Monday, February 17, 2014

The Shoe as Image in the Poetry of Amy Lowell and Charles Simic

A black and white photograph of a pair of old work books with the caption "The Shoe as Poetic Image."
What do your shoes say about you?
Shoes contain a rich and powerful significance, an historical set of meanings and imagery that lend themselves to making just as powerful works of poetry.

Although shoes are something people often dismiss as objects to be tossed into the closet after a long day at work, an evening of blistering dancing, or a day spent in the park, there are also seemingly endless possibilities for metaphor and the human condition associated with shoes. “If you want to leave your footprints in the sand of time,” the saying goes, “wear work boots.” "Put your best foot forward," coaches tell their teams before a game. "If the shoes fits . . .” we say in vague reference to owning up to foibles.

Poignant Imagery

Two poems that tap into the poignant imagery of the shoe are Charles Simic's poem "My Shoes," and Amy Lowell's "Red Slippers." "My Shoes" first appeared in Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems in 1999. "Red Slippers" appears in Amy Lowell's 1916 Men, Women and Ghosts.

Simic's "My Shoes"

In Charles Simic’s poem, “My Shoes” (n.d.), the poet uses an extended metaphor to help illustrate his feelings about his life. The extended metaphor works wonders here because of the rich history preceding the image of the shoe. He compares his “secret” (line 1) life to a pair of shoes, but not just any pair of shoes. He describes his shoes as “toothless” (line 2), “decomposed” (line 3), "humble" (line14), “maternal” (line 17), and “patient” (line19). His shoes, he states, have endured as he has endured, and all we need know about him “it is possible to read” (line 10) in his shoes. Simic taps into our universal relationship to the shoe, and with it he writes an exceptionally powerful poem about his own life. It's a poem wherein the poet tells the reader what it's like to “walk a mile in his shoes."

Lowell's "Red Slippers"

Amy Lowell speaks directly to the forgettable nature of the shoe in her poem "Red Slippers." Although she dramatically describes a pair of red shoes in a shop window as more colorful than anything else in the street scene, in the end, the shoes are ignored and passed by shoppers in the street. The red shoes and their "crimson reflections" (line 3) that drip, jam, scream, and plop throughout the first stanza, are "multiplied in the mirror side of the window" in the second stanza and "they swing up over curved heels like whirling tanagers sucked in a wind-pocket" in the third. They are active images, and the poet is curious enough about them to dedicate the majority of the poem to their description. However, in the end the shoes seemingly capture only the attention of the poet as "People hurry by, for these are only shoes" (line 16). The everyday shoe, no matter how colorful, is not as novel as its rival, "a cardboard lotus bud" (line 19). As humans, we understand and feel sad on behalf of the red slippers, all readers somehow understanding how it feels to be passed when needing a little attention.

Shoes contain a rich and powerful significance, an historical set of meanings and imagery that lend themselves to making just as powerful works of poetry. Without having to explain the nature of the shoe, both Simic and Lowell make use of the idea of "shoe" to make eloquent statements about the human condition.


Lowell, A. (n.d.). Red slippers. Retrieved from From the Academy of American Poets.
Simic, C. (n.d.). My shoes. Retrieved from From the Academy of American Poets.

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Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.  First published Jul 5, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

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