The Legend

The Legend

By Garrett Hongo

In Chicago, it is snowing softly
and a man has just done his wash for the week.
He steps into the twilight of early evening,
carrying a wrinkled shopping bag
full of neatly folded clothes,
and, for a moment, enjoys
the feel of warm laundry and crinkled paper,
flannel like against his gloveless hands.
There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,
a triangle of orange in the hollow of his cheek
as a last flash of sunset
blazes the storefronts and lit windows of the street.

He is Asian, Thai or Vietnamese,
and very skinny, dressed as one of the poor
in rumpled suit pants and a plaid mackinaw,
dingy and too large.
He negotiates the slick of ice
on the sidewalk by his car,
opens the Fairlane’s back door,
leans to place the laundry in,
and turns, for an instant,
toward the flurry of footsteps
and cries of pedestrians
as a boy—that’s all he was—
backs from the corner package store
shooting a pistol, firing it,
once, at the dumbfounded man
who falls forward,
grabbing at his chest.

A few sounds escape from his mouth,
a babbling no one understands
as people surround him
bewildered at his speech.
The noises he makes are nothing to them.
The boy has gone, lost
in the light array of foot traffic
dappling the snow with fresh prints.
Tonight, I read about Descartes’
grand courage to doubt everything
except his own miraculous existence
and I feel so distinct
from the wounded man lying on the concrete
I am ashamed.

Let the night sky cover him as he dies.
Let the weaver girl cross the bridge of heaven
and take up his cold hands.

Summary of The Legend

  • Popularity of “The Legend”: This poem was written in 1988 by Garrett Hongo, a great Japanese American poet, and writer. ‘The Legend’ became popular for its subject matter of polemics of philosophy and sympathy for the loss of human life. This narrative poem revolves around an old man who loses his life tragically in the busy street of Chicago. To our surprise, the man receives no sympathy or love at his miserable death. The poem touched hearts since its first publication, while the vivid imagery, allegorical approach of the writer, and the sense of realism add depth to this narrative poem.
  • “The Legend” As a Representative of Sorrow: This tragic poem captures the tragic death of an old man who was out to perform his normal tasks. The poem begins with a catchy description of the cold Chicago weather. The writer fixes his readers’ attention to a man who appears in the biting cold, carrying a wrinkled bag of his neat clothes. The speaker’s close observation of the man allows him to provide a detailed description of his physical features. The poem takes a frequent shift when the man opens the door of his car to put his laundry bag inside. Just then, the hue and cry nearby catch his attention. Unfortunately, a boy shoots him in his chest and disappears into the busy street, leaving the man struggling for life. Ironically, no one takes pity on him or takes him to a hospital. Rather, they fail to pay attention to his last words. This cold and unsympathetic response of the crowd jolts the speaker’s heart. He feels sorry for the unfortunate soul. He also argues that the world will continue as it has always been.
  • Major Themes in “The Legend”: The need for sympathy, man versus the world, and loneliness are the major themes of the poem. This poem speaks about a man who loses his life in a deliberate shootout by an anonymous boy. However, on a deeper level, the writer comments on the cold and unsympathetic approach of the modern world. Unfortunately, we are living in a dark world where emotions like sympathy, love, and care are losing their significance. It shows that mob psychology has taken hold of normal people, making them emotionless toward the deaths of ordinary persons.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Legend”

literary devices are modes that represent the writer’s ideas, feelings, and emotions. It is through these devices the writers make their few words appealing to the readers. Garrett Hongo 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 is listed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sounds of /i/ in “In Chicago, it is snowing softly” and the sound of /o/ in “The boy has gone, lost”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /f/ in “who falls forward” and the sound of /h/ in “Let the night sky cover him as he dies”.
  3. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, the words “let the” in the first stanza are repeated to emphasize the point.

“Let the night sky cover him as he dies.
Let the weaver girl cross the bridge of heaven
and take up his cold hands.”

  1. Allusion: It means to use an indirect reference of a person, place, thing, or idea of a historical, cultural, political, or literary significance. Garrett has taken some words from Chinese, French, and Dutch mythologies such as; “Let the weaver girl cross the bridge of heaven”, “Tonight, I read about Descartes” and “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face.”
  2. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“In Chicago, it is snowing softly
and a man has just done his wash for the week.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “A few sounds escape from his mouth”, “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face” and “He steps into the twilight of early evening.”
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from the literal meanings. “Oldman’s babbling” symbolizes his acute misery, while “the weaver girl” symbolizes love and acceptance that the Oldman gets in the form of death.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Legend”

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 metrical pattern.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem with each comprising a different number of verses.
  3. Tercet: A tercet is a three-lined stanza borrowed from Biblical Hebrew poetry. Here, last stanza is tercet.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful to quote while attending the funeral of someone and a part of a eulogy.

Let the night sky cover him as he dies.
Let the weaver girl cross the bridge of heaven
and take up his cold hands.”