Song by Cynthia Zarin: Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem Song by Cynthia Zarin is an imagist and a symbolist poem in which the speaker, obviously a female with multiple responsibilities and worries, are attempting to sing a song. The poem mainly focuses the reader's attention on the intermixture of likes and dislikes.

Cynthia Zarin (Born in 1959)

The jumbles of terms which signify either likes or dislikes or even arouse mixed feeling are presented in the poem. It is a poem of single sentence dividend in three stanzas containing single and compound nouns and also short as well as long phrases. The first image in the poem is “my heart”, which usually symbolizes feelings, personal emotions and love. This sets a romantic kind of mood to the poem, and indeed it is supposed to be a lyric or song. The second image also supports the same idea, more or less. “my dove” is very likely a symbol of spirituality, or alternatively one of liberty in the modern context. But the third image quickly breaks the pattern by its being very different: “my snail” is periodic in the pattern. The reader is now informed not to interpret the images only in their traditional meanings (heart for love and dove for spirituality).

Of course, we will see that the speaker’s concern does include things like love, emotion and spirituality, but the essential open-endedness of the poem must not be overlooked while making such traditional explication of metaphors. One must also keep in mind that the poem’s ultimate meaning is not paraphrase-able; it is a jumble of inarticulate feelings that the speaker has been trying to express and by their very nature seem to be impossible for herself to express.

The third image of the snail is probably suggestive of the pace of life of the persona; she might be feeling that she is not progressing and the anxiety is a typical of the late twentieth century woman. The fourth image in the first lien, “my snail” can again (however) be psychologically related to that of the snail (as suggested by the parallel of rhyming also): is frequently used as a symbol of life itself in poetry. The first line of the poem is an example of the technique, themes and other features of the poem. The best way, now, to make sense of the unrelated images is to classify them into categories. The reader can make about four or five categories for convenience: first one is the feelings and the concern of creative life, the second one can be the progress and prospects in her personal life, third one is the feeling of being a mother and a member of the family and necessary compromise thereof, fourth one is her feminine being and her interest in beauty and the final is the suicidal feelings.

The images related to feelings and concerns of her creative life are: the heart (love and emotion); dove (spirituality or freedom); zither, cymbal, xylophone (all of which are musical instrument suggestive of her creative life); and the stone may also be related to her feeling of burdens of all the responsibilities that don’t allow her to go easily ahead in any of the things. The image on paper, scissors, and stone (paperweight) also suggests that she needs time and energy for her academic pursuit.

The image related to progress and prospects in her personal life are: the sail (direction and propulsion); snail (lack of speed and thrush in any of the things). In the category of images suggesting her being a mother and a member of the family, there are images like; milk tooth (she probably has an infant vexing her by testing his teeth on her breast!); quince, tea-leaf, flower-cat, and blossom-hedge of the garden (her domestic responsibilities); and the home (where everyone comes back from work and play expecting her service!) In the next category, one can include the images like: fingernail (a thing that a female must keep tidy as a part of her beauty and smartness); moon-shell, sea-swell, manatee and emerald (all of which are precious stones) shine on her, suggesting that she is also interested in beauty by wearing precious stones. The gems also suggest that the woman identifies herself with the precious things, as women traditionally do.

The last category of images is related to suicidal feelings: shadow (suggestive of death); and mandrake (a plant that is believed to shriek if one uproots it!) both suggest that she also cultivates suicidal feelings, though they have been put to bed now. In most cases, indeed, the reader’s personal feelings, experience and knowledge about eh symbolic and emotional value of these images largely determines what meaning(s) can be given to the poem.

Some readers for instance, will feel that the ‘sparrow’ is suggestive of the erotic sexual nature of the speaker, which can actually be one of the many aspects, desire and concerns of her life. In any case, the poem is richly meaningful due to its suggestive quality than because it says something definitely and clearly. The speaker’s ‘song’ is too complex and enigmatic to be paraphrased in a single statement (and we are not supposed to do what she chose not to!)

Cite this Page!

Sharma, Kedar N. "Song by Cynthia Zarin: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 4 Nov. 2013,

Related Topic

Image: A Literary Term

Cynthia Zarin: Biography