A Summary and Analysis of Li-Young Lee’s ‘From Blossoms’

Literature

‘From Blossoms’ is a 1986 poem by the American poet Li-Young Lee. In the poem, a speaker celebrates the joyful experience of buying and eating some peaches which began life as flower blossoms. Li-Young Lee was born in Indonesia in 1957, although his parents were Chinese. His parents settled in the United States in 1964 and Lee became an American citizen.

You can read ‘From Blossoms’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of Li-Young Lee’s poem below. The poem takes around one minute to read.

‘From Blossoms’: summary

The poem begins with a speaker observing that the peaches they hold came from blossoms: that is, the fruit began life as flower blossoms on a tree. They have bought the bag of peaches from a boy selling them at a bend in the road.

The second stanza sees the speaker considering the various processes involved in getting the peaches from the tree on which they grew into the bag they’re now contained in. The peaches were plucked from branches loaded with the fruits, gathered into buckets or ‘bins’, and then sold by the roadside. They are as sweet as nectar is to a bee. Indeed, the ‘dusty’ skin of the fruits is like the dust in the summer air. In other words, the soft and moist fruits seem to contain the very essence of summer.

In the poem’s third stanza, the speaker celebrates the fact that we are able to take something we love – such as a peach – and consume it inside us. We can carry the fruit within us like our own miniature orchard. It is as if we are devouring not just the skin of the peach but the shade it once grew under, and those summer days during which it matured and ripened. It is joyous.

The closing stanza of the poem sees the speaker of the poem considering those days of our lives when death seems far away from us. Instead, we move from one joyful or happy experience to another, like a bird flying through the sky, moving from one blossom to the next.

‘From Blossoms’: analysis

The history of poetry about fruit could potentially be a long one, taking in, among many others, Wallace Stevens’ ‘A Dish of Peaches in Russia’, William Carlos Williams’ ‘This Is Just to Say’ (with its plums in the icebox), and, of course, Seamus Heaney’s poem of youthful disillusionment, ‘Blackberry-Picking’. Like many other ‘fruitful’ poems, ‘From Blossoms’ celebrates the joyous experience of tasting fruit, seeing it as a portal to something even greater: transcendent, even.

Indeed, the peaches are more than just a fleeting snack to be enjoyed by the side of the road. For the poet, they contain time itself, those

‘days’ of summer which they took to mature and ripen. To eat a peach is to taste the summer: it’s as if the dusty and furry skin on the peach is somehow linked to the dusty roads and the dry air of the summer itself.

But as well as containing time, in a symbolic sense, the peaches are also the nexus for a social activity and exchange: note the ‘we’ in that opening stanza, indicating that the poem’s speaker has bought, and presumably eaten, the peaches with someone else. Who is this other person: a lover, a friend, their whole family?

We are not told, but the point is that the peaches are shared. Eating the fruit which the land has brought forth, the product which has been brought to the speaker through the delicate interplay of sunlight, water, planting and growing, garnering and then finally selling, is a communal experience rather than a solitary one. The ‘sweet fellowship’ the peaches themselves experienced while in those bins after they were picked is echoed by the people who enjoy eating them.

However, what could have been a trite message about the interrelatedness of different things – the trees, the fruit, the boy who sells the fruit, the speaker and his companion(s) who devour it – is saved from lapsing into platitudes by the deft way Li-Young Lee has his speaker philosophise on the peaches. There is an air of his getting carried away with his encomium to the fruits, of leaving us behind as he flies off on the heady excitement he experiences in the moment of eating the fruits.

For example, note that slightly unexpected beginning, where not just the peaches but the whole bag appear to have come from blossoms (of course, the paper used to make the brown bag also comes from trees, like the peaches themselves): it is as if we are being prepared for a long meditation on fruit from someone who can barely rein in their excitement, so we should view the speaker’s observations as sincere but perhaps also verging on the fulsome.

And indeed, if Li-Young Lee’s fruit poem reminds us of any other modern poem on a similar theme, it is perhaps Louis MacNeice’s ‘Snow’, with its evocative and vibrant description of eating tangerines while indoors and sheltered from the cold weather outside. This delightful sensory experience is founded upon the ‘various’ senses being aroused simultaneously: taste, texture, smell, sight are all mixed up as the speaker bites into the tangerines and spits out the pips.

‘From Blossoms’ is similarly a sensory poem which recalls the Romanticism of John Keats, whose poetry is always alive to the different senses. Although we literally take fruit inside us when we eat it, for the speaker this is more than just a simple act of ingestion: it is to become one with the peach on an almost spiritual level, a transformative experience which perhaps has more in common with holy communion and the act of symbolically taking in the body of Christ.

It is also an act whose symbolism is larger than the act itself. Eating a single peach is to take in the whole orchard, as if simply being aware of how the peach started out, growing among many others, is to incorporate the orchard itself into one’s body. This is obviously symbolic (and, once again, deliberately verges on absurd hyperbole), but it suggests a deep link between the physical act of eating and the mental processes that go on when we do so.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the peach symbolises life. ‘From Blossoms’ ends with a meditation on those days when we forget death altogether as we are swept up by the sheer joy of living, flitting from one delightful thing to another like a bird on the wing (although the idea of flitting from flower to flower may also, under pressure from that earlier ‘nectar’, take us to bees as well as birds). The blossom is ‘impossible’ not only because it is so wondrous as to appear impossible (too good to be true, and so on) but because it is impossible for the blossom to remain as such: it must grow into the peach, and the peach must be picked and then eaten.

So at the very end of the poem, we have a subtle reminder of death, or at least the impermanence of all things. But this is why the joyful experience of sharing the peaches is so valuable and affirmative: not because it exists in a world without death or change but rather, precisely because it exists in a world which is forever in flux, as the poem’s very title suggests.

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