Once Upon A Time - Literature Notes
Please note that the information given on this poem is not meant to replace any material given in the classroom setting. It is a very BASIC giude to enable a literal understanding of the poem. Metaphorical interpretations should be sought in the classroom.
The physical structure of this poem has been altered from the original layout in the text.
3.Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes;
but now 4.they only laugh with their teeth,
while 1.their ice-block eyes
5.search behind my shadow.
There was a time indeed
they used to 6.shake hands with their hearts;
but that's gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left 7.hands search
my empty pockets.
'Feel at home'! 'Come again' ;
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice
there will be no thrice -
for then I find doors shut on me.
So I have learnt many things, son.
2.I have learnt to wear many faces
like dresses - homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface
cocktail face, with all their 2.conforming smiles like a fixed portrait smile.
And I have learned, too.
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart
I have also learnt to say, 'Goodbye',
when I mean 'Good-riddance' ;
to say 'Glad to meet you',
without being glad; and to say 'It's been
nice talking to you', after being bored.
But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
8.unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for 2.my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake's bare fangs!
So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
3.once upon a time when I was like you.
Okara, G. 'Once Upon A Time' in A World of Prose. Edited by Mark McWatt and Hazel Simmonds McDonald. Pearson Education Ltd, 2005.
This is the OPINION of one individual, which might not coincide with the views of others.
A parent is talking to his/her's son and telling him how things used to be. The parent tells the son that people used to be sincere, but are now superficial and seek only to take from others. The persona tells the child that he/she has learnt to be just like these people, but does not want to be like that anymore. The parent wants to be as sincere as the son.
The people's eyes are as cold as ice. This means that there is no warmth or real feeling in the words that they say, or how they behave.This metaphor literally allows you to visualize a block of ice, cold and unwelcoming.
This phrase is repeated at the beginning and the end of the poem. This usually signals the beginning of a fairy tale. Therefore, it is implied that the persona is nostalgic about the past.
IMPORTANT WORDS/ PHRASES
4.'they only laugh with their teeth'
This emphasizes the insincerity of the people around the persona. To laugh with your teeth means that only the bottom half of your face is engaged, the laugh does not reach the eyes.
5. 'shake hands with their heart'
To shake hands with your heart implies a strong handshake that is sincere, this is the opposite of what now occurs between people.
6. 'search behind my shadow'
This implies that the person cannot look the persona in the eye, they are looking everywhere but there. Looking someone in the eye during a conversation implies that one is sincerely interested in what you have to say. Not being able to do so implies shiftiness.
7. 'hands search my empty pockets'
People are only 'seemingly' nice to get something from you. So, they smile with you, but it is not sincere, they are seeking to get something from you.
8. 'unlearn all these muting things'
The word mute means silence, think of what happens when you press the mute button on the TV remote. Therefore, there is an implication that the insincere actions that the persona describes are muting, they block, or silence, good intentions. Hence, the persona wants to 'unlearn' these habits.
The mood of the poem is annoyed and disappointment. The persona is remembering how things used to be when he was young and innocent, like his son.
The tone of the poem is sad. The poet's response to his nostalgia is sadness.
Death, childhood experiences, hypocrasy, loss of innocence, desire/dreams.
* It is IRONIC that the persona is behaving in the exact way that he/she despises. There is an implication that things cannot go back to what he remembers, due to the influence of societal expectations.
Contributor: Leisa Samuels-Thomas