Archie Randolph Ammons

‘Coward’ by A.R. Ammons is a very short poem that speaks about bravery and asks the reader to analyze the truth of a single statement. 


Archie Randolph Ammons

Nationality: American

Archie Randolph Ammons was an American poet who won the National Book Award.

Notable works include 'Their Sex Lifeand 'Coward.' 

The poet often wrote about humanity’s relationship to nature, often taking a comic tone and juxtaposing it against a solemn one. His poetry has been compared to Walt Whitman’s and Emily Dickinson’s. ‘Coward’ is an example of the depth one can achieve in a few words. 

A.R. Ammons

Bravery runs in my family.
Coward by A.R. Ammons


Coward’ by A.R. Ammons suggests that the speaker has had bravery passed down through the generations of their family.

The poem is only one line long. Through this one line, the reader is asked to analyze whether or not the speaker is telling the truth. Are they truly brave? Or, as the title suggests, are they really cowardly trying to hide behind this hyperbolic assertion

You can read the full poem here.

Structure and Form 

‘Coward’ by A.R. Ammons is a one-line poem. It should be read along with the title in order to give readers the best chance at analyzing the poet’s meaning. The line is five words long and contains nine syllables. The first word of the line and the last word of the line are half-rhymes. This means that they partially rhyme but not entirely. The “-ily” at the end of the words correspond. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Imagery: can be seen in the poet’s use of simple, yet effective, language. Readers are asked to imagine what bravery looks like and how it could possible run in someone’s family. 
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside the scope of the poem. In this case, the speaker is alluding to the life and habits of their family. Without details about these people it’s impossible to know whether the statement is truthful or not. 
  • Ambiguity:  a word or statement that has more than one meaning. In this case, the statement that makes up the heart of the poem can be interpreted in two different ways. First, that it’s true that bravery runs in the speaker’s family or that it’s a false assertion. Or even one that’s trying to cover up the real truth. 
  • Assertion: this statement is also a great example of an assertion. The poet puts forward a simple line that should be irrefutable. But, with the addition of the title it becomes, as noted above, more ambiguous
  • Hyperbole: an intentionally exaggerated description, comparison, or exclamation meant to make a specific impact on a reader. While this exaggeration may not be intentional on the speaker’s part, it is intentional on the writer’s. They are putting this assertion forward in an attempt to show a particular, hyperbolic state of mind. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

Bravery runs in my family.

The single line that makes up this poem suggests that bravery runs in the speaker’s family. It seems simple at first. But, when interpreted along with the title “Coward” it becomes more complex. 

The first and simplest explanation is that the speaker’s family truly is historically courageous. What form this takes is unknown. But, readers could imagine them taking brave risks, standing up for what they believe in, fighting in historic battles, and more. 

But, when one considers the title, things get more complicated. The word “Coward” may suggest that the one line of the poem is spoken by a coward. This person could be trying to sound braver than they are by asserting that their entire family is brave (and therefore so are they). For example, imagine someone puffing out their chest and bragging about the amazing deeds they’ve accomplished when in reality they’ve lived a basic and even cowardly life. 

Another possible interpretation of this poem is that the statement is true. Bravery may run in this speaker’s family but they know they are different. They’re a coward. This would set them apart from the people they know and perhaps put them at odds with their family members. 


What is the tone of ‘Coward?’ 

The single line of this poem is an assertion that takes a confident tone. Whether or not it’s true is up to the reader’s interpretation. 

What is the theme of ‘Coward?’

The theme is bravery. Readers are asked to imagine what exactly bravery is and what forms it could take. Is the speaker really brave? Or are they using the assertion as a way to hide their cowardly behavior.

Who is the speaker of ‘Coward?’

It’s unclear who the speaker is. It could be the poet himself, but there is no clear evidence to mark this as the case. In the end, it’s not important. Readers can interpret this poem without knowing who the speaker is supposed to be. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other A.R. Ammons poems. For example: 

  • The City Limits’ – a powerful poem about nature. In it, the speaker supports spending more time in the natural world versus time in industrialized city centers. 
  • Their Sex Life’ – is another poem that explores the modern relationship and sexuality.

Other related poems include: 

  • Courage’ by Anne Sexton – conveys the different ways in which a person can show courage, ranging from the seemingly insignificant to the much more heroic.
  • Family House’ by Gillian Clarke – explores the cherished memories of the narrator as she allows the reader to feel the nostalgia with her. 
Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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