Academic journal article Field

Gold

Academic journal article Field

Gold

Article excerpt

Beginning with its cartoon-evoking title, Nancy Willard's "How the Hen Sold Her Eggs to the Stingy Priest" moves immediately to a sales pitch, and from thence to layers of lyrical reflection. The title reveals the outcome of the story, but it doesn't prepare us for the process that makes it happen. This is one clever hen!

In the first five lines, the appeal is economic: You can't afford my eggs? Let me tell you: "An egg is a grand thing for a journey." Following the insistently spondaic "grand thing," the hen's voice becomes a little arch ("a shape most serviceable to the hand"), which adds to the comic effect; but it's clearly the voice of a salesperson, referencing the most basic needs of the traveler-food, clothing, the shelter of opened doors-even as it moves from the comically modest (a darning egg!) to the grand: "a purse of gold."

If the purse appeals to the priest's stinginess, the rest of the poem references his vocation. The "vision" of the next three lines is of "a world better than this one," but the hen isn't thinking of heaven. No longer selling her wares directly, she becomes reflective, as if she's forgotten the priest-though of course she hasn't. A more complex and lyrical style reflects the shift, beginning with the subordinate clause and continuing in the beautifully inverted syntax of "I would keep, in an egg till it was wanted, // the gold earth floating on a clear sea."

The "gold" that closes the first two arguments, referencing coin and yolk, acquires more layers in the final five lines of the poem. Echoing the previous sentence, the hen, her appeal now unambiguously religious ("If I wished for an angel"), extends her vision in language that is rich in spiritual and poetic association. Her "angel" is of course the chicken in the yellow egg yolk; but it's difficult not to see as well the gold-adorned angels of Christian art in the penultimate couplet-partly because of the language itself, with its repetition, assonance, alliteration, and pararhyme: "the wings in gold waiting to wake, / the feet in gold waiting to walk. …

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