Within ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’ Atwood uses deeply symbolic and metaphorical language to speak on themes of freedom, the self, escapism, and contemporary life.
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In the first lines of the piece, Atwood’s speaker compares the human body, while dreaming, to that of birds. One can rise up and float into the sky. Then, eventually, enter into space. From there, the world is beautiful and brilliant, a loving “seablue”.
The images that make up this dream sequence are contrasted with the reality of life in the last four lines. Like a loaded gun, the sun weighs down on one’s skull. “You” try to rise, fly and transcend as you did in the dream world, but it’s impossible.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’ by Margaret Atwood is a single stanza, seventeen line poem that does not make use of a specific pattern of rhyme. But, Atwood does utilize rhyme within the poem. There are examples of full end rhyme, as well as internal fully rhyme and half-rhyme.
For examples of full rhyme at the end of lines of verse, as is traditionally seen within poetry, a reader can look towlines elven and twelve with the endings “this” and “fist”. Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “bones” and “hollow” with a similar “o” vowel sound. The assonant strand is continued with “blow” and “oval” in lines seven and nine.
Internal rhyme, in its full and half varieties, appears throughout ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’. Atwood makes use of perfect internal rhyme on a number of occasions. One strong example is in lines seven and eight with “through” and “you” (repeated twice). Another example is “light” and “white” in lines five and seven.
Atwood makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’. These include alliteration, enjambment, metaphor, and symbolism. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “white winds” in line seven and “blood” and “bones” in line two.
Metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as”. In these moments the poet is saying one thing is another. Atwood suggests in the first lines of ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’ that one’s “lungs” are “wings” that fill with the ability to fly. They are only part of a larger metaphor comparing the human body to the body of a bird.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This technique appears throughout the poem, but a few examples include the transition between lines two and three, as well as between lines fourteen and fifteen.
Lastly, symbolism: as in most poetry, ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’ includes symbols. Symbolism is defined as instances when a poet uses objects, colours, sounds, or places to represent something else. In this piece, Atwood uses the wind, sun, and one’s ability to fly within their own body, as symbols of freedom, peace, and transcendence from the mundane world and its preconceptions and pressures.
Analysis of Flying Inside Your Own Body
Your lungs fill & spread themselves,
When you breathe in you’ll lift like a balloon
In the first lines of ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body,’ the speaker begins by referring to “Your lungs”. The immediate use of the second-person perspective implicates the reader in the text. They are meant to feel as though the writer/speaker is directing their words at them specifically. This often helps in fostering empathy, understanding, and a variety of other personal, emotional responses.
The speaker describes “Your lungs” and how they “fill & spread themselves”. They engage with the outside world, and through a metaphor, are compared to “wings”. This phrase speaks to the continuity of life, and a larger connection to non-human nature, especially birds. The comparison between a human body and a bird body continues. The speaker describes a process in which “your bones” become emptied of all material and end up “hollow,” like a bird.
The process of emptying one’s own body of this excess matter allows one to lift up “like a balloon” at each breath.
and your heart is light too & huge,
there’s nothing above you,
There is joy conveyed through the speaker’s tone in these lines. She expresses lightness and hugeness within one’s body, represented through the act of flying. Atwood uses another metaphor to compare the “joy” one’s heart is made up of to “pure helium”. It has to power to lift you from the ground and into the air. There, the “white winds” of the sun can “blow through you”. White, as a colour, is often used to represent purity, simplicity or surrender. In this case, it is connected to the sun, a symbol of light, goodness, and life.
The eighth line is important, anything that might’ve been “above” “you” before this point has vanished below. This speaks to a lack of obstruction, difficulty or barriers. Therefore encouraging a more expansive freedom of movement, physical and mental.
you see the earth now as an oval jewel,
Waking, your heart is a shaken fist,
The next set of four lines describe what happens when “you,” metaphorically flying, leave the earth’s atmosphere and enter into space. From there, all of one’s problems shrink down to the “oval jewel” of the planet. It is brilliant, “radiant” and vibrantly “seablue with love”. The space these moments of transcendence give “you” allow “you” to remove yourself from the normal pains and struggles of life and see the world at a distance.
The next lines bring the poem and the reader back to reality. It is only “in dreams you can do this,” the speaker states. This is a reminder that everything that’s been said in the last lines has been entirely metaphorical. When “you” wake up from these heightened dream-states “your heart is a shaken fist”. The return to the real world is not an easy one.
a fine dust clogs the air you breathe in;
You try & try to rise but you cannot.
The last five lines of ‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’ depict the real world in all its dusty, heavy reality. There, you encounter air “clog[ged]” up with dust and the sun does not lift as much as press down. Its weight is ever-present “pressing straight” onto one’s skull.
In the last two lines, the use of “copper” as a descriptor for the sun becomes clear. It is part of a secondary metaphor, comparing real life to a gun that presses into one’s head. The final line references the impossibility of overcoming the control, rules, and restrictions of real life. “Your try” to rise, just as you could in your dreams, but it’s impossible. The weight of reality is too much.