Elegy for Bruce Lee by W. Todd Kaneko

Elegy for Bruce Lee by W. Todd Kaneko explores grief, framed through the narrative of learning to fight like Bruce Lee. Kaneko relates Bruce Lee’s death to the death of his father, focusing on his father’s final moments and the time they spent together. The subsequent lines tell of grief’s impact, the horrible feeing ‘punching through everyone’, linking directly to the Bruce Lee semantics of fighting.

Elegy for Bruce Lee by W. Todd Kaneko

 

Summary

Elegy for Bruce Lee by W. Todd Kaneko begins with the measured ‘one-two,ch cha chá’ that echoes as a beat throughout the poem. The rhythm is reflecting the steady pace of throwing punches, Kaneko reflecting Bruce Lee’s fighting practice. Kaneko discusses his father in relation to Bruce Lee, using him as an example of how to fight, but also how to live life. When Kaneko’s father dies, he remembers the feeling of grief, expressing it through the practice of fighting. The final lines reflect on this fusion of grief and fighting, drawing the two images together in a somber combination.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure

Elegy for Bruce Lee by W. Todd Kaneko is written in 26 lines, each of the 13 stanzas being comprised of two lines. The regulated, unchanging structure could reflect the consistent tempo to which Kaneko learned to throw punches, with ‘one-two, cha cha chá’ echoing throughout the poem. The poem uses structure to emphasize moments of tension within the poem, the structure being disrupted or elongated by caesura or enjambment to emphasize different ideas.

 

Poetic Techniques

The most important technique within Elegy for Bruce Lee is using the extended metaphor of fighting to describe other aspects within the poem. Particularly, the feeling of grief is expressed through fighting, the semantics tapping into ‘punching’ to express how grief will ‘punch’ you in the chest. By aligning grief with this idea of fighting, it also expresses the emotional difficulty of grief, being something incredibly hard to move on through and get past.

Another technique that Kaneko uses when writing Elegy for Bruce Lee is a caesura. By implementing a caesura into the line structure of the poem, Kaneko forces a small pause after certain words, disrupting the meter of the poem. In doing this, Kaneko emphasizes ideas, such as the moment in which his father dies, ‘alive.’. The use of caesura causes a break in the poem, subconsciously focusing the reader’s attention to these moments.

A technique that goes hand in hand with the above use of caesura is enjambment. Enjambment extends the sounds within the poem, allowing for one line to seamlessly flow on to the next without a metrical pause. In moments such as when expressing ‘waiting for me’, by following this with enjambement, quickly moving to the next line can reflect the process of waiting – the structure of the poem reflecting the content itself.

 

Elegy for Bruce Lee Analysis

Stanzas 1-4

Somewhere in the dark sky is a beautiful fight,
(…)
love poems for a girl in your English class.

Elegy for Bruce Lee begins with an uncertain ‘Somewhere’, expressing that Kaneko is setting this poem in thought, not actually expressing real locations. The ‘dark sky’ could be a representation of the world, with Kaneko dealing with grief and therefore seeing the worse side of things. Reflected from this, Kaneko states that there is a ‘beautiful fight’. Considering Kaneko has already discussed ‘dark’, the expectation is that the end of the line would be ‘beautiful light’, yet by subverting this notion, actually using ‘fight’, Kaneko demonstrates his adherence to the semantics of fighting, admiring the memory of Bruce Lee and his father.

Kaneko’s father clearly admired Bruce Lee, naming him ‘Dragon’ to express his success in fighting. The word ‘dragon’ takes on a sense of reverence, their respect for the man being insinuated by this title. This third stanza is written in the second person, communicating directly with ‘you’. This suggests that Kaneko is speaking directly to Bruce Lee, communicating directly with ‘you’, representing him. He discusses his fighting technique, ‘swilled your hips’ and ‘dancing master’ demonstrating his skill at fighting.

 

Stanzas 5-11

I practiced throwing roundhouse kicks as a boy,
(…)
where there is no spark, no wretched cock crow

In line with his father’s teachings, Kaneko, too, begins to practice ‘throwing roundhouse kicks’, using ‘reflection in store windows’ as a mirror to practice his form on. This demonstrates his dedication, affirming this through the use of an asyndetic list ‘street signs, at parked cars, everything’.

The separation of ‘I knew/I could break’, due to enjambment, followed by a caesura, places emphasis on this idea of ‘break’ – the meter speeding up only to de derailed by the harsh caesura. The focus on ‘break[ing] could relate to the later depiction of grief, the anger Kaneko could have leading him to express it in a form that he understands – fighting and anger.

Kaneko loses his connection with fighting after the death of his father, ‘my feet cannot leave/the ground’, the practice reminding him of his father. The change between ‘as a boy’ and ‘now’ is staggering, Kaneko distancing himself from the thing that connected him and his father due to grief.

Kaneko’s watches his father die, following his father’s wish of ‘Hold me’ until ‘his body stopped’, holding his father close in his final moments. This is an incredibly sad image, the father having waited ‘the whole day’ to ensure that his son was there during his final moments. From this moment there is a change in the poem, Kaneko withdrawing into a somber tone.

 

Stanza 12-13

in the dark, just this cha cha chá—grief is a fist
(…)
It will punch through everyone.

Kaneko returns to the ‘dark’ atmosphere, reflecting the tone of the poem and insinuating the impact that grief is having upon him. He relates the idea of ‘grief’ to ‘a fist’, both going ‘to hurt someone’. As he grew up fighting and practicing martial arts, he understands grief in terms of fighting, using the metaphor to attach a physical sensation to the main emotional idea.

The final stanza furthers this physical description, focusing on grief feeling like it is literally punching him ‘an inch between knuckle and breastbone’, a pain in the center of his chest. The final line is short and grammatically isolated, Kaneko stating that grief will ‘punch through everyone’, with everyone having to experience this horrible emotion sooner or later.

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