Bonsai by Edith L. Tiempo (Poem) - Analysis, Meaning, Theme, Moral Lesson

All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe

All that I love?

Why, yes but for the moment-
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note, or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a young queen
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size.

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
All life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest child

Analysis and Meaning:

The poem is about the human capacity for memory-keeping by collecting keepsakes. Nurturing great memories is the main theme of the poem. The poem is about the art of remembering and the joy of collecting things that remind us of a memorable happening in the past. The speaker begins by saying that she collects keepsakes in a box, in a hollow post, or in her shoe. This is not a metaphor. She's being literal here. She's talking about real boxes, real hollow posts, and real shoes.

In the next several lines, the speaker provides examples of the things she collects as keepsakes - her son's letter, her father's necktie, a roto picture, an Indian shawl, and a money bill.

In lines 15-19, the speaker gushes in amazement at the heart's capability to scale down love and all the memories attached to it to the size of a "cupped hand". As an example, let's take into account the "son's letter" that was mentioned by the speaker earlier in the poem. This single letter means a lot to the speaker. We may not know what it contains but it's likely that it's brimming with so much love. Enough reason for the speaker to keep the letter in a box. According to the speaker, it's amazing to think that all the love and all the memories between mother and son can bre represented by one single letter. How can so much love and memories fit in a "cupped hand's size"?

In the final stanza, the speaker proclaims that this practice of collecting memories and keepsakes will be with humankind until the end of time. Life and love can be scaled down to something very simple like a letter, a picture, or a shawl. Something so simple that you can without remorse, hand over to a child nearby.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why did the poet title her poem "Bonsai"? Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing miniature trees in pots. The poet used it in her poem as a metaphor for the human capacity of keeping and nurturing memories through tiny keepsakes. Bonsai is the art of shrinking trees. Collecting keepsakes is the art of shrinking love, life, and memories. For example, the letter that the speaker keeps in a box is a miniature version of the love and memories she and her son has for each other.

2. What does the line "Till seashells are broken pieces, From God’s own bright teeth" mean? I think she's talking about the end of mankind, the end of Earth. Science has come to the conclusion that the solar system which includes the earth will end when the sun exhausts its source of energy and dies. The poet could be referring to the sun as "God's own bright teeth". When the sun dies, it will explode. That should burn and break down all seashells on any shore.

2. What's the moral lesson in the poem? Bonsai is one of those poems where there isn't a moral lesson. There is no need for one. So you shouldn't be looking for one. The poem simply projects the poet reflecting on one of the most important aspects of being human - the ability to gather memories and keep them fresh in the mind and heart by collecting keepsakes to represent them.

Other poems by Edith L. Tiempo: Lament for the Littlest Fellow