June 13, 2018
The idea of family is rooted back to before the dawn of time or so it seems, and even given the lengthy history and countless generations that have come before us, nothing much has happened to to change the definition. Family are those that when you come knocking, you have to let in; into your homes, into your lives, into your hearts. There are many materialistic items in our life that we gain sentimental value to. It is after all tradition. “The Century Quilt” by Marilyn Nelson Waniek uses a three stanza structure and has chronological order, it uses colorful and vibrant imagery, and a heartfelt and prideful tone to explain the complexities of tradition and family through generations.
The poem’s structure is an important part when it comes to showing the complex meanings of the quilt. The first stanza has a nostalgic tone that is shown when she talks about the significance of her grandmother’s blanket and how much of a sentimental value it has. Waniek first explains that she fell “in love/with Meema’s Indian blanket,” (l. 1-2). The poet describes how she first discovered the significance of the quilt and how much of an effect it will have in her present life. “Now I have found a quilt”(l. 13). This line from the second stanza is extremely necessary to create the present tense that is establish in the second stanza. It helps convey her optimistic tone about the future that sets place in the third stanza. “Within the dream of myself/perhaps I’d meet my son/or my other child, as yet unconceived” (l. 41-43). Since all three stanzas are set in a different tense it helps creates a chronological order. The structure of the poem is chronological with no specific rhyme scheme. Waniek breaks up lines in specific spaces to help give the poem a more personal and informal feel. Which makes it easier for the reader to connect with the speaker.
All of the imagery that is set in this poem references colors. Starting off with the first stanza the color “army green” (l. 3), is used to describe the color of the blanket that is given to her dad by “supply” which we can make an assumption that her father is in the military. In the second stanza, where she begins to describe her newly found quilt. “Six Van Dyke brown squares/two white ones, and one square/the yellowbrown of Mama’s cheeks” (l. 15-17). This helps the audience to form a picture in their head about what the quilt looks like. Finally in the third stanza, in lines 39-40 it describes the color “umber” and “ochre”. These two colors describe the mother and father’s pride and gentleness. These two colors also help establish the season in which they are in. All of the vibrant colors that are used help give the reader a vivid image of that they can establish throughout the poem.
The tone of the is not consistent throughout the poem. In the first stanza the words “play” and “love” give a feeling of innocence and a more playful tone. This helps create an image of children playing come to mind. The tone quickly changes to a more depressing one in the second stanza because of it talking about death, the words “die” and “silence” help to convey this tone. In the third and final stanza, the tone switches to a more optimistic and mature. This is shown with the way she talks about meeting her future children and how she wants to pass down the quilt to them.
The literary techniques that were used to develop the complex meanings of the poem help the reader understand and connect more with the poem. The use of structure, imagery, and tone play a big part into this.