The Fist Poem Analysis – How Love Can Fester and Hurt.

The fist poem analysis cover image

Derek Walcott, using simple language, has created a poem that reveals the ugly aspect of ambiguous love. Such a complex emotion that overrides everyone at some point in their life and Walcott slit it open, revealing the core of it. This is The Fist poem analysis, along with the literary devices used, the theme of the poem, and how the poet’s interpretation of love works for all of us in our daily lives.

While most of the readers of this analysis and the poem will find that the sordid portrayal of love distasteful, it is the actual face of it. No matter how beautiful and fulfilling love seems, it always turns into a cage that bounds the person. Here’s what’s in this articles in order of appearance:

  • About the poet
  • The theme of the poem
  • Analysis of the poem
  • How it translates to day to day life
  • The form of the poem
  • Literary devices of the poem

You can read the poem by clicking here. The Fist by Derek Walcott, “The Fist” from Collected Poems: 1948-1984. Copyright © 1986 by Derek Walcott.

One quick read of the poem and you can see the short and simple language used here. The literary devices will be discussed later. The first impression of the poem is impactful. The vivid imagery and use of contrasting elements help the poet deliver the message he wanted to give. A short section must be for the poet before we go into the analysis of the poem.

About Derek Walcott, the creator of the poem

 Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize in Literature 1992; picture taken at his honorary dinner, Amsterdam, May 20th 2008
Derek Walcott at the Honorary Dinner. Image: Bert Nienhuis. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Belonging from the sovereign island country called Saint Lucia from the West Indies, Derek Walcott was an acclaimed poet. His work was appreciated both by critics and readers. Derek was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1992. Along with poetry, he worked as a professor and taught writing and poetry. If you find his poems engaging and interesting, you should read Omeros which is often considered his greatest literary work.

Theme of The Fist

The theme of the fist poem

The theme of The Fist is Love and the complications that come with it. Love is bittersweet. We love for the sweetness and leave for the bitterness. This is the nature of love. But what Derek does with The Fist shows the ugly side of love. The side that can kill someone. Love has been presented as a cage in this poem. Love captures people in it and then, no matter what you do, no matter how great and pure love is, there will always be pain from it. But this pain is often taken with the pleasure of love. This usage of opposites is mostly seen in Robert Frost’s poems like Fire and Ice or Stopping by the Woods in a Snowy Evening. A major part of the poem is about suffering this pain for love. The theme of the second stanza of The Fist is about love that has lost all the bounds. This is maniacal love. How dangerous it can get will be analyzed in the later section. The love here is a festering evil spawn of the pure love people seek.

Analysis of The Fist

The fist clenched round my heart

loosens a little, and I gasp

brightness; but it tightens

The poem begins with the first being around the heart. The fist is something that shows conflict, fight, anger. Heart on the other hand shows love, care, and tenderness. These two opposites being placed around each other shows the bittersweet nature of love; fist being the bitter part and heart being the sweet one. When this fist loosens, the poet gasps for brightens. The word gasps is here on purpose. When do we gasp and for what? When someone is drowning, the person gasps for air. In this case, the poet is gasping for brightness. Love tends to keep the poet in the darkness of falsehood. The respite from this comes and the poet can see the truth, but love clenches again. …again. When have I ever not loved, the pain of love? But this has moved.

In the last two lines of the first stanza, the poet asks a rhetorical question. “When have I ever not loved the pain of love?”, showing us that he knew the bitterness love comes with and he never had any problems with it. But then why was he gasping, why was there a fist clenched around his heart? He answers it, saying that the love had transmuted into something else.

But this has moved, past love to mania. This has the strong

clench of the madman, this is

Unchecked love grows and turns into mania. This obsessive love that makes people lose all senses is dangerous both the one who loves and the one who is loved. Sometimes it is dangerous for people around them. This is what the poet is telling. The strong grip of this fist is not of love, but mania. The madman that is suffocating him is this mania. This isn’t the pain of love anymore, this is the murderous madness of obsession. The last three lines of the poem are perhaps the most important part of it. So I have given them a separate section.

