The poem is directed at young readers and takes a warm tone to the topic of community. ‘Holding Hands’ uses numerous literary devices, despite its brevity, to depict the ways that animals, specifically elephants, and human beings care for one another. They show one another they’re present through physical touch. They hold tails/hands.
Explore Holding Hands
‘Holding Hands’ by Lenore M. Link is a sweet poem that compares elephants holding tails to human beings holding hands.
The poem begins with the speaker noting how elephants hold tails in the same way that human beings hold hands. They spend time together as they work and play, taking comfort in one another’s company. Their trunks and tails are for elephants the same things as hands are for human beings. They are “handy” and the only way they have to change the world around them.
The poet clearly connects the image of elephants holding trunks to that of human beings holding hands in the last part of the poem. This makes sure the reader walks away thinking about the similarities between the two species and who it’s important they hold hands with.
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with the theme of togetherness and community. These themes come together through the image of the elephants holding tails. It is immediately and directly related to the act of human beings holding hands. This is done in order to create a feeling of warmth directed at the elephants who desire community and company in the same way that human beings do. The poet is seeking to emphasize how important it is to comfort one another, something seen clearly through the image of human beings holding hands as they move through life. (Just like the elephants hold tails as they walk through the circus ring, working and playing.)
Structure and Form
‘Holding Hands’ by Lenore M. Link is a sixteen-line poem that is separated into sets of two lines, known as couplets. These couplets do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, meaning the poem is written in free verse. Despite this, the lines are very close to the same lengths, around four to six syllables each. The second line of each pair is almost always shorter. The fifth couplet is the only one in which the second line is longer than the first.
Throughout this poem, Link makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when a line cuts off before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as five and six.
- Alliteration: is seen through the use of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “holding hands” and “when” and “walk” in line thirteen.
- Repetition: can occur when any aspect of a literary work is used more than once. For example, an image, word, phrase, sound, etc. The phrase “holding hands” is a good example.
- Epistrophe: this is another type of repetition. It occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the ends of lines. For example, “tails” ends lines five and six. It also ends the final line of the poem.
Along the trails
In circus rings.
In the first lines of ‘Holding Hands,’ the speaker begins by creating a very sweet and easy-to-imagine image. It is one that any child reading or hearing the poem read aloud would like to see. Elephants are walking “Along the trails” and holding one another’s tails. The poet uses personification to suggest that this act is the same as human beings holding hands. Their tails work like hands, connecting them to one another in the same way hands work for human friends or family members. It’s likely the poet was hoping the reader, a child, would envision themselves holding hands with a parent or even a brother or sister.
In these lines, the poet uses a great deal of repetition. It is seen through the use and reuse of the word “holding” as well as other words beginning with “h” or “t.”
The next lines describe how “Trunks and tails / Are handy things.” The word “hand” is used again, and the reader is asked to imagine with the elephants do with their trunks and tails. When they don’t have “hands” as humans do, how do they get by?
In the fourth couplet, it’s revealed that these elephants aren’t outside in the wild. Instead, they are walking in the “circus ring.” They’re walking with one another in a circle, as they were trained to do.
Readers should also note the consistent use of enjambment in these lines. Every couplet is enjambed in the first half of the poem. This means that the lines read more like a conversation than lines of verse.
And elephants play
They’re holding hands
By holding tails.
In the next lines, the poet uses parallelism to tell the reader that elephants, like human beings, work and play. They have two sides to their life just like people do. One can’t just work or just play all the time. It’s important to do both. There is an example of anaphora in these lines when the poet repeats the word “And” at the start of lines ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen. This helps build up a broader image of what the elephants are doing in their day-to-day lives.
They walk together and feel “gay.” Here, the word “gay” is used to mean happy. They are content when they walk together holding hands. This suggests that the poet is interested in conveying the importance of spending time with those one cares about. That could, as mentioned above, be parents, brothers or sisters, cousins, or even just friends. No matter if one is working or playing.
In the final couplet, the phrase “holding hands / By holding tails” is repeated. This is an example of a refrain and reminds the reader of what the central image the poet is interested in is. They are left with this picture of elephants holding tails, spending time with one another. A young reader, or a child to whom this poem is being read, should now be considering who they want to hold hands with.
Link wrote ‘Holding Hands’ to emphasize the importance of always spending time with those one cares about. Elephants use their tails like people use their hands. By noting this, the poet is able to remind the reader, likely a young child, of how important it is to hold hands and spend time with those they care about.
The tone is friendly and uplifting. It’s also informative at points but in a way that a young reader can enjoy. The speaker is trying to teach the reader something about elephants but also create a warm and loving mood. Elephants express love in the same way that people do, she’s telling the reader.
The speaker is unknown in ‘Holding Hands.’ It’s not clear if the speaker is a man or a woman or what relationship they’re meant to have with the listener. But, since their tone is so friendly, it’s likely a kind and caring relationship. They are also trying to teach the listener something, so they are in a position to do so.
It’s likely that Link wrote ‘Holding Hands’ for young readers. The language is quite simple, devoid of words that a first or second-grader couldn’t understand. It’s not clear if Link wrote ‘Holding Hands’ for a specific person.
In ‘Holding Hands,’ there are examples of personification. This is seen through the poet’s depiction of the elephants displaying behavior that’s similar to one that humans engage in.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Holding Hands’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- “Holding Hands“‘Human Family‘ by Maya Angelou – expresses an incredibly relatable message about family. The poet speaks broadly about the world, unity, and how we are all connected to one another. Read more Maya Angelou poems.
- ‘The Race to Get to Sleep’ by Brian Patten – a simple poem written to inspire children to get to bed quickly and with increased enthusiasm. Discover more Brian Patten poems.
- ‘If I Were King’ by A.A. Milne – a highly entertaining poem. It contains the fantastical thoughts of a young boy who wants to be king. Explore more A.A. Milne poems.