The poem is filled with imagery that many readers are going to find hard to forget. That being said, it’s also fairly abstract. It’s not entirely clear who the poet was thinking about or who these two characters got into the situation they’re in. The poem thrusts readers might into the middle of a story that could’ve been written by the Brothers Grimm and was certainly inspired by their work.
Explore Two Lines from the Brothers Grimm
‘Two Lines from the Brothers Grimm’ by Gregory Orr is an image-rich poem that tells a brief story about two siblings.
The speaker starts the poem by directing his words to someone. Initially, it’s unclear who this person is, but as the poem progresses, it’s revealed that the listener is the speaker’s brother or sister. The two are trapped in the upstairs of a house watching as danger approaches. “They,” the same people who took their parents away, are approaching with wolves on leashes, and the hills surrounding the home are on fire. The speaker needs to get himself and his sibling out of there before it’s too late. But, to add to the danger, the poem concludes with an image of two figures downstairs lighting a stove.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘Two Lines from the Brothers Grimm’ by Gregory Orr is a two-stanza poem that is divided into one set of six lines and one set of three. These are known as a sestet and a tercet. The two stanzas do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They’re written in free verse. But, this doesn’t mean that the poem is entirely without structure or even examples of rhyme. For instance, the internal half-rhyme with “I” and “fire” at the end of stanza one and “away” ends line two of the first stanza and line one of the second stanza.
Throughout ‘Two Lines from the Brothers Grimm,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “the wall of hills on fire.”
- Allusion: can be seen when the poet references something in a line of verse but doesn’t stop to explain it fully. Such is the case with the title of the poem and some of the imagery from the text itself. The poet is alluding to the traditional stories written by the Brother’s Grimm. These fairy tales were often incredibly dark, unlike many of the versions read today.
- Enjambment: occurs when the author cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza as well as lines two and three of the second stanza. When this happens, readers have to jump down to the next line to figure out how the sentence resolves itself.
Now we must get up quickly,
dress ourselves, and run away.
because I stood just now at the window
and saw the wall of hills on fire.
In the first lines of ‘Two Lines from the Brothers Grimm,’ the speaker begins by noting that “we,” an unknown listener and himself, must get up and run away. It’s important that they do so quickly and immediately as something is coming. “It,” the speaker says, surrounds them. “They are coming with wolves on leashes.” This is a very creative image, one that should be quite clear to the reader. Although, the “it” or “they” is still unknown. The speaker knows these things to be true, he says, because he stood at the window and saw the wall of hills on fire.
It’s clear that these lines are meant to evoke a feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom. The fire, “it,” and the wolves are all coming for the speaker and the person he’s talking to. Their only chance is to run, but from these descriptions, it seems unlikely that they’re going to be able to outrun whatever it is that’s coming down on them.
They have taken our parents away.
move about, lighting the stove.
In the final lines, the speaker adds that “They,” the same force that’s now approaching them, took “our parents away.” Here, the speaker references what are likely the two’s shared parents. The listener is likely the speaker’s sibling, and the speaker feels responsible for taking care of them.
To add to the overall atmosphere and the feeling that something terrible is going to happen, the speaker adds that downstairs on the first floor, there are “two strangers” moving about the lighting of the stove. Here is where the Brothers Grimm come into play. The speaker is perhaps thinking about the famed story of Hansel and Gretel, who are at the mercy of a cannibalistic witch who wants to eat them.
It’s clear that the poet wanted to create a very specific atmosphere, one that was filled with fear, anticipation, and left the reader with a cliffhanger ending. It’s unknown what happened to the two siblings in this poem. But, some readers might be tempted to relate this piece to Orr’s childhood and the accidental death of his brother when the former was twelve years old. This, coupled with the death of the poet’s mother soon after, marks much of his poetic verse.
The purpose is to create an experience for the reader. They can enter into the terror and feel the danger the two children are in through the short lines of the poem. It uses dark fairy-tale-like elements to create a specific atmosphere.
The themes in this poem are impending danger and childhood. The speaker references his parents while at the same time acknowledging that it’s up to him and his sibling to save themselves from the situation they’re in. Their childhood, like that of Hansel and Gretel, is marked by darkness.
The tone in this poem is desperate and anxious. The speaker is trying to rouse the listener and get them to run away from the approaching danger. It’s clear from the first lines that this is something that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Two Lines from the Brothers Grimm’ by Gregory Orr should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Cinderella’ by Anne Sexton – tells the story of Cinderella while also engaging with the theme of feminism and focusing on a very different ending.
- ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ by Margaret Atwood – details the haunting compulsions and marriage of a murderous bridegroom and his innocent bride.
- ‘Plenty’ by Isobel Dixon – describes the relationships a speaker had while she was a child and how she interprets them now that she is an adult.