The poem ‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party’ is written by one of the best-known 20th-century American poets, William Stafford. This poem seems to be dedicated to Ruth, his love during his childhood days. The fact that he remembers the incident of her death while serving in the unofficial “Peace Corps” makes readers believe she was someone dear to him. He talks about their first meeting, her sad demise, and her afterlife. The poem uses an emblematic “monument” to describe the intensity of his love for Ruth.
Explore Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party
‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party’ by William Stafford revolves around the poet’s childhood love, Ruth, for whom he builds this “monument” of words.
Stafford’s descriptive language helps readers imagine a sweet love story between the speaker and Ruth in this poem. The use of words like “relics” and “monuments” makes the poem seem like a special tribute to the girl. In the first stanza, the speaker says that Ruth glanced back at him. It clearly shows that she also felt for the speaker. He also highlights the reason for their parting and wishes her to be safe in heaven. Overall, this poem reflects how the speaker misses her to this very day and wishes if he would have had spent some more “seconds” with her.
You can read the full poem here.
The only relics left are those long
spangled seconds our school clock chipped out
ways, torture for advancement,
nor ever again be prisoners by choice.
‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party’ by William Stafford is an elegiac poem where a speaker talks about the first time he fell in love with a girl named Ruth whom he met at a tenth grade school party. Stafford writes this poem in memory of Ruth, who died while serving with the natives of Garden City, Kansas. The speaker misses her, and his vibrant memory of the girl and the occasion makes Ruth special.
As the poem begins, the speaker reminiscences the only memory left of her; the moment when they first shared their glances, as he notes, they “found each other alive.” The way he explains makes it clear that the gaze made them fall in love at first sight.
He explains the problems they faced in the following lines as no one accepted or approved their love in their town. Alongside that, the pressure to advance in their respective fields made them move apart. They promised that they would never choose to be “prisoners” of their innocent choices.
Now I learn you died
before governments thought of it.
In the second stanza, it seems the speaker is directly talking to Ruth. We come to know about her sad demise in the very first line, as well as how she died. The speaker ironically talks about her death in the next lines. He states first that she served in the local Peace Corps alongside the natives of Garden City, Kansas. In the last line, he says, even before the idea of the “Peace Corps” was born, she devoted her life to the upliftment of others that, in turn, would establish universal peace. Besides, the speaker says that he “learned” about her death from someone else, which brings us to the fact that they somehow lost touch.
Ruth, over the horizon your friends eat
foreign chaff and have addresses like titles,
other than this I make, and the one
I hear clocks chip in that world we found.
In the last stanza of ‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party,’ the speaker eulogizes Ruth, to whom the entire poem is dedicated. He describes her afterlife after she ascended to heaven in the first lines. When her friends would be enjoying the worldly luxury, eating “foreign chaff,” crows and hawks would patrol over the river in order to locate Ruth. She needs no other “monuments” for her remembrance, only the one he builds in this poem.
The “monument” referred to in this poem is the poem itself, a poetic memorial he made for his beloved. This shrine will never fade or decay; it will pass on to generations. Ruth will remain alive till the very last copy of the poem gets erased entirely, which can never happen. In this way, Stafford immortalizes the speaker’s love for his childhood love, Ruth.
‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party’ consists of two seven-line stanzas at the beginning and end and a quatrain in the middle. This poem is an elegy to Ruth, the speaker’s childhood love, who died while serving as part of an unofficial Peace Corps. Stafford jumps from the first-person point of view to the second-person point of view throughout the stanzas, exemplifying his love for Ruth. The speaker is most accurately the poet himself that can be inferred from how the piece is written.
The rhyming pattern of this poem is not definite. There are a few instances of internal rhymings that can be found in words like “town’s,” “ways,” and “choice.”. As the poem is an elegy, it is lyrical and filled with impassioned words, as evident in the lines: “… May they never/ forsake you, nor you need monuments/ other than this I make …” Alongside that, this free-verse poem does not follow a particular metrical scheme. Stafford mainly wrote poems that had no definite meters or rhyming patterns.
In ‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party,’ Stafford uses the following literary devices:
- Enjambment: In this poem, a single line runs continuously through each stanza without an intervention; for instance, an enjambment occurs in these lines of stanza two: “Now I learn you died/ serving among the natives of Garden City,/ Kansas, part of a Peace Corps/ before governments thought of it.”
