The Saffron Picker by Judith Beveridge is a reflective poem that explores the themes of time and balance. Using the Buddhist sense of detachment and compassion Beveridge delves into the mind of a saffron picker, whose minute existence is used to explore the aforementioned themes. Through Beveridge’s short poem, the reader learns of the woman’s struggle to feed her family and how, to feed them she must put in hours of work picking crocuses to make saffron. Beveridge’s voice in The Saffron Picker is empathetic but at the same time observational and detached.
The subject matter itself is quite sombre, but the way the poem is composed engages the reader’s emotions and causes the poem to be shrouded in a mood of helplessness as readers feel that the saffron picker is disheartened at her life. When reading the poem analytically though, it is clear that the poet herself refrains from passing judgement on the situation. She is empathetic, as shown in the line “Soon she’ll crouch again above each crocus” which indicates that the poet is telling the story through the eyes of another person. But also simply observes, using descriptions that evoke an emotional reader response.
The phrase “The zero’s of her children’s mouths” is technically observational but Beveridge’s use of zero’s is interpreted in the reader’s mind as hunger and nothingness. This causes the reader to feel that the story is one of sadness and injustice. The voice of the poet and the mood of the poem are uniform throughout the entire poem helping to symbolise the daily grind of the saffron picker’s life. One of the main themes Beveridge explores is that of equality in the world. She explores this using mathematical terms and balance as metaphors.
In this particular poem mathematical references such as “weight opposing” and “fields of unfair equivalence” are used to indicate a lack of equilibrium in the world the saffron picker is working in. The use of mathematical terms helps portray the daily life the woman leads for her children. For example the lines “before enough yellow makes a spoonful heavy” and “how many days divvy up the one meal” use mathematical terms to symbolise the importance of simple things that define her life, which to others may seem insignificant, but calls into account how unequal the world is.
Another important phrase is “scales set by fate” which uses mathematical terms to imply inequality with the added dimension of fate. This adds a sense of hopelessness to the woman’s situation, as it makes it seem out of her control. The idea of equality is also explored through the use of opposites in the poem. For example saffron is meaningful as it is a product of binary opposites, a product that is expensive, but made by the poorest of the poor and thus highlights the theme of inequality.
Another set of opposites that is explored in the poem to symbolise inequality is that of heavy and light. In the saffron picker’s case the lightness of the saffron crocuses adds up to create a heavy ‘weight in her apron’. The use of apron is successful imagery as it symbolizes the interconnectivity of her work and mothering duties. But more importantly the ‘weight in her apron’ symbolizes the ‘indivisible hunger that never has the levity of flowers’.
This line is beautifully poignant as it shows how something that to most people is beautiful and light, to her is actually a huge burden that she must bear. These phrases also tie into the theme of time and it’s never ending permanence because they show that no matter how much saffron is produced each day, it will never be enough as time is continuous and each day more is needed to sufficiently provide for her family. The use of sun and shadow in the phrase “The sun will transpose its shadows” also uses opposites to tie into many themes of the poem.
It incorporates the theme of time because not only are sun and shadows used universally as a reference for time, but as a symbol for the daily turnover and grind of life. It also incorporates inequality as a theme because it symbolises the dejection and hunger that surrounds the saffron picker and her children. The way Beveridge has constructed this poem also adds to the exploration of the above themes. She uses five verses of 3 lines, with 5 stresses per line in an irregular beat.
This successfully creates a sense of ordered chaos which could be interpreted as the poet’s statement of the world’s imperfections. The other technique used in “The Saffron Picker” is enjambment. Enjambment breaks up the chronicle of the saffron picker’s day and indicates that this routine is a daily occurrence that has and will continue to happen for the rest of the woman’s time on the earth. I NEED A CONCLUSION?? Extract your key ideas, restate your key ideas, bring it to a conclusion in line with your important ideas in the introduction.
Courtney from Study Moose
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