An Interpretation of In the Orchard
For any educator that is searching for a poem to arouse the interest of students enlisted in upper level literature classes, the poem In the Orchard by Muriel Stuart, written in the early twentieth century, conveys the ageless theme of unrequited love. The poem has all the elements of making students understand how far back the feeling of unrequited love has been around. We can understand these elements better through the rhetorical strategies.
A rhetorical strategy that this poem has is dialogue. The whole poem contains dialogue between the boy and girl who plan to meet each other in the orchard to be alone.
But I gave you everything.
Well, you shouldnt have done it. You know what a fellow thinks
when a girl does that. Yes, he talks of her over his drinks
And calls her a ______.
The issue that the boy and girl are discussing is still very much a part of todays society, unreturned love. This dialogue, or conversation, could be happening right now at the end of the twentieth century.
Another rhetorical strategy incorporated in the poem is imagery. There are many types of images that are in this poem. For example, the story that the young girl shares with the boy about drowning the cat is full of images for the reader to see:
Ive seen boys stone a blackbird, and watched them drown
A kittenit clawed at the reeds, and they pushed it down
Into the pool while it screamed. Is that fun, too?
The image of the cat clawing at the reeds stands out the most. A person reading this poem can envision the cat clawing the reeds and screaming as the young boys hold it under the water bringing the cat closer and closer to death with each passing moment. The purpose that the young girl tries to explain is that she understands the way young boys are and that they do not love anything.
Another rhetorical strategy that Muriel Stuart uses in her poem is projection. The girl seems really upset about finding out that the boy really does not have feeling for her. The girl says, I thought you loved me. The boy answers her by saying, No, it was only fun. She tries to find someway to see this boy again. Maybe she wants to see him again to find out if he does have feeling for her. When they are getting ready to part ways she quickly tries to find something to say to him to see if she will get any reaction of any kind of feeling from him. She half asks, half states that she will see him at the dance next week:
Yes, its late. Theres thunder about, a drop of rain
Fell on my hand in the dark. Ill see you again
At the dance next week. Youre sure that everythings right?
The boy simply replies that he will see her there. They then go their separate ways.
Good news and bad news is another rhetorical strategy used throughout the entire poem. The poem starts out with bad news. The girl first realizes that the boy may not have the same feelings that she has:
I loved you. I thought you knew
I wouldnt have danced like that with any but you.
I didnt know. I thought you knew it was fun.
I thought it was love you meant.
But shes not quite sure why her feelings are not returned. She begins to feel somewhat better when the boy begins to explain why he decided to have sex with her:
Well, the harvest moon
Was shining and queer in your hair, and it turned my head
Well, your mouth, too.
The girl may have interpreted this as good news. She at least knows some of the reasons why he chose his actions. But as the boy continues to talk the girl becomes more and more upset and confused. The good news is gone. All the rest of the news that the boy and girl receive will be bad. The realization that her love is not returned has to be the worst news that the girl receives.
There is one analogy used in this poem. The boy uses it to describe one of the reasons that led him to have sex with the girl. He explains that the way the harvest moon was shining and queer in your hair made him turn his head. He uses the analogy to describe the quiet under the tree. He says, And the quiet there that sang like the drum in the booth. The girl really does not buy into this explanation though. She seems to see right through his line and continues to ask more questions.
The girl uses the rhetorical strategy of proposal to find out more about the boys feelings. Kiss me, she says. But does the boy actually listen to her and kiss her? Or does he just tell her Good night and leave? The girl does not give the reader any indication of whether or not the boy kissed her good night before he left.
The biggest rhetorical strategy throughout the poem is self-discovery. The boy and girl both discover things about themselves and about the opposite sex. The boy realizes that women have feelings too. He found out that you cannot just use women and expect them to accept that fact. He sees the girl become distraught as he explains things to her. Maybe this makes him sad, and he tries to be a little gentler in his explanation of things. There is something that the boy wants to say, but for some reason he cannot. The girl questions him. You said you had something to tell me, she says. The boy replies, Yes, I know. It wasnt anything reallyI think Ill go. He may want to say that he does actually have feelings for her. He might want to tell her that she cannot say a word about what happened between them to anyone. He does not say what is on his mind though. He just lets the subject go.
The girl has the biggest self-discovery of all. She learns that the boy does not have feelings for her, nor does he love her:
It makes you mad for a bit to feel shes your own,
And you laugh and kiss her, and maybe you give her a ring,
But its only in fun.
When the young man tells her this she is devastated. She does not understand how the boy could have sex with her and not love her. People who have sex with each other are supposed to love each other. She just does not understand how the boy could do this to her. Then when the boy tells her that all males are this way, the girl looks like she is going to cry. This discovery seems really hard on the girl.
In the Orchard by Muriel Stuart is a good poem in which to convey the ageless theme of unrequited love to students who need to be aroused to the poetry portion of literature. The students will be able to connect with the message of the poem and relate it to what is happening in their lives. Students may learn to love poetry and all of the hidden meanings that are contained in poems.