The most important part of The Fist

this is

gripping the ledge of unreason, before

plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

The last part of the second stanza is the most important part of the poem, because it gives so many details about what the poet is trying to say. Gripping the ledge of unreason refers to love that has turned blind and all it wants to believe is unreasonable things. This is why love becomes painful. It takes away the logic from one’s mind and forces them to do unreasonable things. Here, the unreason is the ledge the poet is holding on. If he lets it go, he falls into an abyss, howling as he goes. This represents death and in no way the poet can let this unreasonable mindset go. If he tries to look at things logically and reasonably, he will certainly fall. So what options does he have?

The last line says Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live. This means that he has to live in darkness, in the world of unreason. If he looks at it reasonably, he surely will fall. The only way he could live is by holding on to it. “This way at least you live” shows that he is choosing the lesser evil. He does not want to do it, but he has no choice. This is where love has taken him. And love itself has turned into something else.

Hearts flying out to represent love.

Love in our lives

The poem reflects a lot about our lives and the influence love has over them. No matter what type of love it is, they are always painful. Love is a beautiful connection between two people, but at the same time, this beautiful string of love can turn into a chain. It brings people closer but removes the emancipation of their life. Love must be kept under check to prevent it from turning into the chains. What’s more important is that once it turns into a chain, it then turns into the fist that clenches the heart. And if still, things go on similarly, it turns into the grasp of the madman. Love becomes maniacal. This is why love must be kept under control.

The hand on the heart must be gentle and caring. But slowly it can turn into a fist, enclosing it, choking it. Love is the hand, make sure it does not transmutes into a fist This is what we can take from the poem The Fist. It is a valuable lesson about love and its alluring yet dangerous nature. Another dangerous form of love is unrequited love, read some poems about them here.

Literary devices of The Fist

literary-devices-in-the-poem-The-Fist. Image by Wordsrum

The form of the poem is divided into two stanzas, each of five lines. This makes the poem in iambic pentameter. The first stanza is about love and its familiarity with the poet. The second stanza is about the malformed derivative of love that has put the poet in such a delicate situation. The last line of the second stanza is positioned because it’s separate from the other four lines. The last line is telling the heart to keep suffering to survive.

The rhyming scheme – This poem has a particular rhyming scheme. The scheme is a,a,b,d,d – e,f,g,f,f. There are a few intra-line rhyming as well. In the third line, brightness and tightens rhyme. In the last line, hard and heart rhymes. The poem also employs alliteration, personification, enjambment, onomatopoeia, metaphor. I’ll explain all these using examples from the poem. Let’s start with personification.

Personification means giving human-like qualities to inanimate objects. Here the love is personified by having a ” fist”. It is also compared to a madman. The heart is also personified in the last line when the poet asks it to hold hard.

Onomatopoeia is the usage of words that sound the same, like meow or sizzle, etc. In The Fist, onomatopoeia is used in the word “howling”. Notice how the word howling makes the sound “ow”. That’s onomatopoeia right there.

A metaphor is the figure of speech when something is not used for the literal meaning. This poem has a ton of metaphors. The fist clenched round my heart, I gasp brightness, but it tightens, the pain of love, the strong clench of the madman, gripping the ledge of unreason, before plunging howling into the abyss, Hold hard then, heart, and This way at least you live. These are all examples of phrases that do not mean literally, but metaphorically.

Alliteration is the use of the same letter or sound in adjacent or close lines. The last line, “Hold hard then, heart” is the alliteration here. Another one is ” loosen a little”.

Enjambment is the continuation of words in a line without any pauses to express the emotions in a flow. This is like the flow or “bars” in rapping. Here the fourth line of the second stanza “plunging howling into the abyss” is the enjambment. This was all about the analysis of the poem. Thanks for spending some time here on Wordsrum and reading a great piece of English poetry.

This was all about the Fist poem. It is a poem that speaks in a elucidate way but conveys something so complex and relevant. Love is a beautiful thing, but this can also be the reason for entrapment, a sort of sick irony that leads the moth to the flame. How we rush in love and then find ourselves stuck someplace from where there is no going back and going ahead is more painful than ending the love. Thanks for spending your time with us.

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