Contentment: Escaping Materialism
Oliver Wendell Holmes gives an intriguing illustration of humble living in “Contentment.” The speaker uses metaphor to trivialize the status symbols that people strive to acquire. Alliteration is effectively used to place emphasis on items that the speaker considers luxurious. In each stanza, Holmes uses elaborate visual imagery to engage readers and highlight the materialistic desires of individuals. The speaker clearly states his appreciation for modest living and his displeasure with a life aimed at acquiring material possessions. Metaphor, alliteration, imagery and tone are the devices that make this poem successful.
“Honors are silly toys” (Holmes 1445, 20). ‘Silly’ (20) gives readers the impression that these honors have no benefit for society. The assertion that honors are ‘toys’ (20) makes these honors seem unimportant and childish. The enjoyment derived from them is as brief as from a child’s plaything. The person being admired might ‘play’ with the idea of being honored as a child plays with toys. The speaker says, “titles are but empty names” (21). He contends that only the holder or seeker of a title assigns significance to it. Holmes uses these metaphors, “honors are silly toys” and “titles are but empty names,” to expose the arbitrary nature of status.
“Perhaps, for just a single spurt,/Some seconds less would do no hurt” (42-43). The S sound is repeated four times in quick succession to draw attention to the speaker’s assertion that a rapid or gaudy horse is not necessary for travel. Even though horses are no longer used for transportation, the reader can draw parallels between them and the luxurious automobiles that serve as status symbols today. Three more uses of alliteration, ‘some little luxury there/Of red morocco's gilded gleam/And vellum rich as country cream’ (53-55), depict a collection of finely veneered books – a luxury exceeding what is necessary for contented living. The most important use of...