While unclear at first, after a few lines, it becomes clear that the speaker of this text (despite the rather flowery language used) is a young girl. She’s old enough to know that she doesn’t like church or fake praise but young enough to still be chastised by her mother and want to play in the dirt. She shares her very strong opinions about beauty and truth in this unique poem.
Explore Imagining Their Own Hymns
‘Imagining Their Own Hymns’ by Brigit Pegeen Kelly is an interesting poem written from the perspective of a disillusioned child.
The poem starts with the young speaker emphatically declaring her opinion of angels in the stained glass windows of her church. She feels that rather than faith and passion, they’re feeling annoyance at their position. They’ve been put into the windows to be admired for their beauty, something that she can’t stand when it happens to her. She’s forced to get dressed up and has all the church ladies tell her how good and sweet she is when she knows that’s not the truth. The poem ends with the speaker imagining the angels stepping out of the glass and into the world, leaving the church behind.
Structure and Form
‘Imagining Their Own Hymns’ by Brigit Pegeen Kelly is a thirty-nine-line poem that is written in block form, meaning that it’s contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is also written in free verse. This occurs when the poet does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines end with very different words, ranging from “angels,” “they,” and “annoyance” in the first few lines to “back,” “cider,” and “hands” in lines four through six.
The poet uses a few key literary devices in this poem. They include:
- Imagery: a particularly effective description of a scene or experience. For example, “when she finds us in the dirt with the cider— / flies and juice blackening our faces and hands.”
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the young speaker’s description of the angels in the church.
- Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “as my mother’s eyes roll back / when she finds us in the dirt with the cider.”
What fools they are to believe the angels
in this window are in ecstasy. They
flies and juice blackening our faces and hands.
In the first lines of this contemporary poem, the speaker begins by describing the “angels / in this window.” She feels like the angels (which are very likely images on stained glass in a church) are experiencing something very different than others observing them are.
The angels are not in ecstasy, the speaker suggests. She doesn’t believe that they’re happy in their worship or finding joy in whatever they’re doing in the images. She knows that, like the speaker herself, “Their eyes are rolled back in annoyance,” and they don’t find the situation at all interesting or pleasing.
The poet uses a simile to compare how she interprets the angels’ expressions to how her mother rolls her eyes “us in the art with the cider—flies, and juice blackening our faces and hands.” Here, the speaker makes it clear that they are quite young, young enough to want to play in the first and to be chastised by their mother.
When the sun comes up behind the angels
They stroke my face and smooth my hair. So sweet,
they say, so good, but I am not sweet or good.
The speaker brings the narrative back to the angels in the church. She says that the sun rises behind the window, and rather than feeling inspired or faithful, she feels that they “do not love the light.” They are beautiful but are being put on display in the same way that the speaker is. She is made to dress up and look cute for “ladies who bring my family money.” They make over her and “smooth” her hair.
They praise her actions, interpreting her personality based on looks alone (as they do with the stained glass). The speaker, despite her age, knows there is more to it than that. Just because she looks beautiful or the angels look beautiful doesn’t mean that they are “sweet or good.” In fact, the speaker knows she is not “sweet or good.”
I would take one of the possums we kill
the bruise on his chest, with spread petals,
The speaker goes on trying to prove to the reader that she’s not the “sweet” girl that everyone thinks she is. She says that she would bring a dead possum to one of the women’s houses just for the pleasure of thinking about that woman having to clean up the mess. It would make a stain that “will never come out.” This connects directly to the “perfect” image of the angels and how her mother dresses the speaker up. Rather than being fixed and “sweet”
The speaker brings the narrative back to the images of Christian angels. She says that they feel the same way that the women do (secretly). She is convinced that they are “sick of Jesus,” who never does anything other than die. He always looks the same, “shadow blue as pitch, and blue / the bruise on his chest, with spread petals […]”
like the hydrangea blooms I tear from
beyond—and they will never come back.
She describes the image of Christ, relating to flowers she picks (clearly without permission) from Mrs. Macht’s bush. She destroys them just for the fun of it, just to rebel against the way she’s supposed to act and how she’s seen.
She also describes, as the last image of the poem, the angels leaving the church. She sees them walking down the church aisle and out into the street. They’ll take the money that’s been given to the collection boxes for the sick, and they will “never come back.”
She imagines the birds flying and bells ringing as if announcing a momentous event. To the speaker, this certainly would be. It would represent the truth, or what she sees as the truth, in a world that is far too focused on appearances.
The theme is appearances vs. reality. The speaker, despite her young age, knows that just because something is beautiful doesn’t mean that it’s good or sweet. She uses herself as a prime example.
The tone is, at times, annoyed and exacerbating. At others, it is more passionate and determined as the speaker shares her view of the world and what she hopes will happen to the angels in the stained glass windows.
The message of ‘Imagining Their Own Hymns’ is that one cannot, and should not, trust the appearance of things. It’s far more important to value something for what it really is rather than for what it seems to be.
The purpose is to remind readers that they need to pay attention to the world and everyone in it, enough to see what’s real and what’s just a facade.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ by William Wordsworth – speaks about growing up and losing one’s connection to nature.
- ‘Childhood’ by Markus Natten – talks about the poet’s transition from childhood to adulthood.
- ‘Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock’ by Wallace Stevens – describes a speaker’s disappointment with a population living predictably boring lives.