The Gift

The Gift

by Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.

Summary of The Gift

  • Popularity of “The Gift”: This poem was written by Li-Young Lee, a famous Asian American poet. The Gift is a narrative poem about his childhood memories and pain. It also expresses the speaker’s limitless love for his late father. He also recalls the moments when he is perhaps looking after his wife. Lee also expresses the importance of discipline. The poet recalls the lessons learned from his father, his love for, and the nostalgia of that memory.
  • “The Gift” As a Representative of Joy: This poem beautifully portrays the father-son relationship. The speaker recalls how his father once removed a splinter from his palm by merely telling him a story in a low, reassuring voice. Though the speaker was in acute pain, yet his father’s storytelling technique helped him forget the pain he was suffering. He does not remember the exact story his father narrated that day, but he recalls how he eased his pain that made him awed to his kind father. After years, he removes the metal splinter or a needle from his wife’s hand so gently that she does not feel pain. While doing so, he recalls that he was just seven years old when he underwent the same pain, but his father’s tenderness comforted him at the time of despair. Thus, he tries to pass the Gift of kindness to his wife as he received from his father.
  • Major Themes in “The Gift”: Love, memories, and discipline are the major themes of this poem. The poem is about the impact left by the speaker’s father, which he recalls while taking care of his wife, who is also in pain. He removes the metal splinter or a needle from his wife’s hand; he recalls the scene when his father did the same when he was seven. Though many years have passed, the memory of that incident is still fresh in his heart. He still feels the comfort and warmth his father made him feel that day. Through this simple incident, the speaker reflects on the relationship between father and son.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Gift”

Literary devices are important elements of a literary text. Their use brings richness to the text and uncovers deeper meanings. Li-Young Lee has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in “Is shining in the sky” and the sound of /ai/ in “he laid against my face”.
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /t/ in “entered that afternoon” and the sound of /l/ in “so carefully she feels no pain.”
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it continues in the next line. For example,

Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “To pull the metal splinter from my palm”, “where I bend over my wife’s right hand” and “And I did not lift up my wound and cry.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between persons or objects with something else. For example, in the second stanza, he compares his father’s comforting voice with prayer and his hands with tenderness.

“I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness.”

  1. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. Here, “kiss” is the symbol of love, and “splinter” symbolizes obstacles.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Gift”

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. 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.
  2. Quintet: A quintet is a five-line stanza. Here, the first stanza is a quintet.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem. The first stanza is a quintet. The second stanza is an octave. The third stanza is a septet, and the last stanza is a form of rondeau without any particular rhyming pattern.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful when talking about the unconditional love of the parents.

“To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from”