying his soul. Hass uses imagery to vividly “show” me the arborist’s life as he takes in all factors of his setting while shaping these trees such as the sunlight and shadows. Ultimately, he is in control of his life.
8. At the beginning of the poem, the tone is inviting but dreary- as if inviting and warning the reader of something deeper- such as dark secrets being kept from him or her. I realize that all is not what is seems. There is irony when the poet ends the poem on a dark and somber note by warning me that even though the arborist is in love with his creation, he kills them off suddenly. This foreshadows people’s fates and the trees represent humans in their growth and abrupt ends. Moreover, the poem’s slow flow contributes to its warmer tone. The poet utilizes imagery in the poem in order to evoke visual experience of the reader. For instance, he says that, “where trees throw shadows,” using ‘throw’ in an imagery manner as trees do not literally throw their shadows on pathways. Instead, shadows appear because of reflection of light.
9. “There is a place where you can enjoy yourself in rain or in shine. This place is the city of the dead or the graveyard, possessing very beautiful scenery. The walls of every house, or the graves’ tombstones, on the street are painted white, and the pathways among them crisscross each other. When in the city, one can hear the sound of greatness along the beach, which is referring to the contrasting sounds of life. It is amazing to see how people pass by the city of the dead making frequent visits to the beach, almost ignoring the graves. At the beach, they get a chance to talk with each other, inform each other about the current events, and even gossip about their lives. One can easily conclude that, the fresh smelling airs, and the cool shadows of beach trees, are what attract people to visit the beach more frequently, despite the vivid contrast of life (death) close to them. In fact, the only person who seems not to bother with the greatness of the beach surroundings is the arborist in the city park. This is only because, he is always busy pruning trees and trimming the flowers at the cemetery and surrounding park. If you miss the morning breeze, you can still enjoy the breeze in the evening” (Hass 14-15).
10. Upon finishing the poem, I started to imagine myself on the beach once again. Closing my eyes, I almost felt like I was really on a beach. All the same, the poem rekindled my past memories and made me rethink the idea of organizing another trip to a different beach city, maybe in the company of my friends. This time, I will be looking out for the grim reaper, focusing on passer-byes, their stories, and trying to become my own arborist- the one with satisfying control over my life.