Cage

Through the branches of the Japanese cherry
Blooming like a cloud which will rain
A rain white as the sun
The living room across the roadway
Cuts its square of light
And in it fight
Two figures, hot, irate,
Stuck between sink and sofa in that golden cage.
Come out into the night, walk in the night,
It is for you, not me.
The cherry flowers will rain their rain as white
Cool as the moon.   
Listen how they surround.
You swing among them in your cage of light.
Come out into the night.

Josephine Miles, "Cage" from Josephine Miles: Collected Poems 1930-83. Copyright © 1983 by Josephine Miles.  Reprinted by permission of University of Illinois Press.
Source: Collected Poems 1930-83 (University of Illinois Press, 1983)

Writing Ideas

  1. Write a dialogue between the two figures Miles’s speaker observes. Using language from your imagined dialogue, write a poem from inside the “golden cage.”
  2. Take the final words of each line of Miles’s poem and use them as the first words in your own poem. (So your poem would begin with the word “Cherry.”
  3. “Cage” takes the risk of observing people who don’t know they’re being observed—it peeps at others’ lives, only to shift surprisingly into direct address halfway through. Taking up Miles’s form, write a poem that first spies on and then addresses someone else.

Discussion Questions

  1. Underline all the repeated words in one color. Then try to track both exact and slant rhymes. What do you notice about the sound patterning at work? Where do the hard ‘t’ sounds cluster, for example? Why?
  2. How does the poem play with, and play on, tensions between containment and openness? Think not just about the images in the poem, but the rhetorical effects of different kinds of statement like the final imperatives “Come out” and “Listen.”
  3. Generally lyric poems focus on an individual speaker’s experience of the world. In what ways does this poem conform to the conventions of lyric? How does it seem, or feel, different? Try reading Don Bogen’s helpful poem guide to help tease out traditional definitions of lyric poetry and how Miles’s poem conforms and does not.

Teaching Tips

  1. Have students free write on “Cage” for a few minutes. Ask that they try to describe not only what is happening in the poem in terms of content and form, but how they respond to the poem word by word as well. Stress that they should free-associate as much as possible—if thinking about the word “irate” makes them remember a fight with a friend, let them know that it’s okay to write about their own fight. Then ask students to write a blurb for the poem. Perhaps have a few different kinds of blurbs on hand from a variety of sources (novels, contemporary poetry books, etc.). Discuss what the purpose of the blurb is, who its intended audience may be, and any conventions or unconventional approaches students might take.
  2. As Don Bogen notes, Josephine Miles didn’t often write poems like “Cage.” Have students read other Miles poems to get a sense of her typical style. Discuss how “Cage” differs from these other poems, and how it might also relate. Then have students practice writing an imitation of their own version of a “typical” Josephine Miles poem.
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