When every pencil meant a sacrifice
his parents boarded him at school in town,
slaving to free him from the stony fields,
the meagre acreage that bore them down.
They blushed with pride when, at his graduation,
they watched him picking up the slender scroll,
his passport from the years of brutal toil
and lonely patience in a barren hole.
When he went in the Bank their cups ran over.
They marvelled how he wore a milk-white shirt
work days and jeans on Sundays. He was saved
from their thistle-strewn farm and its red dirt.
And he said nothing. Hard and serious
like a young bear inside his teller's cage,
his axe-hewn hands upon the paper bills
aching with empty strength and throttled rage
Warren Pryor by Alden Nolah
1. What figure of speech is “cup runneth over”? What does this phrase mean?
Cup runneth over would be considered an idiom, commonly used to describe the state of having more than one needs. It is derived from the Hebrew Psalm 23:5, where a feast is being described, and the speaker narrates the generosity of the host.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 23:5, King James Bible; Cambridge Ed.
WIthin this poem, Pryor’s parents “cups ran over” when they experienced his newfound wealth. Through the poem, his parents feel burdened with their meager farm, and are overwhelmed by their son’s wealth and success, unbeknownst to his internal state.
2. Why did the parents marvel at the “milk white shirts”?
There is a subtle reference to colour here, where Nolan describes the shirt as being milk white, compared to the dirty red of their farm. Through the poem, we can infer Pryor’s family must’ve been very poor, if schooling their only son was considered a challenge. For a family like his, certain food products like milk would have been considered a luxury, and so would new clothing. Choosing to compare a new shirt to milk white is no...
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