The poem titled “A Hymn to Childhood” by Li-Young Lee is about a child living through the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in which Mao Zedong attempted to purge all opposition of his views. The speaker of the poem is the author as a child. In this poem we are given a glimpse of the events that took place in the history of China. It also shows the reader some of the horrors of living during this time period through the eyes of a child. At the end of the poem we see how the child’s innocence, and trust in God, gives him hope of better days to come.The author uses many examples of figurative language in order to make his poem come to life.
In “A Hymn to Childhood”, Li-Young Lee writes, “While loudspeakers declared a new era” (9). This is an example of personification. The author may have added this personification to the poem in order to get the reader to imagine how a child might view the soldiers marching down the streets shouting their propaganda through loudspeakers. In “A Hymn to Childhood”, Lee also writes, “run the servants screaming, the soldiers shouting, / turning over the furniture, / smashing your mother’s china” (22-24).
In this example Lee uses alliteration by repeating the ‘s’ sound to emphasize the screaming, shouting, and smashing. It gives a sense of chaos. Li-Young Lee also uses a metaphor when he writes “Death from childhood, and both of them / from dreaming” (52-53). It is very obvious that children don’t die from dreaming, therefore it is clear to see that this is not meant to be literal.
Instead, we can conclude that the events happening around him caused him to become much more mature for his age instead of being an ordinary child with a dreamy imagination. The use of these examples of figurative language allows the poem to achieve more emotion.The overall theme of “A Hymn to Childhood” by Li-Young Lee is that even when everything around you is looking really bad there is always hope for things to get better. The theme is revealed by showing us the fear that the speaker was going through and by showing us that he still had hope, despite his circumstances.
Lee was able to bring out the theme of the poem by taking the reader into the point of view of the child and, more importantly, through the use of language and tone. In a way, the speaker is giving a praise, or “hymn”, to childhood for instilling such hope in him at such a young age.