Analysis of “Forgive My Guilt” by Robert P.

Tristram Coffin
The poem “Forgive My Guilt” by Robert P. Tristram Coffin has a religious framework and diction as the poet committed a sin and is asking for forgiveness. The title gives the idea that the poem may be a prayer. The theme is one of regret. It has a remorseful tone and a sad, solemn mood. In the poem, a man regrets shooting two birds in his youth. They did not die immediately but suffered for a long time. In the first line, the poet notes that he does not know the true meaning or definition of a sin neither the actions which qualify as sins. However, he is sure that one of his actions as a boy qualified as a sin. In the fourth line, an image is painted of the boy lying with his gun among the frostflowers as he prepares to shoot the birds. There is a simile in the fifth line, “the air ran as blue as the flowers” comparing the blueness of the air to that of the flowers. The clouds also moved and the sky appeared to be running. This is a personification. There a simile in the following line: “slim as dream things”. The persona then held his breath showing that he felt the suspense of the moment. He wanted the shot to be precise and waited for the moment to come. In line six, the word “golden” is used to accentuate and exaggerate the beauty of the birds. They were “slim as dream things”. This means that they were dainty like something only imaginable in a dream. It did not seem as though it could be real. In the next line, the movement of the birds are compared to quicksilver. They ran from the persona extremely quickly. Like quicksilver, they could not be caught or touched. It also suggests that the birds were extremely beautiful. Again, the word “golden” is used to accentuate beauty. However, it was referring to the sand. From lines four to seven, there is a good example of visual imagery. The poet effectively used comparisons to enable an accurate picture of the scene to be painted in the reader’s mind. In line eight, the poet shot the birds and they fell. Their wings were broken and, as a result, they could not fly. However, they refused to surrender to the poet and ran into the sea. Even as he followed them, they swam away. Their dignity was shown in the words, “heads high out to sea”. There is another simile in line eleven. It compares the bird to sorrowful high flutes. Flutes make a shrill, high-pitched sound. The birds made such a sound with a mournful air. This is an example of aural imagery. In the next line, it states that the birds’ bones in their wings were exposed as their ivory colour could be seen. Ivory is priceless and is said to be beautiful. These bones were “jagged” and out of place. The poet continued to hear their cries even days after. It states that he heard them while walking the headland. This lets us know that the setting is on a coast. The birds were crying out their “kind in the blue”. They were asking for help and, again, the blue refers to the sky. The other plovers (the kind of birds) were travelling south for the winter leaving these two behind. The word “silver” is used to describe the other plovers’ wings. This is used like “golden” previously to emphasize the birds’ beauty. Even though the birds eventually died, the poet still heard their cries in his mind. His regret was so strong that he could not erase the sounds of their grief from his mind even through other periods of turmoil or even peace. It is stated that time cannot drown them. This means that he will be forever sorry

for his sin. In line twenty, the word “slender” is used as a pun. The birds are called slender flutes of sorrow again. “Slender” literally means that they are small in size. It also means that their sound sounded like it came from a slender (narrow) flute. Therefore, the sound would have been high-pitched. In line twenty-one, the birds are referred to as airy things as they are meant to fly and spend time in the air. They were “denied” the air. This word is used to show that the birds were restricted from the privilege of flying because of the poet’s deed. The poet never found out how they finally died, referred to by the word “split”. There are two instances of contrast in this poem. Firstly, the cowardice of the boy (lying among the flowers with a gun) is contrasted with the pride and dignity of the plovers. Even when they were injured, they swam away with their heads held high. The beauty of the uninjured birds is also contrasted with the cries and “jagged ivory bones” of the injured birds. The poet concludes by using a personification- asking nature to forgive him. He said that he hoped for years that all other wild, airy, beautiful things like the plovers would forgive him.

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