Where I Come From- Line by Line analysis

Biographical Information

• Elizabeth Brewster was born in 1922 in the small lumber town of Chipman,

New Brunswick, Canada.

• As a young poet in the 1940s, Elizabeth Brewster wrote in an almost

desperate attempt to order the chaos of her own psyche.

• Most of Brewster’s early poetry was based on rural and small-town rather

than urban experience and that it was mainly traditional in form. The bulk of

her poems centre around trees, oceans, cabins and childhood

recollections, lulling th


The key idea of the poem seems to be that a person’s character is always

formed at least in part by the place where he or she is born – “People are

made of places”. Wherever you go in life you will carry with you memories

and echoes of your birthplace, whether it is a city, as in the first stanza, or

the quiet Canadian countryside where Elizabeth herself was born –

“Where I come from, people carry woods in their minds” – and certainly

the picture she draws in the second stanza does seem at first to be idyllic

and wonderful, strongly contrasting with the city images in the first stanza.

This idea shows us that who we are is shaped by where we were born

and where we grew up, but this is not the end of the shaping process, as

the first line suggests ‘People are made of places’, you are shaped as

much by where you were born and grew up as the places that you go to

after your childhood, the things that you experience in other places, the

things that you see. Stanza 1

• This stanza deals with the organized and fast paced life of the city. In the

city everything is precise and controlled; everything runs like clockwork.

• Line 1-3: The first two lines of the poem summarise the main theme of the

poem perfectly. ‘People are made of places.’ As the theme suggests

people will never be able to forget their past, or where they came from.

People will always be able to tell where you come from ‘They carry with

them hints of jungles or mountains, a tropic grace or the cool eyes of seagazers.’

• Line 3-4: ‘Atmosphere of cities how different drops from them’ The author is

trying to show that the atmosphere of the place you live in can affect the

way that you live, throughout the year as nature progresses through its

seasons, atmospherically city life changes greatly. Stanza 1

• Line 4-5: ‘Like the smell of smog or the almost-not-smell of tulips in the

spring’, smog telling us about a typical winters day with density of the air

being greater and the water vapor blinding our site, ‘the almost-not-smell of

tulips in the spring’ this tells us how the flowers of spring are starting to

blossom, not fully produced and grown the smell of the tulips can not yet be

appreciated fully and with the combined smells of the city one could think

that they are smelling the tulips when actually the city life prevents the

scent of the tulip to a high degree.

• Line 6-7: The idea of the city being organized and tidily planned out is

introduced in these lines, ‘nature tidily plotted in little squares with a

fountain in the center’, telling us that within the city life, nature still exists in

public parks, which have been plotted around the city in small areas to

provide the reassurance of sanity within the community, that nature still

exists within the city environment but is scarce and nature cannot go about

its business how intended to because of the interruptions of city life and

pollution. Stanza 1

• Line 7-8: ‘museum smell, art also tidily plotted with a guidebook’. This

compares the tidily plotted countryside to tidily plotted art in an art museum,

with a guidebook. The guide book can be a metaphor for life, we try to

control everything, to guide ourselves through life instead of taking one

step at a time.

• Line 9-10: ‘the smell of work, glue factories maybe, chromium-plated

offices’, the city is full of skyscraping office buildings built of steel and other

sharp precise materials to give a uniform look and feel to the atmosphere,

also with great complexes comes great amounts of pollution, which

Elizabeth is relating to with ‘the smell of work, glue factories maybe’.

• Line 10-11: In the end of the stanza ‘smell of subways crowded at rush

hours’, this shows the congestion that is caused by overpopulation of the

city. It also shows how rushed life in the city is. Also it shows that at the end

of the day, no matter where you come from, if you work in chromium plated

offices or glue factories, everyone has the same goal and that is to get

home. Stanza 2

• The second stanza introduces an idea change in the poem. The focus of

the poem now shifts more to country and rural life; similar to that in which

Brewster herself grew up in.

