The HyperTexts

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning, Tone, Diction and Literary Devices

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

Published by The Lyric, Promosaik (Germany), Setu (India) and Poetry Life & Times; also translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Rigli

FORM: The poem is a nonce form, created for this particular poem. Each stanza has five lines rhymed ABCCB with the C rhyme being the same word. In the longer version of the poem below, each rhymed stanza is followed by a stanza rhymed DEFEB or DEFFE which echoes a phrase from the preceding stanza.
THEME: The theme of the poem is the frailty of life, as suggested by the title.
ANALYSIS: The poem uses imagery and metaphors to illustrate the fragility of life: a "frail envelope of flesh," a "frail crucible of dust," a "brief flower," a "brief mayfly." The repetition of the terms "frail" and "brief" emphasizes these aspects of life. The close relationship and bond between mother and child is emphasized by the pairing of eyes, hands and lips.
TONE: The tone of the poem is that of an elegy or lament: sad, melancholy, pensive, mournful.
DICTION: The poem's diction is similar to that of someone speaking at a funeral service: subdued, formal, reverent, respectful, honoring mother and child.
LITERARY DEVICES: The main literary devices employed are meter, rhyme, imagery and metaphor. In the final line the word "Deluge" is capitalized, suggesting the Great Flood that destroyed nearly all life on earth, according to the Bible. The capitalization is meant to intimate that the mother's tears constitute a new Great Flood and that for her the loss of her child is like the loss of the entire earth.

The phrase "frail envelope of flesh" was one of my first encounters with the power of poetry, although I read it in a superhero comic book as a boy (I forget which one). I believe this was around age ten or eleven. Years later, the line kept popping into my head, so I wrote the poem. The first version of the poem was longer, about twice the length of the version above ...

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with wispy curls
like your mother’s curls,
and a heartbeat weak, unstable . . .

In the rookery of Time
immortal stars collide;
why mention lives of babes
when infant planets glide
through orbits weak, unstable?


Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this:
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss.

In the dying nebulas
of supernovas’ burnt-out stars,
stunned planets glide and soar
like fiery meteors
for a last bewildered kiss.


Frail mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your eyes
from the Deluge of her tears ...

In the soundless black abyss
where light’s a lost surmise,
dark planets spin forever
or die sometimes with never
a kiss to seal their eyes
.

I can't remember when I wrote the original, longer poem. I do know from my records that I first submitted it for publication in 1998, so it was written sometime between age ten and forty! But I think it was probably during my early or mid twenties. In any case, I submitted the shorter version to The Lyric in 2002, and it was accepted and published then. On an interesting note, I did Google searches for the phrase "frail envelope of flesh" a number of times in the early going, trying to find the comic book where I encountered the phrase, but it was nowhere to be found on the Internet. However, recently I tried the search again and it turned up 1,650 results. Most were pages with my poem (that's a lot of cutting and pasting), but other writers are now using the phrase. I have to believe that I started a trend!

I have since dedicated the poem to the mothers and children of Gaza and the Nakba. The word Nakba is Arabic for "Catastrophe." The children of Gaza and their parents know all too well how fragile life and human happiness can be. What can I say, but that I hope, dream, wish and pray that one day ruthless men will no longer have power over the lives and happiness of innocents? Women, children and babies are not "terrorists," so why are they being punished collectively for the "crime" of having been born "wrong"? How can the government of Israel practice systematic racism and apartheid, and how can the government of the United States fund and support such barbarism? I agree with Gandhi, who said that if we want to live in a better world, we will have to start with the children.

Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, a former editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks, and a translator of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into fourteen languages and set to music by twelve composers. His poem "First They Came for the Muslims" has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators, and according to Google appears on 691,000 web pages.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the author, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

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