Once the World Was Perfect
By Joy Harjo
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.
Summary of Once the World Was Perfect
- Popularity of “Once the World Was Perfect”: “Once the World Was Perfect” by Joy Harjo, an outstanding American poet, musician, playwright, and author, is a symbolic poetic piece. Published in 1965, the poem talks about resilience and hope. It explains how the beautiful fabric of the world was corrupted, following negative emotions like hatred, greed, and jealousy. It also describes how with positive qualities like kindness, helped people regained the lost spirit of the world. Although the poem touches various hearts regarding its subject matter, the factual representation of human emotions and insertion of extensive literary and poetic elements has made it a good read.
- “Once the World Was Perfect” As a Representative of Hope: This poem is about the loss and regaining of the world we live in. It begins where the speaker informs the readers about the perfect world that once existed.It was an ideal world where people were content, but they took these blessings for granted and longed for more. This discontent and restless created space for more negative emotions in man’s mind after the rush of Doubt and Discontent. The harmful vices such as fear, greed, jealousy, hatred, and envy destroyed the perfect state of the world. Also, these negative instincts pushed people into darkness, with the resultant loss of brotherhood and moral values. However, after realizing what harm their negative behavior has caused them, they have decided to restore the lost spirit of the world. Thus, they stand as united for this noble cause, and with values like kindness, tolerance, and brotherhood, they achieved the lost light of their lives.
- Major Themes in “Once the World Was Perfect”: The impact of human emotions on the world, the role of kindness, and the strength of the unity of the people are the major themes of the poem. The poem beautifully sheds light on the definition of the perfect world that once existed. Ironically, man’s lusty nature pushed the happy and delighted world toward darkness. These darkest moments make them realize the value of life they took for granted. They decided to start from scratch and rebuilt the valuable world they destroyed with their negligence. The speaker then illustrates how kindness threw them a rope and took them out of that unfortunate situation.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Once the World Was Perfect”
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ and /o/ in “We destroyed the world we had been given” and the sound of /o/ in “To now, into this morning light to you.”
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /w/ in “we were happy” and /t/ sound in “then the other clans.”
- Anaphora: The poem shows the use of anaphora as the repetition use of some phrases in the beginning of success verses or clauses show such as “Each stone…” and “We were…”
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /s/ in “Each stone of jealousy, each stone” and the sound of /n/ in “A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world.”
- 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;
“Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.”
- Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning. The writer has used this device in the opening lines of the poem while talking about the great loss we have caused to the world.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Joy Harjo has used imagery in this poem such as “Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another”, “A spark of kindness made a light” and “Everyone worked together to make a ladder.”
- Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use metaphors such as destruction, restoration and kindness.
- Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. The poet has personified doubt in the fourth line of the poem such as “Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of the symbols of earthly mind and spiked head just to show how people can bring noticeable changes to the world.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Once the World Was Perfect”
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.
- Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having metaphors, similes and impressive images.
- 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 scheme or metrical pattern.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are twenty-one lines in this poem without any stanza break.
Quotes to be Used
The lines from this poem are relevant to use in the motivational speech to dispense the idea of how negative thoughts snatch the real joy of our life.
“All manner of demon thoughts
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life.”