• Line 12-13: These lines provide us with key details in which we can relate

to Brewster’s childhood, ‘Where I come from, people carry woods in their

minds, acres of pine woods’. Coming from New Brunswick, Canada, is 80%

forested and so the forest or ‘woods’ will always be in the peoples minds as

it is the centre of the little community.

• Line 14: People here care about things that people in the city would laugh

at, like ‘blueberry patches in the burned-out bush’. To the people in the

community this is relatively significant as it is the growing of something new

where before there was nothing. Stanza 2

• Life 15: ‘wooden farmhouses, old, in need of paint’. This is in direct contrast

to the first stanza where everything is new and attractive. The old

farmhouses are there solely to serve a purpose and until they stop serving

that purpose they will be kept, regardless of looks.

• Line 16-17: Brewster portrays a farming life with the ideas of chickens and

hens kept in yards, generally used to provide a source of food in the form of

eggs, or literally speaking the chickens themselves. Also the chickens and

hens being kept in yards, shows us that in the country there is the room to

spare to be able to keep these chickens and hens, whereas in conjunction

with the first stanza, the chickens would not be kept as there is no room nor

is there any need to keeping the chickens and hens.

• Line 17-18: ‘The battered schoolhouse’ again places emphasis on it being

an old building remaining only for practical purposes and not being

replaced by a more attractive building. ‘behind which violets grow’ just

backs up the earlier line of ‘blueberry’s growing in the burnt out bush’, it

shows how nature can create a picture of beauty anywhere, out of anything. Stanza 2

• Line 18-19: ‘Spring and winter are the mind’s chief seasons: ice and the

breaking of ice.’ Spring and winter are two opposing seasons and winter

could therefore represent the cold city life and spring the colorful country

life. ‘Ice and breaking of ice’ refers to something in the mind that is broken

when one makes the transition from the city to the country.

• Line 20-21: ‘A door in the mind blows open, and there blows a frosty wind

from fields of snow.’ The last two lines are puzzling. The door blowing open

is just another gateway opening in the mind to the memories that she holds

of her childhood. The second half these lines ‘and there blows a frosty wind

from fields of snow.’ is there to give a feel to the picture that she has been

describing and it gives the reader a cold feeling. The frosty wind from the

fields of snow is relevant because in Canada the winter is very frosty with a

lot of snow and wind. The “door” could be the memory opening in a blast of nostalgia, but the

association of winter and the “frosty wind” suggest something less pleasant,

like a realisation that the past, her place, is not so good after all. This is

supported by the content of the second stanza, where things may seem

superficially attractive in a rustic way, but are “burned out”, “old, in need of

paint”, where the chickins cluck “aimlessly” and buildings are “battered”. So

the suggestion is that it is easy to remember formative places all to positively,

but their legacy can be negative; a “frosty wind” in the mind? Structure

• The Poem is set out into three stanzas, the last being a rhyming couplet,

with the words ‘blow’ and ‘snows’.

• If you look at the poem at the end of the first stanza, the last line finishes as

a half line. The first line of the second stanza then starts halfway down the

line. The reason Elizabeth has done this is because she would like to start

the second stanza at the same place that she finished the first stanza; so

she has the same line of thought, but it is like she has jumped locations.

She finishes the first stanza with ‘subways crowded at rush hours’ and

starts the second stanza with ‘Where I come from’. This is to show a

distinct change between the two stanza with the first being city life and the

second being country life. Structure

• If you look at the lines in the poem every single line with the exception of 5

out of the 21 lines has some sort of a comma, full stop, colon or semi-colon

splitting the lines into two sections. This technique used is a great way to

show the reader that the poem is meant to be read slow and appreciatively,

taking in what is being said and thinking about it more, and not meant to be

quickly read and feeling bewildered afterwards when you are confused

about the poem to which you have just rushed.

• Apart from the previously mentioned no other apparent structure can be

found, so it is more contemporary and free versed poetry, done to provide

uniqueness with the poem and also this allows Elizabeth to get her ideas

and points across as there is next to no boundaries which allows her to use

any form of poetry language that she wants to, getting the reader thinking

more about the poem and its content rather than what words rhyme with

what and so on.e reader into a state of rustic complacency.


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