The Yellow Palm: Poem Analysis
The Yellow Palm by Robert Minhinnick is colorful and has a certain musicality in it that makes it enjoyable to read despite the dark tones in the poem. It gave a sensitive account of what it is like to walk in the streets of Baghdad. Each sight described in the piece affected the poet who had traveled there in the 90s. The poem accurately conveyed the dreadfulness of the violence there even though he did not directly put certain events such as an explosion into words. Robert Minhinnick has a way with words that make you see scenes coming to life.
Traveling down the streets, Minhinnick showed his readers a parade of characters, each stirring strong emotions. The painful mourning in a funeral, the faithful response to a call to prayer, brave soldiers who had put their lives on the line now asking for money, and a child begging to put a bit of food in his stomach. The violence is hidden there somewhere in these picturesque scenes but one can see it if they are perceptive enough.
The poem was written in a ballad meter but an extended version of the original four-line ballad. It seems that Minhinnick had followed the footsteps of others who chose to use strong musical patterns to talk about issues that would otherwise be too heavy, the way Wordsworth and Auden did in some of their works. By using six-line stanzas, the images have a lot of time to develop in the poem. It is interesting how, despite staying true to form, Minhinnick craftily changes focus without getting readers confused. This form had a very strong rhythm. In the first lines, there are 4 stressed beats followed by 3 beats while allowing readers to pause. One could read it in a slow or fast manner aloud and there will not be any substantial changes to the emphasis on the words of the poem. This style challenges readers to be thoughtful and considerate when thinking about what the words meant. Something that a regular verse is not likely to do. This, along with the poet’s choice of words is what makes the poem powerful in painting a vivid picture.
He uses the sweetness of a fruit, dates, as a metaphor to express the sweetness of the welcoming feeling he had received in Baghdad. He describes the beggar child smiling in a way that shows how little children can remain so innocent even in such chaotic conditions, while a missile passes him by and how much children like him did not deserve to suffer so much. His description of the movement of the missile shows how much damage it can produce. He uses the word slow to show how it seems that time slows down when something horrible is about to happen like a bomb that is about to drop. The power of Minhinnick’s words stirs a lot of other ideas and thoughts in the reader’s head. He called a missile a silver caravan which is quite an irony because a missile is obviously not a thing of beauty but a thing of destruction. He might have chosen the word silver to describe the missile because of the speed that it has traveled or to show that is is a fast-moving metal. This silver caravan has brought pain and grief, and using the adjective silver could mean that it is something that had been costly to produce.
In the final verse of the poem, Minhinnick presented his readers the titular image of the poem. He talked about the yellow palm tree and paints a vivid picture of its vibrancy and color. As the poet watched, the child easily reaches for a fruit, the date, and very carefully the verse transitioned from the image of the war to the image of the tree that seems to be an image of hope. Despite the chaos and desperation showed in the beginning of the poem, Minhinnick ends it in a slightly hopeful tone. As the child successfully retrieved his date from the yellow palm tree, so does the world have the ability to recover from dire circumstances. That there may still be good things accessible to people who have been victims of situations that they did not create. The child having the sweet fruit expresses the joy of overcoming one’s hunger and thirst.
Robert Minhinnick used the power of words to create images that clearly show the effects of war without directly focusing on it. All the elements in the poem including the funeral, the blood on the mosque, the beggar child and the silver missile are elements seen in a war site and readers can witness this deadly battle even from far away. But despite the darkness in the fist verses, Minhinnick’s final verse sheds an ounce of hope. This could open people’s eyes to find optimism in a terrible reality.