Reduce love now for safety: An Analysis of Edith Tiempo’s Bonsai

By Joseinne Ignacio

By Edith Tiempo

All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe

All that I love?

Why, yes but for the moment-
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note, or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a young queen
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size.

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
All life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest child


When love is great, when love is profound, it becomes more difficult to control. And in the hands of people who are unable to control it, love overwhelms the person. This is the destructive nature of love which is why the award-winning poet Edith Tiempo, in her poem Bonsai, scaled down love into a “cupped hand size.”

The poem is an example of a work that is objective-correlative wherein the ideas depicted are abstract. In this work of literature, love is the abstract idea.

In the first stanza, Bonsai describes everything one loves as something that could be folded into the smallest size so that one could “keep in a box/ Or a slit in a hollow post/ Or in my shoe.” The idea is to turn one large concept such as love into something that “folds and keeps easy” so that one’s memory will not be cluttered. Memory stays with a person forever but it is often unreliable which is why there is a need to simplify love if it has become overwhelming so that it is easy to handle and quick to retrieve the memories from the labyrinths of the mind.

Then there came the question in the next line that said, “All that I love?” The interrogative statement was posed for self-examination which was, in the next stanza, assured with the lines “Why, yes but for the moment-/ And for all time, both.” The two lines are an oxymoron for love can be both temporal and eternal. It was like saying often one remembers a lover but there are times when he does not.

Tiempo even made love familiar and within reach by reducing it to things that people use and hold dear such as “Son’s note, or Dad’s gaudy tie,/ A roto picture of a young queen/ A blue Indian shawl, even/ A money bill.” By using these objects in the poem, Tiempo portrayed the sublimation of love as something that is abstract like gas penetrating the vast space surrounding two people into something that is concrete like a solid object that one can hold unto and control.

The next stanza tells about how when love is sublimated, it is made into something positive. The lines, “A feat, this heart’s control/ Moment to moment/ To scale all love down/ To a cupped hand size” pertain to one’s victory in sublimating and taking hold of love so that it will not be destructive. A cupped hand was the metaphor specifically used to convey the image of asking and giving love to another. It signifies the lover’s basic needs, that which is “the need to love and be loved.”

In the line, “Till seashells are broken pieces” the mystery of how something so vast such as the ocean can be heard from something so small such as a seashell. It is the same with love, that something so vast and huge can be contained in a small thing is a mystery.

The essence of the poem is that love is simplified and reduced so one can hold it in one hand and pass it on to another.


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