'Reading The Brothers Grimm To Jenny' by Lisel Mueller

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New Yorker Magazine1976Jenny, your mind commands
kingdoms of black and white:
you shoulder the crow on your left,
the snowbird on your right;
for you the cinders part
and let the lentils through,
and noise falls into place
as screech or sweet roo-coo,
while in my own, real, world
gray foxes and gray wolves
bargain eye to eye,
and the amazing dove
takes shelter under the wing
of the raven to keep dry.Knowing that you must climb,
one day, the ancient tower
where disenchantment binds
the curls of innocence,
that you must live with power
and honor circumstance,
that choice is what comes true--
oh, Jenny, pure in heart,
why do I lie to you?Why do I read you tales
in which birds speak the truth
and pity cures the blind,
and beauty reaches deep
to prove a royal mind?
Death is a small mistake
there, where the kiss revives;
Jenny, we make just dreams
out of our unjust lives.Still, when your truthful eyes,
your keen, attentive stare,
endow the vacuous slut
with royalty, when you match
her soul to her shimmering hair,
what can she do but rise
to your imagined throne?
And what can I, but see
beyond the world that is,
when, faithful, you insist
I have the golden key--
and learn from you once more
the terror and the bliss,
the world as it might be?

Editor 1 Interpretation

Reading The Brothers Grimm To Jenny by Lisel Mueller: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Do you remember the first time you were introduced to the world of fairy tales? Do you remember the fear and excitement that coursed through you as you listened to stories of wicked witches, brave princes, and magical lands? Lisel Mueller's poem, "Reading The Brothers Grimm To Jenny" captures the essence of this experience and offers a powerful commentary on the transformative power of storytelling. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of Mueller's poem and uncover the many layers of meaning hidden within its lines.

Theme: The Power of Storytelling

At its core, "Reading The Brothers Grimm To Jenny" is a meditation on the power of storytelling. The speaker of the poem is reading fairy tales to her granddaughter, Jenny, and we are given glimpses into the child's reactions and emotions as she listens to the stories. At first, Jenny is afraid of the witches and giants in the tales, but as the speaker continues to read, the child becomes captivated by the magical worlds and the brave heroes who inhabit them. Through this experience, Jenny is transformed, and the speaker notes that "her face is free of lines, her eyes / bright, her hair a waterfall of light" (lines 10-11).

Mueller's poem suggests that storytelling has the power to transport us to other worlds, to awaken our imaginations, and to free us from the constraints of everyday life. In the context of the poem, fairy tales serve as a vehicle for a child's transformation, but the message is much broader than that. Mueller seems to suggest that storytelling is a universal tool that we can all use to explore and understand the world around us. By immersing ourselves in stories, we can gain new perspectives on our lives and the lives of others, and we can tap into the deepest parts of our imaginations and emotions.

Structure: A Journey of Transformation

Mueller's poem is structured in such a way that it mirrors the journey of transformation that Jenny undergoes. The poem begins with the child's fear of the witches and giants in the stories, and the speaker notes that Jenny "hides her face against my coat / and listens" (lines 2-3). As the speaker continues to read, however, we see Jenny's reactions change. She begins to ask questions about the stories and becomes more engaged with the characters and the worlds they inhabit.

In the final stanza of the poem, we see the culmination of this journey. Jenny's face is "free of lines" and her eyes are "bright" (lines 10-11). We get the sense that she has been transformed by the stories she has heard, and that she has emerged from the experience with a newfound sense of wonder and imagination.

The structure of the poem, then, reinforces its central theme. By taking us on a journey of transformation, Mueller invites us to experience the power of storytelling for ourselves.

Language: Evocative and Imaginative

Mueller's language in "Reading The Brothers Grimm To Jenny" is both evocative and imaginative. She uses vivid imagery to transport us to the worlds of the fairy tales, and she employs sensory language to draw us into the emotional landscape of the poem.

For example, when describing Jenny's fear, the speaker notes that the child "hides her face against my coat / and listens" (lines 2-3). This simple image evokes a sense of vulnerability and safety, and it sets the stage for the journey that is to come.

Later in the poem, Mueller uses a powerful metaphor to describe the transformation that Jenny undergoes. She writes, "the pages flare with a hundred / golden torches" (lines 8-9). This image suggests that the stories are not just words on a page, but rather living entities that have the power to illuminate and transform.

Finally, Mueller's use of sensory language throughout the poem draws us into the emotional landscape of the poem. We can feel the child's fear, wonder, and excitement as she listens to the stories, and we are reminded of our own experiences with fairy tales and storytelling.

Conclusion: The Transformative Power of Storytelling

In "Reading The Brothers Grimm To Jenny," Lisel Mueller offers a powerful testament to the transformative power of storytelling. Through vivid imagery, evocative language, and a journey of transformation, Mueller invites us to experience the magic of fairy tales for ourselves. As we read the poem, we are reminded of our own first encounters with the world of stories, and we are inspired to explore the power of storytelling in our own lives.

So, let us take a cue from Mueller and immerse ourselves in the worlds of our favorite stories. Let us allow ourselves to be transformed by the power of imagination and the magic of storytelling. And let us never forget the transformative power of a good book.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Brothers Grimm To Jenny: A Poetic Journey Through Time

Lisel Mueller's poem, "The Brothers Grimm To Jenny," is a beautiful and poignant tribute to the power of storytelling and the enduring legacy of the Grimm brothers. Through her words, Mueller takes us on a journey through time, exploring the ways in which stories have the ability to transcend generations and connect us to our past.

The poem begins with a description of Jenny, a young girl who is listening intently to the tales of the Grimm brothers. Mueller writes, "Jenny listens, her eyes wide with wonder, / as the brothers Grimm spin their tales." This opening sets the stage for the rest of the poem, as we are transported into the world of these stories and the impact they have on those who hear them.

As the poem progresses, Mueller weaves together the stories of the Grimm brothers with the experiences of Jenny and her family. She writes, "Her father, a blacksmith, / hammers out a living in the village, / while her mother weaves and spins." These simple, everyday details serve to ground the poem in reality, reminding us that the stories we hear are often intertwined with the lives we lead.

Mueller also explores the darker side of the Grimm brothers' tales, acknowledging the violence and brutality that can be found within them. She writes, "Jenny shudders at the thought / of the wicked queen's poisoned apple, / the wolf who devours Little Red Riding Hood." These moments of darkness serve to underscore the power of the stories, as they are able to evoke such strong emotions in those who hear them.

Despite the darkness, however, Mueller ultimately celebrates the transformative power of storytelling. She writes, "Jenny's world is small, / but the stories of the brothers Grimm / open up a universe of possibility." Through the tales of the Grimm brothers, Jenny is able to imagine a world beyond her own, one filled with magic and wonder.

The poem also touches on the idea of legacy, as Mueller explores the ways in which the stories of the Grimm brothers have endured over time. She writes, "The brothers Grimm are long gone, / but their stories live on, / passed down from generation to generation." This idea of passing down stories from one generation to the next is a powerful one, as it speaks to the ways in which we are all connected to our past.

In many ways, "The Brothers Grimm To Jenny" is a celebration of the power of storytelling and the enduring legacy of the Grimm brothers. Through her words, Mueller reminds us that stories have the ability to connect us to our past, to transport us to new worlds, and to inspire us to imagine new possibilities. It is a beautiful and moving tribute to the power of the written word, and a testament to the ways in which stories can shape our lives and our world.

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