Back when the was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn't had time to stick;
back when the breezes
melted into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file . . .
the called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a .
I caught my and called ,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.
I was pirouette and flourish,
I was and .
How could I count my blessings
when I didn't know their names?
Back when everything was still to come,
luck out everywhere.
I gave my to the world,
and the world me here.
In the poem “Testimonial” she demonstrates understanding of a child’s thought process and expresses through her strong words the frustrations in which could arise. Her verbal style expresses the child’s emotions in a way that is authentic and moving without becoming excessively sentimental.
She explains in the beginning of her poem “Back when the earth was new” this is her way of saying when she was a child and naive to the world. She then follows onto the next phrase, “Back when the names of things hadn't had time to stick” which means that she was so vulnerable and young she could not yet make sense of her surroundings. Her next stanza explains how her child hood flew by and she was growing up quickly. An example of this would be when she writes, “When the smallest breezes melted summer into autumn (Dove, Rita).” As she proceeds to write “When all the poplars quivered sweetly in rank and file…” I believe she meant as children get older they come to a point where they must grow up and move to the next stage of their life. Even though they are scared to grow up in which she used the word quivered to reference how scared she was. The poplar tree was chosen because it is fast growing, with a strong route system. She was young and quick to grow up however she was strong deep down inside and knew she had the ability to accomplish a lot.
As Rita Dove switches the word choice in the second half of the poem, by doing this, she switches the tone of the poem as well. She writes, “The world called, and I answered…I caught my breath and called that life, swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet (Dove, Rita).” There is a lot of meaning behind what she states. When she said the world called and she answered, she was saying that she was growing up to the point that she was making that leap into becoming of her own person. As she “caught her breath” was her moment to stop and reflect on the life she was now living. “Swoon between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet” was her way of saying that sometimes the little things could make her mind drift away from stress of growing up and bring her back to her memories of her childhood that made her life pass by so quickly. She is willing to accept bliss that she still finds in being alive so gratifying. She was opening her heart to living life and taking it all in one spoonful of sorbet at a time.
Another important line of her poem is when she says, “How could I count my blessings when I didn't know their names (Dove, Rita)?” When Rita Dove writes this, she is trying to say that everything happens for a reason and that it’s not always easy to decipher how you got to where you are in life when every small detail matters. She cannot count her blessings because she doesn't know each pebble that made her road to where she is. Though she is thankful in the least of how she got there she is unaware of the specifics as it happened so quickly.
Her last stanza again changes in tone just by her switching the words yet again back to how it all started. “Back when” she starts out as she glances back to when she was young again and her life was ahead of her, she continues “…everything was still to come (Dove, Rita)”. As she finalizes with her last words, she chose the perfect words to end her thoughts. “I gave my promise to the world, and the world followed me here.” Rita Dove remembers being a young girl and the simplicity of her childhood. Just by allowing herself to enjoy the world was the most enjoyable thing to her.
The theme of this poem is that if you accept the world….then the world will accept you. Live life to the fullest and open your eyes and heart to what the world has to offer you and you will enjoy life more fully. Sometimes the smallest things and taking the smallest steps can lead you to a full life.