Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'Identity' by Elizabeth Jennings
When I decide I shall assemble you
Or, more precisely, when I decide which thoughts
Of mine about you fit most easily together,
Then I can learn what I have loved, what lets
Light through the mind. The residue
Of what you may be goes. I gather
Only as lovers or friends gather at all
For making friend means this-
Image and passion combined into a whole
Pattern within the loving mind, not her or his
Concurring there. You can project the full
Picture of lover or friend that is not either.
So then assemble me,
Your exact picture firm and credible,
Though as I think myself I may be free
And accurate enough.
That you love what is truthful to your will
Is all that ever can be answered for
And, what is more,
Is all we make each other when we love.
‘Identity’ by Elizabeth Jennings is about how we create a mental image of the identity of a person, which may not be the real self of the person even when we love him/her.
In the first stanza, the narrator, presumably the poet, says that when she wants to understand the identity of a person, she creates a mental image of the person with thoughts about him/her. The mental image is created with only those thoughts which “fit most easily together”. In other words, we select only those parts of a person’s identity that we like to see or are easily understood by us. The rest of the person’s identity, that which we don’t easily understand or like, we discard.
In the second stanza, the poet muses that even lovers and friends do this. And making a friend means only loving your friend’s image that we have created in our own mind. It is not the real identity of the friend. Even when we thing we have understood the full identity of a friend, it is not the real identity of that person that we have in mind: it is only an identity that we can understand and we have created in our mind.
In the third stanza, the poet invites the reader or the addressee of the poem, to assess and find her own identity, according to the former’s perception. The poet agrees that this picture will be different from what she herself thinks of herself. Further, the poet says that what we love is actually not the person but our picture or our perception of the person.
The poem is written in free verse, in three stanzas, of unequal length: the first two stanzas contain six lines and the final stanza has eight. The poem does not have any rhyming pattern.
Language and imagery
Since the poem is a close look at what is meant by the ‘identity’ of a person, a rather prosaic topic, the language used are more down-to-earth than poetic. There is an extended metaphor used in the poem to convey the idea that a person’s identity is only constructed by the perceiver. The words ‘assemble’, ‘fit’, ‘pattern’, and ‘accurate’ refer to the metaphor of someone putting together puzzle pieces, or someone constructing something out of many different pieces.
Even though the general theme of the poem is love, and how lovers perceive each other, there is a dispassionate, even clinical, tone adopted in the poem.