A Bag of Tools

A Bag of Tools

By R. L. Sharpe

ISN’T IT strange
That princes and kings,
And clowns that caper
In sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make—
Ere life is flown—
A stumbling block
Or a steppingstone.

Summary of A Bag of Tools

  • Popularity of “A Bag of Tools”: L. Sharpe, a modern American poet wrote ‘A Bag of Tools’. It is a thought-provoking literary piece about life. It was first published in 1890. Since its first appearance, it has touched hearts across the globe. The poem speaks about the commonalities humans share, regardless of their caste, color, and creed. It illustrates that we are sent to this world to serve a different yet special purpose. The poem distinguishes rich man’s and common man’s roles in this world.
  • “A Bag of Tools” A Philosophy of Life: The poem revolves around the reality of life. The speaker argues that humans are eternal beings. No matter someone is a king, clown, or an ordinary man, we are all living in a temporary world that will end someday. However, every individual is equipped with a special bag of tools, a shapeless mass, and some rules to follow. All these things are there to make our life extraordinary and comfortable before our time runs out. While doing so, one may confront difficulties. It is up to him if he shapes it as a stumbling stone or a steppingstone. Whether you’re rich or poor everyone is given the right tools and we must learn to use them well.
  • Major Themes in “A Bag of Tools”: The transience of life, death, and opportunity are the major themes of the poem. The seemingly simple poem contains a deep lesson that humans are sent into this universe with special abilities and talents. He compares their unique and different talents with a bag of tools, having everything they need to lead a successful life. However, it is up to us how we utilize our abilities to make our talents useful to the world. Therefore, one should take every possible opportunity to build eternity before death.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “A Bag of Tools”

literary devices are modes that represent the writer’s ideas, feelings, and emotions, and make their few words appealing to the readers. R. L. Sharpe has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /m/ in “And each must make.”
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /e/ in “Are builders for eternity” and the sound of / short oo/ in “A book of rules”.
  3. Allegory: It is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. It is an allegorical poem that speaks about eternity and the unpredictable end of life.
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ in “ISN’T IT strange”.
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Each is given a bag of tools”, “A stumbling block” and “A shapeless mass/A book of rules” where tools, blocks, and books have been used as images to perceive.
  2. Irony: Irony means using words in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The title of the poem is ironic as it presents a bag full of tools but the poem is about life and death.
  3. Juxtaposition: It is a literary device where two contrasting things are placed near one another to emphasize the contrast. For example, “That princes and kings/And clowns that caper.”
  4. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The poet has used “bag” as a metaphor for things we possess in life.
  5. Symbolism: It means using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. “Bag of tools” symbolizes the agency everyone has in life to carve a better future for themselves.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “A Bag of Tools”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: Although “A Bag of Tools” is a free verse poem, yet the writer has used free rhyme to create rhythm in the text. For example, “flown/stone”, “kings/rings” and “tools/rules.”
  2. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of lines. The poem is composed of two equal-length stanzas.
  4. Septet: A seven-lined stanza is known as a septet. Here both stanzas are septet.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable for a motivational speech to guide the people. The teachers can also use them to make their students understand that they can plan their goals and work on them step by step.

“Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make—
Ere life is flown.”