Overview: “Picture Bride”

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Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Work overview
Length: 735 words

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About this Work
Title: Picture Bride (Poetry collection)
Published: January 01, 1983
Genre: Poetry collection
Author: Song, Cathy
Occupation: American writer
Other Names Used: Song, Cathy-Lynn;
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Cathy Song's poem “Picture Bride” can be found in her collection of poems of the same title. The poem portrays a young Korean woman who has been chosen for an arranged marriage and must leave her country: “She was a year younger / than I, / twenty-three when she left Korea.” The following lines relate the speaker's difficulty understanding how the woman found the courage and strength to leave home for an unknown husband far away: “Did she simply close / the door of her father's house / and walk away.” Where the reader expects a question here, the poet has instead used declarative punctuation, implying a certain understanding that the woman's feelings were not considered for it was her duty to leave and enter an arranged marriage.

More is divulged about the woman's journey in the next lines:

was it a long way
through the tailor shops of Pusan
. . . where the boat
waited to take her to an island
whose name she had
only recently learned.

By focusing on the distance she must travel (“was it a long way”), as well as just learning the name of her new home (“an island / whose name she had / only recently learned”), we know this young woman is leaving home for the first and only time, and is traveling to her new life. Questioning the trip's distance at the start of a sixteen-line question (which comprises the majority of the poem) communicates the distance that the young woman had to travel and the significance of that distance. The question continues: “on whose shore / a man waited, / turning her photograph / to the light”. It is the future husband who is holding the photograph of the woman. He is waiting to be united with a woman he has never met, yet whose image he may reflect upon as he waits.

The end of this lengthy question, which reads almost as if it was spoken in one breath, provides a setting for the husband-to-be:

the lanterns
in the camp outside
Waialua Sugar Mill were lit
and the inside of his room
grew luminous
from the wings of moths
migrating out of the cane stalks?

The image of moths moving out of the cane stalks provides a parallel between the fluttering insects and the probably agitated, uneasy bride as she travels to her unknown future.

At this point the reader learns that the speaker is describing the experience of her grandmother who had left Korea to become a bride. The speaker continues her musings on the woman's journey: “What things did my grandmother / take with her?” The speaker continues to ponder her grandmother's experience and wonders how her grandmother must have felt traveling a long distance from her home to meet her husband-to-be for the first time: “And when / she arrived to look / into the face of the stranger / who was her husband”. The reader is fully aware of how unfamiliar this man is to the speaker's grandmother, but also that he will be her husband, “thirteen years older than she”. Clearly, the man's age further conveys the awkwardness of the grandmother's situation. The unease of the scene is intensified with the next image: “did she politely untie / the silk bow of her jacket, / her tent-shaped dress / filling the dry wind”. The speaker implores sympathy from the reader of the naive young woman's experience as she opens herself to her new, unfamiliar husband.

In spite of the halting image of the new bride and her husband, a sense of continuity can be felt with the last two lines of “Picture Bride”: “the dry wind / that blew from the surrounding fields / where the men were burning the cane?” In spite of the previous image of the newly betrothed in an awkward moment of reconnaissance, movement from the surrounding fields is not forgotten as men continue to work, thereby signifying that in spite of the new couple's important moment, life around them will always continue.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1430002750