from Four Saints in Three Acts, Gertrude Stein, Analysis & Explanation

Overview: Gertrude Stein's poem "Pigeons on the grass alas" is a modernist work that challenges conventional notions of language and meaning. At first glance, the poem seems like a nonsensical jumble of words, but closer analysis reveals patterns and repetitions that suggest a deeper significance.

Pigeons on the grass alas.

Poem Text

Pigeons on the grass alas.
Pigeons on the grass alas.
Short longer grass short longer longer shorter yellow grass. Pigeons
large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons on the
If they were not pigeons what were they.
If they were not pigeons on the grass alas what were they. He had
heard of a third and he asked about if it was a magpie in the sky.
If a magpie in the sky on the sky can not cry if the pigeon on the
grass alas can alas and to pass the pigeon on the grass alas and the
magpie in the sky on the sky and to try and to try alas on the
grass alas the pigeon on the grass the pigeon on the grass and alas.
They might be very well they might be very well very well they might be.
Let Lucy Lily Lily Lucy Lucy let Lucy Lucy Lily Lily Lily Lily
Lily let Lily Lucy Lucy let Lily. Let Lucy Lily.

Critical AnalysisThe opening lines, "Pigeons on the grass alas. / Pigeons on the grass alas," immediately establish a sense of repetition and redundancy. This repetition continues throughout the poem, with phrases like "short longer grass" and "Lily Lucy Lily Lucy" appearing multiple times. This repetition creates a musical quality to the poem, as the phrases are repeated with slight variations in rhythm and intonation.

The poem also features a play with language, as Stein uses words in unconventional ways. For example, the phrase "short longer longer shorter yellow grass" is a series of adjectives used as a noun, creating a new object with its own identity. This play with language challenges the reader's understanding of meaning and highlights the arbitrary nature of language.

The poem also features a sense of questioning and uncertainty, as Stein asks "If they were not pigeons what were they" and ponders the existence of a third bird, the magpie. This questioning creates a sense of instability and ambiguity, forcing the reader to confront the limits of their own understanding.

Finally, the repeated phrase "Let Lucy Lily Lily Lucy Lucy let Lucy Lucy Lily Lily Lily Lily / Lily let Lily Lucy Lucy let Lily. Let Lucy Lily" creates a sense of circularity and closure, bringing the poem back to its beginning and ending with a sense of completeness.

Overall, Gertrude Stein's "Pigeons on the grass alas" is a complex and challenging work that pushes the boundaries of language and meaning. Its repetition, unconventional use of language, and sense of uncertainty create a work that defies easy interpretation and encourages multiple readings.

Line by Line Explanation

1-2: The poem begins with the repetition of "Pigeons on the grass alas." This phrase is repeated twice, emphasizing the presence of the pigeons.
3-4: The next line describes the grass, which is of varying lengths and shades of yellow. The pigeons are again mentioned.
5-6: The poet questions the identity of the birds. If they are not pigeons, what could they be? This creates a sense of uncertainty and confusion.
7-8: The speaker wonders what the birds would be if they were not on the grass. This line further emphasizes the ambiguity and lack of clarity.
9-10: The speaker mentions a third bird, a magpie, which is not physically present but is "in the sky."
11-12: The speaker ponders whether a magpie in the sky can cry. The contrast between the physical presence of the pigeons and the absence of the magpie creates a sense of disconnect.
13-14: The speaker reflects on the fact that the pigeons can cry out in sorrow ("alas"), while the magpie in the sky cannot. The repetition of "alas" further emphasizes the melancholic mood.
15-17: The lines describe the act of passing by the pigeons on the grass and the magpie in the sky, as if attempting to reconcile their differences or make sense of their coexistence.
18-19: The speaker acknowledges that the birds might simply "be very well," implying that their presence and identity may not matter as much as the act of observation itself.
20-21: The poem ends with the repetition of the names "Lucy" and "Lily," creating a sense of closure and resolution.
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