Stuart Kestenbaum

Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

‘Joy’ is written by the Poet Laureate of Maine: Stuart Kestenbaum. This simple poem explores the meaning of true joy in one’s life.

Stuart Kestenbaum’s ‘Joy’ is a short and pellucid poem on satisfaction and pleasure. What is the meaning of joy? It means a state of perfect happiness and pleasure. Through this poem, Kestenbaum explores how one can discover happiness in their life. It can be possible by looking at the simple things of nature. There is beauty in everything: the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, and a bird expands its wings in the blue sky. What Kestenebaum tried to portray is that we need to open our eyes to enjoy the moments still left with us.

Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum


‘Joy’ by Stuart Kestenbaum describes how to expand our hearts to cherish each moment of our lives metaphorically.

This poem is about the true meaning of life and how to explore joy in nature. In this piece, the poet describes how a butterfly is transformed. The way its life began is different from the ending. As it knows the art of change, it can savor the moments of its life. Likewise, we have to expand our hearts and change the way we look at things. Like the butterfly enjoys the sweet nectar from the asters and the geese that float in the sky, we have to accept what is there for us in order to be truly happy.

You can read the full poem here.


This poem consists of unrhymed couplets. There are a total of seven couplets. It is a free verse poem that is written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. The poetic persona talks directly with the readers. Kestenbaum does not follow the scheme of conventional couplets. He connects the lines internally and his thoughts are expanded in following lines of a particular couplet. Besides, the poem is not written in a regular meter. It consists of both the iambic and trochaic meter with a few variations as well.

Literary Devices

Kestenbaum’s ‘Joy’ contains the following literary devices.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. For example, Kestenbaum uses this device in lines 3-7 to depict a continuity of thought.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds can be found in “that the end,” “in which we are,” “it‘s time to fly,” etc.
  • Anaphora: It occurs in the sixth couplet of the poem. In this stanza, both lines begin with the same phrase “the way”.
  • Metaphor: The phrases “a partnership of feather and glide” and “blue dream” contain metaphors.
  • Personification: It is present in the following lines: “the way their wings know how to/ speak to the wind,” where the wind is personified.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-4

The asters shake from stem to flower


is different from the beginning

The beginning of Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem ‘Joy’ is interesting. In the first two lines, the poet uses personification for investing the asters with the idea of waiting and shaking. Readers have to consider each image present in the poem as a means of exploring happiness. Firstly, the aster flowers are portrayed as waiting for the monarchs. What are these monarchs? It is a reference to the monarch butterflies.

It seems to the poet that the flowers find completion when the butterflies land on their petals seeking nectar. The process benefits both, with a synergy-like result. This simple scene brings joy to the poet’s mind.

In the following lines, he depicts the journey of a butterfly beginning from its chrysalis. According to him, the creature knows that there is a difference between the beginning and end of its life.

Kestenbaum metaphorically talks about human life. A person matures with time. As a child, one did not think like the way he thinks now. This change is a part of the longer narrative of life.

Lines 5-10

and that it is always a part


knew to find its way into your lungs,

Kestenbaum compares human life to a long story: its beginning is not similar to its ending – that’s why life is always interesting. There is no such point when one seems discouraged with life. However, when one forgets how to enjoy the moments, life can seem pedantic.

In each stage of life, human beings transform like the butterfly. According to the poet, one has to accept this change and cherish the beauty in it. When it’s time to express the happiness stored in our hearts, we should not hesitate over showing it to the world. Life teaches each individual to express this joy throughout the journey.

In the following lines, Kestenbaum talks about how a person breathes. When one inhales, the air naturally finds its way to the lungs. Likewise, happiness flows to the heart as naturally as the air. Without air, one cannot live and without happiness, life cannot thrive.

Lines 11-14

the way the geese know when to depart,


and glide, lifting into the blue dream.

In the last two couplets, the poet depicts the way the geese fly in the sky. Birds know when to depart. Similarly, readers have to know when to leave the worn-out thoughts and unburden themselves.

In the following lines, the poet portrays how the wings of a bird speak to the wind. It is a reference to the art of flying. A bird learns it naturally. Likewise, human beings learn the art of being happy from nature. He uses an interesting metaphor to describe it.

According to him, a bird can fly for the partnership between its feathers and glide. The “feather” is compared to the heart and the “glide” to the soul. When they synchronize, the soul can fly like a bird. It is only possible when a person is truly happy. Besides, the “blue dream” is a metaphor for the sky, giving it a kind of euphoric state.

Historical Context

The poem ‘Joy’ appears in Stuart Kestenbaum’s poetry collection “How to Start Over”. It was published in 2019. Kestenbaum was nominated as the Poet Laureate of Maine in 2020 and hosts the Maine Public Radio program. His poem ‘Joy’ taps on the theme of happiness and joy. It is written in a time when the basic essence of living is absent from people’s lives. He advises them what the true meaning of happiness is. In order to be truly happy, one needs to unburden one’s soul like a bird.


When was ‘Joy’ by Stuart Kestenbaum published?

The poem ‘Joy’ was published in 2019. It appears in Stuart Kestenbaum’s poetry collection “How to Start Over”.

Who is the speaker of the poem?

The speaker of this piece is the poet Stuart Kestenbaum himself.

What type of poem is ‘Joy’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that is written in a combination of seven couplets.

What is the poem ‘Joy’ about?

This poem is about the art of being happy and how to explore happiness in the simple things of nature.

What are the themes of ‘Joy’?

Stuart Kestenbaum’s ‘Joy’ taps on the themes of happiness, living, and change.

Similar Poems

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly taps on the themes present in Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem ‘Joy’.

You can also read about the poems that would make you smile.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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