Once Upon a Time

In the poem “Once Upon a Time,” by Gabriel Okara, the persona is reflecting on the behavioral patterns of people in the present and the past hence using ‘once upon a time’ as the first line suggesting this was a long time ago. He then begins to compare the differences between how he acted as a child and how much that has changed now that he is an adult and a father . This poem is about a man growing up and losing the innocence he once had as a child.

While in the poem “Forgive my Guilt,” by Robert Coffin, the persona committed an awful thing. As a boy he loved to shoot birds but it came to pass that one day he started to realize that the things he had done were “sins” line 1 captures this “not always sure what things called sins maybe”. In the poem he starts to recall the moment in which he killed the two birds the poet uses the imagery in line 4 and line 8 to capture this 4“I lay in the frost flowers with a gun”, “8my gun went off they ran with broken wings”.

The persona in “once upon a time,” feels as if he has adapted all too well to the hypocrisy of the world using lines 20-24 “I have learned to wear many faces like dresses- home face, office face, street face, host face, cocktail face, with all their conforming smiles like a fixed portrait smile”, he uses the word conforming suggesting this is a permanent feature for example the face of a politicians wife, the persona has mastered the art of being a hypocrite.

The persona desperately wants to change, he expresses his desires in lines 34-36 says “I want to be what I used to be when I was like you, I want to unlearn all these muting things”, this suggests that he wants to be like who he was when he was a child, before he was brought in to learning the muting like things of the world, he wants to go back to being hospitable, genuine, true, sincere etc.

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While the boy in the poem “Forgive my Guilt,” is eager to kill without knowing the consequences, now a man he is haunted by his past actions no matter how he tries to get over his sins even as an adult he cannot. This is seen in lines 17-19 “the cries went out one day, but I still hear them all over, the sounds of sorrow in war or peace I ever have heard, time cannot drown them”. The deaths made him feel sorry, sad and pity during the beginning, when they died he knew he cost them everything and felt guilty.

The author expresses it again in lines 23-24, “I have hoped for years all that is world, airy, and beautiful will forgive my guilt. ” In the poem “Once Upon a Time” and “Forgive My Guilt,” several literary devices can be found such as similes and puns. One example of a simile in the poem “Once Upon a Time,” can be found in line 23-24 “with all their conforming smiles like a fixed portrait smile. These lines were used by the poet to express the general image that was shown throughout the persona’s adult life . The word conforming is derived from the word ‘conform,’ which means to comply with rules, standards or laws or  behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”. The persona was pushed to conform to the ways of the world “the muting things. ” It wasn’t socially acceptable to show your true feelings, it was normal for him to behave hypocritically.

The line also says, “like fixed portrait smiles,” this tells us that no matter where the persona went he had that portrait like smile, it was a permanent feature that came with him. This line is very effective it emphasizes how people behaved. In the poem “Forgive My Guilt” a pun was identified in line 21 where it says “two airy things forever denied the air” this line has two significant meanings: one , that the birds were denied the air because they were unable to fly and two, they are no longer going to be able to breathe (they are dead).

These lines are very effective. The poet gives to us, the reader, an evoking mental image of what the persona denied the two birds. In both poems there is a sense of guilt, in “Forgive My Guilt” there was the guilt of the past and in the poem “Once Upon a Time” there was the guilt of the present. The poems reflect childhood experiences and how it affected the present state of each persona.

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