Linda Pastan

Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan

‘Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan is a poem that focuses on communication and longing to be free. The poem consists of three stanzas and uses no particular rhyme scheme. The entire poem can be seen as a woman having a conversation with her unfeeling husband in the kitchen, but since Pastan has artfully entitled her poem ‘Imaginary Conversation’ we can conclude that this conversation essentially occurred in the woman’s thoughts and that she did not really speak any of this out loud. This brings us to the main point of the poem which shows the oppression that many wives suffer when being overwhelmed with home-related chores and not getting proper affection and attention from their spouses.

Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan


Imaginary Conversation Analysis

The poem starts with a memory being recalled by a voice whose gender is not mentioned clearly.

you tell me to live each day as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen.

Pastan commences with a popular quote; live each day as if it were your last. The meaning of this quote is essential to make use of every moment, do not waste even one second, and most importantly don’t procrastinate your work. Pastan states clearly that this quote had been said to the voice in the kitchen;

before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.

At the beginning of a busy day. The chores enlisted here which include grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments bring light to the gender and personality of the voice. If we consider typical gender stereotypes we can assume it is most probably a female persona, a wife and mother who is recalling this quote said to her by her husband in the kitchen before their day begins. This first stanza shows that the woman is upset that her husband is reminding her to get all her work done before the day has even started. The woman mentions the obstacle race of minutes and hours, which means she has her hands full to the point of counting even a few spare minutes. Naturally, she would be upset at her husband reminding her to get all her work done when it appears that she already is a very responsible individual used to fulfilling her chores and duties on time.

The second stanza of ‘Imaginary Conversation’ switches from her criticism of her husband’s reminder to a new perspective, which is rather enlightening indeed. She states why should we live every day as if it was our last, in a state of fear and worry. Why not live each day as if it was our first. If we were to live each day as if it was our first we would find everything astonishing and see everything in a completely new light. This perspective defines the woman’s desire for a change in the normal routine. The woman mentions Eve, the first woman on earth at this point. The mentioning of Eve here is an important symbol of a simplistic and natural lifestyle. As Eve is known to have been of the purest and most holy of all women on earth. In all religious scripture, Eve is seen as a symbol for purity and most importantly living a natural, simple lifestyle. It is clear that this is what the female persona desires. Pastan uses a simile here comparing the rising of the sun to an ingenue. This further clarifies that the female persona truly glorifies the thought of being young and without responsibility once again. The sun is a symbol of greatness and energy, something which provides life and happiness to so many organisms on earth. The sun is the absolute provider of energy. The female persona sees the sun rising as an ingenue. This shows us that the female persona would love more than anything to be young again and to wake up each morning to see the entire world under her horizon. She would like a wide variety of choices, and not just continue to live the same repetitive routine she has been following for so long.

The third and final stanza switches to the present, as the woman watches her husband making coffee. She relates the roar of the coffee maker to the sound of her husband attempting to clear his mind for his own busy day that he has laid out ahead of him. This is very symbolic as the roar of a coffee maker is mechanical, loud, and can also be seen as annoying. This shows us the female persona’s perspective of her husband’s way of thinking. She believes he is very well grounded in his boring mechanical ways and it annoys her. It is in this stanza that Pastan exposes that the female persona was merely lost in thought and did not truly say any of this to her husband as she uses imagery to describe that the female persona is setting the table and looking out the window, longing to be a part of a better lifestyle. The idea that the female persona did not bother stating any of her thoughts out loud shows us that her relationship with her husband is not exactly ideal and this is most probably due to their busy lifestyle. Another possibility for her silence could be because her husband does not seem to see anything wrong with the hectic and timeless way in which they were living. Going back to the first line we notice the mentioning of the popular quote live each day as if it is your last by her husband, this shows us that her husband was strict in mannerism and that could also be why she opted to keep the conversation imaginary as the title claims. Live each day as if it is your last can also hold the completely opposite meaning and instead of meaning carry out all your duties in due time it could mean enjoy and live out each possible moment. If this meaning of the quote is taken then the poem can be seen as the female persona bitterly questioning how she can enjoy every moment when her life is so busy that she does not even have a minute to spare. Rather, instead of trying to enjoy the impossible, why not change life altogether and go back to the days of being an ingenue, when she knew absolutely nothing about the responsibility of handling an entire household.

Linda Pastan’s poem Imaginary Conversation’ is a poem consisting of three stanzas which reflects on the busy lifestyle most homemakers and mothers have to suffer. The major themes of the poem are reminiscing the past, longing for freedom and communication. Pastan’s poem describes; through the perspective of a female persona, the loneliness women often suffer in their hectic lifestyle, and further focuses on the issue that most women wish more than anything to go back in time and become absolved of responsibility again as a coping method for the stressful and often dull lives they are forced to lead. Pastan particularly focuses on an unfeeling husband as being part of the problem, and if the husband is involved and caring then perhaps the wives may not feel so much longing to be free.

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Maha Rehman Poetry Expert
Maha has a BSc Honors from the University of Toronto and is an Author and Writer by profession. She loves writing and genuinely idealizes the idea of science and literary art combining together into a liberating force of intellectual enlightenment. You can check out her YA novel 'Sole Silence'.
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