- Irony: The poet talks ironically about Ruth’s death and says that she was part of the “Peace Corps” even before the US government authorized it officially: “part of a Peace Corps/ before governments thought of it.”
- Alliteration: Words with the same sounds at the beginning can be spotted in the following phrases from the poem: “spangled seconds,” “nor you need,” “other than this,” and “world we.”
- Consonance: The consonant sounds of “r” and “f” and ”s” are repeated in the following lines: “Ruth, over the horizon your friends eat/ foreign chaff and have addresses like titles” and “spangled seconds our school clock chipped out.”
- Transferred Epithet: Stafford uses the adjective “spangled” to describe the noun “seconds” instead of the “school clock,” in this phrase: “spangled seconds our school clock chipped out.”
- Simile: The poet tries to compare salutations, or recognition one got while serving at US Peace Corps to worldly “titles,” in the lines: “Ruth, over the horizon your friends eat/ foreign chaff and have addresses like titles.”
- Metaphor: Metaphor is a poetic technique, which is used to indicate an implicit comparison between two distant ideas; for instance, in the poem, the words like “relics” and “monuments” are a metaphor for the elegy written in memory of Ruth.
William Stafford’s poem ‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party’ appears in the collection, Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems, which was published in 1977. This collection includes quietly stated situations and accompanying impressions that express the profound, momentary perceptions that play on the poet’s seemingly passive sensitivity.
The speaker of this poem talks about his long-lost love affair with a girl named Ruth. He feels sad and misses her. That’s why he decides to build a poetic “monument” with love and dedicates this piece of memorial to her. The poet writes this poem in such a way that the speaker’s sad and depressing ideas seem impressive to readers. It taps on the themes of unrequited love, the death of a loved one, the afterlife, missing someone, and the immortality of art/poetry.
Stafford had his own style of writing poetry. He won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1963 for his major collection, Travelling Through the Dark. He was elected the Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress in 1970. William Stafford’s poems are deceptively simple, concealing different layers of meaning.
In this poem, William Stafford talks about an incident from the past that made him feel alive. He talks about a Tenth Grade school party where he first met with his love, Ruth. His persona is filled with feelings of nostalgia, love, and admiration for the girl.
As the title suggests, the central theme of this poem is love and adoration, followed by the sad demise of a loved one and then the concept of the afterlife in the last stanza. The speaker talks about different feelings that come along with unrequited love. He describes the encounter where he fell in love with Ruth at first sight. Then, he goes on to talk about her death, her afterlife, his guilt of being a prisoner of his innocent choice, his intense love, and adoration. His intense love and admiration can be felt in the last lines: “… May they never/ forsake you, nor you need monuments/ other than this I make, and the one/ I hear clocks chip in that world we found.”
The “monuments” that the speaker says have been built for her is the poem itself. He calls the poem a “monument,” as the poem reflects the speaker’s love, sacrifice, adoration, and pain just like a monument epitomizes. It also stays forever and becomes a symbol of love for the coming generation.
The poem is an elegy written for the speaker’s childhood love, Ruth, who died while serving in the local Peace Corps. Through this poem, Stafford conveys the message of the timelessness of art and true love. He reminiscences the pleasant moments of his life with Ruth in a poetic way, which he cannot forget ever.
The speaker feels a little lighter by writing about his emotions for Ruth, his childhood love. He builds this poem as a memorial of love, with the belief that it would outlast generations. Thus his love for Ruth would never die or fade.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in William Stafford’s poem ‘Monuments for a Friendly Girl at a Tenth Grade Party.’
- ‘On the Death of a Young Lady’ by Lord Byron — This poem is written in memory of Byron’s cousin Margaret Parker who died at the age of fifteen.
- ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ by Mary Frye — In this poem, Frye offers comforting words for those who would mourn for her when she dies.
- ‘When Death Comes’ by Mary Oliver — This piece contains a speaker’s ruminations on the afterlife and death.
- ‘Elegy Before Death’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay — This poem is about the physical and spiritual impact of a loss and how it can shape someone’s world.
You can also explore these heart-to-heart poems about losing a loved one.