Elizabeth Brewster’s Where I Come From talks about the place where she spent some of her life and contrasts it with the place to which she belonged. We are all shaped by the places where we have lived – not just the places we come from but also the places where we have lived. The first stanza describes the city where everything in shining and new and impersonal. There are very distinct smells in the city and none of them very nice. Even the tulip does not have a fragrance. Worked in short images that run into each other, the first stanza hurries the reader along in a dizzy whirl. The city on the other hand is wooded and the pace here is slow. Nature is everywhere in abundance, it does not have to be plotted as in the city,
“nature tidily plotted in little squares
with a fountain in the centre;”
There are violets and blueberries and chicken scurrying about. Then, probably triggered by the memories of her home town, another memory is evoked, this one is less pleasant.
Main subject of the poem is the contrast between the city and the countryside where the narrator came from. Though no judgement is made the tone of the two stanzas are widely divergent, leading us to believe that she speaks approvingly of the country but of the city, she has reservations. The narrator believes that we are shaped by the places where we live.
The purpose is to draw up a contrast between the city and the country. The narrator works on the premise that places have a big influence in our lives. The very smells of a city are different from that of the country. The absence of nature except in carefully tended plots with the artifice of a fountain is one of the factors that anger the narrator.
This poem is suffused with emotions though they are not expressed forcefully. The poem starts off with a definitive statement that “People are made of places.” From that statement the poem moves on to the main theme which is the difference between life in cities and life in the country. The last two lines are a departure from the rest of the emotions expressed. The sentiments expressed jogs a memory somewhere and remembrance, not so pleasant comes flooding in.
“A door in the mind blows open, and there blows
a frosty wind from fields of snow.”
Technique / Craftsmanship
The poem is rich in visual images. It also appeals to the reader’s sense of smell – “museums” with their varnish and mothballed volumes, “chrome plated offices” with perhaps stale perfumes, “subways” packed with people during rush hours and “glue factories”. The second stanza too is richly evocative with scenes from the country.
Almost every line has some kind of punctuation mark that calls for pauses – commas, semi-colons or full stops that indicate to the reader to read slowly. The poem itself is divided into two broad stanzas with the first one having shorter words that move faster indicating the pace in a city.
The language used is one of great simplicity. The combination of free verse and common everyday diction allows the poet great manoeuvrability. Here the content is the king and the diction helps the poet to explore.
In city nature is at a premium. Nature is pruned and trimmed and carefully cultivated; it lacks spontaneity. On the other in the country, it is unrestrained, exuberant and natural – blueberry patches in the burnt out bush. Even though the thickets have been burnt blueberry has pushed through and is thriving. Another instance where nature grows wild is
behind which violets grow”.
Movement / Rhythm
The poem has an unusual sense of rhythm which comes from the use of short phrases in the first stanza making the descriptions of the city zip past but the description of the country wind slowly with languor. The poet uses free verse that gives the freedom to start and stop lines. The natural rhythms of the language give it movement.
Alliterative sounds as in
“like the smell of smog
or the almost-not-smell of tulips in the spring,”
“smell of subways
crowded at rush hours” creates movement in the poem.
Figures of Speech
The last two lines of the poem take the poem to a different level. It is as though the cheerful images of life in the country are rudely disturbed by this cold and unpleasant blast that comes in from the world of snow. Some long memory, long buried, awakens and comes flooding in.