E Eve Merriam

How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam

‘How to Eat a Poem’ by Eve Merriam uses eating fruit as a metaphor for reading poetry to encourage readers to enjoy poetry.

How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam Visual Representation

In ‘How to Eat a Poem ’, Eve Merriam uses eating fruit as a metaphor for reading poetry. The idea is that we can approach poetry like we approach food. That is, to bite in without hesitation and enjoy it. The words of poetry can be placed into the mouth. We can chew over the words and taste them before digesting their meaning. Think of food for thought, nourishment for the mind.

Eve Merriam was an American poet. Although she had a broad literary range, she was a respected children’s poet. ‘How to Eat a Poem’ was published in her second book of poetry It Doesn’t Always Have to Rhyme (1964). The poem is directed at children, to inspire an appreciation for poetry and a love of language.

How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam


Summary

In ‘How to Eat a Poem’, Merriam uses eating fruit as a metaphor for reading poetry, encouraging the reader to bite in without hesitation and enjoy it.

The poet wrote this poem primarily for children. By likening poetry to fruit, Merriam is saying we can enjoy poetry just as we enjoy sweet fruit. Therefore, it is a poem that encourages the reading of poetry. Yes, bite in. Let the words fill your mouth. ‘How to Eat a Poem’ sets out to inspire people to read poetry, comparing it to delicious, juicy fruit. Therefore, Merriam wants to foster an appreciation for poetry, especially speaking the words aloud as we read.

You can read the full poem here.

Structure

How to Eat a Poem’ by Eve Merriam is a free-verse poem. It is written in second-person point of view. Broken into three stanzas, the poem has a mixture of short and long lines. The poem does not have a rigid structure, rhythm, or rhyme scheme. This is important because the poet does not want formal convention to block the reader. The first stanza consists of five lines. Two lines make up the second stanza. And the third stanza consists of seven lines, set out in a list format.

Detailed Analysis

For the detailed analysis, let us explore each stanza in turn.

Stanza One

Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
(…)
You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

The first stanza opens with the words: ‘Don’t be polite.’ Here, the poet addresses the reader directly, giving a command almost. So, she is communicating that there is no need for manners here. Cast aside social convention, refinement, civilization. This is a reference to approaching poetry without any preconceived conventions. Therefore, Merriam wants us to read poetry on instinct, to forget any rules of poetry. Also, she wants to advise us against being self-conscious when reading poetry.

The second line directs us to: ‘Bite in.’ This bolsters the message of the first line. Come on, no need to worry, dive in, do not be shy. Here, the poet encourages the reader to get stuck into the poem without hesitation. She wants us to approach the poem without fear or self-consciousness. Therefore, this encourages readers not to be intimidated by poetry.

Lines Three and Four

Let us take a closer look at the third and fourth lines:

Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that

may run down your chin.

The third line is the longest line in the poem. It directs readers to pick up the poem, to get a hold of it, to grasp it. However, be prepared for what juices could come from it. Here, the poet tells us that a poem is more than what we might think. Sweet meaning lies beneath the surface, and one should be prepared for it.

At first, the meaning might get away from the reader. However, they should be prepared to ‘lick the juice’. There are connotations of enjoyment in this, in licking the juices from the messy fruit. And the juice ‘may run down your chin’, so be ready. Again, this directs the reader to think that there is more to a poem than first appears. However, the poet wants us to enjoy this and have fun with it.

In the last line of the first stanza, we are told:

It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

Here, Merriam tells us that the poem is waiting for the readers whenever they are ready. The first four lines are an encouragement to jump in and enjoy the poem. Now, this last line of the stanza positions us right in front of the poem. Therefore, this is an invitation to enjoy the ripe fruit, the poem. It has ripened through Merriam herself. She has grown the poem from seed, nurtured it, and given it light. So, now it is ready to be consumed, whenever we are.

Stanza Two

As previously mentioned, the second stanza consists of only two lines. Let us take a look:

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon

or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

Here, the poet wants to reassure the reader. Just as we do not need any cutlery or accessories to eat fruit, we do not need anything else to enjoy a poem. To enjoy fruit, we need ourselves and the fruit. The same thing applies to enjoying poetry. Therefore, nothing else matters but the reader and the poem. That is all. This stanza provides further encouragement to the reader. The poem is the only thing we have to worry about. Enjoy.

Stanza Three

or rind
(…)
to throw away.

In the third stanza, Merriam utilizes a list format to get her point across. This stanza is used to persuade the reader of the merits of poetry. ‘For there is no core / or stem / or rind…’ to worry about when reading poetry. So, this is a nod to the simplicity of consuming poetry. It can be eaten whole, without anything ‘to throw away.’ Poetry leaves no waste. Everything in the poem is there for a reason, to be consumed by the reader. Therefore, it is the reader’s job to chew on it and break it down and digest it. Just as one would do with a delicious piece of fruit.

FAQs

Did Eve Merriam win any awards for poetry?

Yes, Eve Merriam won awards for poetry. In 1981, Merriam was named the winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Additionally, her first book, Family Circle (1946), was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Did Eve Merriam write poetry collections for children?

Yes, Eve Merriam wrote numerous poetry collections for children. These collections include There is No Rhyme for Silver (1964), It Doesn’t Always Have to Rhyme (1964), The Inner City Mother Goose (1969), Catch a Little Rhyme (1966), Finding a Poem (1970), Out Loud (1973), and Rainbow Writing (1976).

What other literary forms did Eve Merriam write in?

Eve Merriam also wrote for the theatre. She wrote a number of adult plays, including Out of Our Fathers’ House, At Her Age, and her OBIE Award-winning The Club. These plays were forms of social or political satires.

What is the meaning of ‘How to Eat a Poem’ by Eve Merriam?

In ‘How to Eat a Poem’, the poet compares poetry to fruit, meaning that the poem can be savored and enjoyed like fruit. The poem invites the reader to bite in and enjoy it, just like biting into delicious fruit. So, the fruit is full of juice, as the poem is full of meaning.


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How to Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam Visual Representation
About
Shane Curry is the author of a collection of short stories. A student at Griffith University, he is approaching the final year of a Bachelor of Arts with a double major: creative writing and journalism. His completed subjects include Writing Poetry, with high distinction. He is the recipient of the 2020 Griffith Award for Academic Excellence.
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