The Moment


The Moment by Margaret Atwood (Analysis)


The MOMENT WHEN, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same MOMENT WHEN trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way around.

Poetic devices:
Imagery
Personification
Simile
REPETITION

Form: Free verse

Theme: It is nature that has power over humans, and not the other way around.

The theme of the poem is nature ownership. Atwood’s father is an entomologist (insect scientist) that’s why she spent half of each year in the Ontario wilderness until she was eleven. Atwood’s fascination with the Canadian wilderness is present in so much of her writing. Atwood is an environmental activist; and environment is one of the things she shows support for aside from feminism and social justice.

The first stanza addresses someone who claims something that is of nature. In the second stanza, Atwood uses imagery and personification to convey that nature rejects the fact that mankind owns it. The third stanza reaffirms that humans indeed do not own nature and that it is humans who belong to nature.

The first stanza suggests man’s claim of nature’s ownership. The first and second lines “The moment when, after many years of hard work and a long voyage” is an emphasis on how humans strive to gain or have possession of something. Also, the phrase “a long voyage” may hint Vikings or some people of that sort who travel through seas to conquer lands which are not theirs. Notice that “room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country” is written in an increasing size order that emphasizes how far or great the land area humans may conquer. The third line “You stand in the centre of your room” may just suggest man’s self-exaltation, or a feeling of being the center of the universe. And, believing that nature has been made to serve them or be their “slave”, men claims ownership of nature thus thinking that they have total control over it by doing whatever they want to do to it like abuse it.

The second stanza suggests nature’s rejection of the fact that mankind owns it. Notice the verbs used in this stanza: trees UNLOOSE their soft arms from around you (the trees are kind of hugging you at first but then stopped because unloose means to unfasten or untie esp. a knot, and it’s kind of stopped nurturing you and it’s supported by “soft arms”); the birds TAKE BACK their language (The language of the birds is literally their chirping, which is like music to our ears. When they stop chirping, our life becomes kind of dull.); the cliffs FISSURE and collapse (the cliffs started to have structural weakness and lack of support, thus leaving humans feeling unstable); the air MOVES BACK from you like a wave and you can’t breathe (the movement of a wave is kind of gentle, and although it is how the air moves in the poem, it is evident that even the gentleness of nature’s withdrawal has a great effect of humans to extent of being unable to breathe). The verbs are showing nature’s act of withdrawal from their responsibilities to mankind perhaps as an act of rebellion, for the moment men tried to claim that they own nature, it is also the same moment that nature try to abandon humans. The poem uses “enjambment,” or the continuation of meaning, without pause or break, from one line of poetry to the next, in the first and second stanzas. This application of enjambment shows that these two stanzas are closely connected, as they were being compared as the same moment happening at the same time yet there is a great contrast between them. The first stanza shows a positive feeling from men’s perspective the moment they proclaim that they have control over nature; however, the negative verbs from the second stanzas show nature’s refusal of that fact, and they show by their actions how they are the ones who really control men and not the other way around.

The third stanza affirms that mankind does not indeed own nature. “No, they whisper. You own nothing.” The nature in the poem may just openly say “No,” but it whispered because nature’s way is gentle, which can be seen on the second stanza. They just strike big blows, like throwing calamities back at us to release their bottled-up fury. “You were a visitor, time after time” suggests that even before we were born, nature is already there. They preceded our existence. Humans may die and just get replaced generation after generation. Humans are temporary beings on this earth, just like visitors on someone’s house, while nature’s existence is permanent. “climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming” is just a line of imagery used by Atwood to indicate mankind’s tendency of possessing something after conquering it – because after you’ve strived to climb a hill, planting a flag on it indicates a sign of ownership, and by “proclaiming,” men just have a tendency to show off or boast after achieving a difficult task. The last three lines “We never belonged to you. / You never found us. / It was always the other way around.” is the nature’s way of saying in the poem that mankind does not really own nature but it’s really the other way around. Men are just little beings living on earth that depend on nature to support their lives. The poem shows that nature has more power and significance over men. Also, when we die, we get buried under the earth, rot, and become a part of the soil; thus, it is really mankind who belong to nature.

© Anthea Cabrestante & Ulrick Fernandez

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