Gillian Clarke

My Box by Gillian Clarke

‘My Box’, by Gillian Clarke, explores the themes of relationships, strength, love and eternity in this poem with the metaphor of the box.

My Box by Gillian Clarke is a short three poem about a woman and her love. Clarke explores the themes of relationships, strength, love, and eternity in this poem with the metaphor of the box. This box is the central object of discussion and analysis as the narrator discloses the events and experiences of her life. She paints a picture of her romantic relationship and expresses the work it took to make it last; concluding with the notion that everything and anything good takes time and effort to build. It takes a lifetime of perseverance to achieve a relationship that you can call evergreen. You can read the full poem My Box here.

My Box by Gillian Clarke


My Box Analysis

First Stanza

My box is made of golden oak,
my lover’s gift to me.
engraved inside the heavy lid
in brass, a golden tree.

The very first line of Clarke’s My Box introduces the main subject of the entire poem: a box. Adding the possessive word “my” in front of an ordinary object “box” lets the readers know this poem is going to be one that touches a personal narrative that is special to the speaker. It also allows readers to assume that this poem will be heavily biased by the narrator. The primary description of the box that is presented to the reader, is the feature of it being “made of golden oak”. This is significant because the golden oak tree is known for being an evergreen, which means it stays green all year throughout all the seasons; automatically illustrating the importance of the box. It can easily be assumed that this box is “evergreen” in this person’s story. Next, it is revealed to the reader that this box was a “gift” from her “lover”; the box now represents her relationship and the reader can effortlessly predict her box will stay evergreen in this narrative due to the golden oak being the key material it was built with.  Lines three and four not only further illustrate the detail of this box but also acknowledge the narrator’s significant other for the minute details of fitting the “hinges” and adding a “lock of brass” with a “bright key”. These details perhaps enlighten the reader about their relationship.

Her significant other “fitted hinges” on the box; with the box signifying their relationship, it is not very difficult to say that the hinges emphasize a strong connection or bond between the two of them just as they connect or bond the two main parts of the box ( the box and its lid) together. The lock on the box is a symbol of permanence, the relationship is depicted as a permanent stable one, which the narrator seems quite proud of. The stress on the lock being made of brass basically portrays the narrator’s eagerness to highlight the strength of the lock. The key to the lock is described as “bright”, this encourages the idea of the lock symbolizing permanence because the “bight key” that fits into this lock signifies their “bright” future together. The narrator goes on to describe that her significant other made her box out of “winter nights”, this is important because it draws attention to the fact that he has worked hard even throughout the cold winter “season” of their relationship. This particularly accentuates his perseverance, especially by recounting that he “sanded oiled and planed” irrespective of the season of their relationship.

Finally, the stanza ends with the narrator expressing that he also “engraved inside the heavy lid/ in brass, a golden tree”, highlighting a few things. Firstly, he engraved the box translating to the fact that he added meaning to their relationship, making it unique and special. Secondly, the lid is described as heavy continuing to put emphasis on the strength of the box or relationship. Lastly, still continuing with the theme of strength the readers are notified that the engraving on the box was done in brass, and also it was of a “golden tree”, referring back to the golden oak and the notion of their relationship staying “evergreen”.


Second Stanza

In my box are twelve black books
where I have written down
harvested apples and words and days
and planted a golden tree.

The second stanza finally moves away from a detailed description of the box and shifts gears towards the content of it. The stanza opens up by exposing that the box carries “twelve black books”. This is incredibly significant given that the box symbolizes their relationship, the books are evidently representing the twelve months of the year that contains their story. It could be possible that they have only been together for a year so it is a book for every month they have been together, but it seems more likely that the twelve “black books” represent the years of their relationship, black being a dominant colour also highlighting permanence. As there will always be twelve months in every year, their relationship will also always have twelve months every year.

The narrator goes on to further elaborate on what she had written in these books; she first repeats the actions of sanding oiling and planning to portray the notion of incessant hard work, which she had credited her significant other for earlier. She then continues to list the adventures that she has had with her lover in this relationship, all the things that fill her books. “Planting a garden” could translate to having a family, “building a wall” might be the experience of building a permanent house to call home. The narrator describes seeing rare things that could symbolize reaching new milestones and experiences with her partner. Drilling “a well” could signify helping build something in their community, while “harvesting apples, and words and days” could easily be interpreted as reaping the benefits of the hard work they put into their relationship. She concludes the stanza by announcing that they had planted a golden tree, with the connotation that by way of their words and actions they were able to “plant” the evergreen into their relationship, so it would last throughout all the seasons.


Third Stanza

On an open shelf I keep my box.
Its key is in the lock.
a tree, a lover, words, a box,
books and a golden tree.

The final stanza of the poem discusses the location and placement of the box. The narrator discloses that she keeps the box on an “open shelf”, denoting that her relationship is not a secret kept from anyone. She continues to expose that its key is in the lock, not only reemphasizing that her life isn’t a secret but also indicating that it is ready to be opened. Also, note that the bright future (key) is resting in permanence (the lock) revealing to the reader that much time has passed since she received her box, and she has reached the bright future she once dreamt she would have. The narrator conveys that she is leaving her box for others to read after she and her significant other “are dead”. She then says that her relationship should prove and display that it takes time to build something great, something evergreen.

The last two lines of the poem present to the readers a sequence of her life. First, she was connected to a tree where he relationship started, she next became a “lover”, then received words of love and life from her partner, leading to the creation of their “box” or relationship which gave birth to their “books” or a record of their story and finally her story and this poem ends with “a golden tree”. The tree that is forever green and flourishing no matter what storms the various seasons of life hit it with; it always was and always will be a golden tree.

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Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.
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