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"Pigeon Woman" by May Swenson

1) In "Pigeon Woman," poet May Swenson approaches the consideration of her title subject from a third-person perspective. It is not an omniscient point-of-view, nor is it totally fly-on-the-wall objective. May Swenson has a subjective position in the portrait she paints of an elderly woman feeding a flock of pigeons. That subjectivity, her attitude towards the whole affair, comes across in the tone of the poem: a grey, vaguely horrified fascination with the "pigeon woman" and her daily activity.

Greys and muted colors are the literal palette with which Swenson conveys her observation. The pigeon woman's world is "slate, or dirty marble colored," with all other colors - rusts, blues, "rainy greens and oily purples" - seemingly muddied in the process. The only exceptions are the pigeon woman's accoutrements, "pimento" hair and a pink raincoat, that do not so much counterpoint the ashen world described as become subsumed by it. It is clear that Swenson finds this whole endeavor essentially futile, not even worth the vividness of rage or tragic inference.

Which is not surprising since it is all a metaphor for a life of lost love. "they (sic) are the flints of love" is the line that ends this poem, a very clear reference to the "retreating" waves of pigeons that desert the pigeon woman as soon as her food/love is given away. A flint, like slate, is a grey stone; the preceding colors had been chosen as foreshadowing. Flint, like love, is capable of sparks, of igniting a larger fire - or, as here, flint can just be one more cold stone. "A heart of flint" is an old metaphor, implied here by its absence.

May Swenson's "Pigeon Woman" uses the metaphor of an old woman futilely seeking contact with the pigeons as an illustration of the poet's attitude towards certain aspects of love. She does not attempt to see into the pigeon woman's thoughts. It is unnecessary: the pigeon woman and her grey endeavor are vehicles, not ch...

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"Pigeon Woman" by May Swenson. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:45, August 07, 2020, from