Sheltered in Place by Richard Levine

Sheltered in Place by Richard Levine explores the transience of life, the beautiful things always fading and nothing lasting forever. A parent helps their son come to terms with understanding these facts, teaching him that everything has a place in life. Sheltered in Place teaches compassion, with the child having to understand that although he doesn’t want to leave the turtle behind, he must as it lives somewhere else, having a certain place to live away from him. It is the same with flowers, once picked they will die, it is an irrefutable fact of life that nothing can last forever.

Sheltered in Place by Richard Levine

 

Summary

Sheltered in Place by Richard Levine begins by telling the story of a boy having to return a turtle to a pond, a parent had told him it does not belong with him. The boy struggles with this knowledge, wanting to take the turtle with him. He does this out of compassion, wanting to build the turtle a home and ‘care for his armoured friend’. The parent understands where he is coming from, having ‘picked flowers, knowing they’d die’. Levine reveals the truth that everything in nature has its rightful place, removing the beautiful or exotic will cause them to die. Nature, and beauty, are transient, with Sheltered in Place focusing on the impermanence of life, a child learning what death is.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure

Levine’s Sheltered in Place is written over four stanzas. The first three stanzas are all quatrains, measuring four lines each. Yet, the final stanza measures only two lines. This sharp difference in structure within the final stanza reflects the brutality of realizing that things do not live forever, the child coming upon this knowledge through the explanation of the place of things in nature. The regularity of the first three stanzas could reflect the growth of the child, their steady progress emulated through the continuity of the structure.

 

Sheltered in Place Analysis

Stanza One

You watch your boy struggle with giving
(…)
first time you’d all been out in days.

The poem begins with the second person pronoun, ‘you’, suggesting that Levine is commenting on someone else’s experience of parenthood. He could be narrating this idea as a general fact, suggesting that all parents must go through this conversation of making their child aware of mortality. The relationship is between ‘You’, a parent, and ‘your boy’, the theoretical son of this parent reader. The use of ‘your’ following on from ‘your’ suggests the close relationship of parent and child, the possessive pronoun revealing their caring relationship. The use of ‘boy’ suggests the son is still very young, not yet aware of how the world works.

The first two verbs in the poem reveal much about the relationship displayed. The first, ‘watched’, suggests a parental compassion, carefully overmatching to ensure that the child comes to no harm. This characterizes the relationship of the poem, presenting an intimate link between parent and child. The second verb, ‘struggle’, is conjugated against the ‘boy’, him not wanting to give up the turtle that he had found. The moral decision of ‘giving/up’ the animal is saddening to the boy, yet his parent helps him to understand that this is the right thing to do. The choice of ‘giving/up’ is furthered by the use of enjambment, Levine using this flowing of meter to reflect the quick decision of the child.

The use of caesura after ‘turtle,’ signifies that the boy does not want to let go of this turtle, the word becoming emphasized. Moreover, the use of caesura creates a metrical pause, which could reflect a moment in which the child deliberates his choice.

 

Stanza Two

How thoughtful he thought he’d been,
(…)
How he cared for his armored friend.

The second stanza focuses on the thought process of the child. He believes that ‘he’d been’ ‘thoughtful’, taking the turtle from the water in order to build it a home. The use of ‘home in the home’ relates to the fact that the turtle has a shell on its back, using this for a ‘home’. The boy does not understand this, creating a physical location in which the turtle can live. This is an incredibly compassionate image, the final line of this stanza, ‘how he cared for his armoured friend’ showing a tender image of the boy.

The relationship between boy and turtle, displayed through ‘armoured friend’ reveals that the boy loves this turtle, wanting to protect it, much like how the parent protects the son.

 

Stanza Three

Having picked flowers, knowing they’d die,
(…)
from fear, which is in itself a disease.

The third stanza relates to the parent telling their son that he must take the turtle back, revealing the truth about the death of nature and everything having a correct place. Levine writes using the second person, directly communicating with ‘you’. Levine suggests that ‘you’ have ‘picked flowers, knowing they’d die’, and therefore understand the desire to ‘pluck/the exotic, the beautiful’, and take it with you. This causes death, with plucked flowers withering away. This imagery is linked to the turtle, the parent letting their son know the truth of taking the animal away from its natural habitat.

Levine frequently uses caesura within this stanza, punctuating his ideas through the disrupted meter. Structurally ‘die’ is elevated, both being followed by an end stop and also being syntactically placed at the end of a sentence. In doing this, Levine draws attention to the constant presence of death, knowing that the turtle will die if it does not return to the water. The parent must tell their son this, letting them know the truth of the natural world.

Yet, the parent understands the child’s desire, knowing that ‘any diversion’ from the existential ‘fear’ of death is something enjoyable. Nevertheless, they know to tell their child the truth, making them take the turtle home.

 

Stanza Four

That morning, you helped your boy
give up the idea of living forever.

The shortest stanza in the poem reveals the universal truth of nature, it is transient and will eventually die, especially when removed from its natural habitat. Levine suggests that in telling their son, ‘you helped your boy/give up the idea of living forever’, finally letting them know about morality and the inescapability of death. Everything will eventually die, everything has its place, each of us is just Sheltered in Place, continuing to get on by.

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