The poem uses numerous images and symbols to depict the aftermath of someone’s suicide, as seen within a dream. From the bag to the shorn field and the mice, ‘Bag of Mice’ has a great deal to offer, and readers are likely to find themselves continually stumbling upon additional meaning they hadn’t previously seen.
Explore Bag of Mice
‘Bag of Mice’ by Nick Flynn is a memorable poem that conveys the elements of a dream and loss the speaker suffered.
The first line tells the reader that they’re about to hear about a dream. In this dream, the speaker came upon someone’s suicide note. This belonged to someone they cared deeply about. When they opened it, the bag caught fire, and the mice inside it ran out into the field. The bag burnt, and the letters disappeared along with it. As they burnt, the writer’s voice was released into the air like a song, and the mice grew “wilder.”
You can read the full poem here.
I dreamt your suicide note
was scrawled in pencil on a brown paperbag,
& as the burning reached each carbon letter
of what you’d written
In the first stanza of ‘Bag of Mice,’ the speaker begins by with a strange and surprising image. It’s one that most readers are not going to be expected and which should “hook” one into the text. The speaker describes a dream they had where they found “your” suicide note on a brown paper bag, and in the bag were “six baby mice.” The mice are an interesting addition to this piece that, as the poem progresses, grow more and more important.
Readers should also note the use of ampersands in these stanzas. By using “&” instead of “and,” the poet is attempting to make the lines sound more causal and more colloquial. These are simple statements about an incredibly emotional situation. This creates an interesting juxtaposition.
The bag, after opened, starts to smolder. It’s on fire, and the fire is burning down the paper, reaching each “carbon letter” that “you” wrote. This is incredibly symbolic. By opening the bag, letting the mice out across “a shorn field,” the speaker has triggered a release. It’s only through these moments that they’re coming to terms with the suicide and the choices “you” made. The “shorn” field is another symbol, one that represents a loss of resources or the end of a season. The bounty that once grew there is gone. All that’s left is the barren remnants of the season.
your voice released into the night
The second stanza is only three lines long. In it, the beauty of ‘Bag of Mice’ is realized. The burning letters released “your voice…into the night.” Rather than sorrow, this evokes a feeling of freedom and peace. It’s something necessary and something healing for the person who experienced it.
The intended listener, someone who committed suicide, at least in the speaker’s dream, leaves the world like a “song” and rings out the wild nature of the mice. They run “wilder” than they did before as if celebrating and relishing in the “song” of “your” voice.
Flynn engages with themes of loss and suicide in ‘Bag of Mice.’ By using beautiful natural images, the poet conveys a series of events around someone’s death. There is a great deal of figurative language in this poem. It creates a specific image around the listener’s death that’s compelling and peaceful. The speaker doesn’t spend time mourning their loss in the lines of the poem. Instead, it’s more about allowing a release to occur and even celebrating their life.
Structure and Form
‘Bag of Mice’ by Nick Flynn is a two-stanza poem that is divided into one set of ten lines and another set of three lines, known as a tercet. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They range in length from one word up to eight and use a variety of literary techniques. There are a few examples of rhyme in the poem, though, including an instance of exact rhyme. The word “bag” ends lines three and seven, and “paperbag” ends line two.
Nick Flynn makes use of several literary devices in ‘Bag of Mice.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Epistrophe: occurs when the same word or words are used at the end of lines. For example, “mice” at the ends of line five of the first stanza and line two of the second stanza.
- Alliteration: seen through the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “bag” and “baby” in line three of the first stanza and “bottom” and “bag” in line seven.
- Caesura: can be seen when the writer includes a pause in the middle of a line. For example, “from the top down. The mice” and “across a shorn field. I stood over it.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six.
The tone is peaceful. The speaker calmly and clearly relays the events of their dream. It’s clear the scenes are emotional, but their emotions do not get in the way of what they’re trying to share.
Flynn wrote ‘Bag of Mice’ in order to share a particular emotional state. It’s unclear whether this piece was inspired by real events, but it does convey a very interesting and memorable vision of what death brings.
The meaning is that loss can take many forms and when it comes, releasing what’s been lost is the only way to achieve peace. The image of “your” voice being released into the air like a song is incredibly moving.
The mood is solemn and contemplative. Readers are likely to walk away from this peace feeling moved by what they’ve read and inspired to consider the complexity of the images used.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Bag of Mice’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Suicide’s Note’ by Langston Hughes – is a short emotional poem that speaks very simply and peacefully on life, suicide and death.
- ‘Lady Lazarus’ by Sylvia Plath – is one of the best poems of Sylvia Plath and an ideal example of Plath’s diction. This poem contains Plath’s poetic expression of her suicidal thoughts.
- ‘Wind’ by Ted Hughes – takes place over the course of one night: a family, cowering inside a house, listens as a fierce storm rampages outside.