Sample Paper One Written Commentary on Postcards by Margaret Atwood

        In the poem, “Postcard,” Margaret Atwood illustrates the harsh, and ensnaring aspects of love. She presents to connected themes throughout the poem, one of which being that despite preconceived perceptions everything is not what it appears to be. In “Postcard,” a vacation is not an escape from the trials of reality as it seems it should be, but rather a reminder of the pain associated with loving another person. This correlates to the second theme presented in the poem, which is that love can trap someone and is never perfect. Atwood uses as a stylized structure, sensuous and hearts word choice, and an extended metaphor of vacation, encapsulated and a melancholic tone in order to present these themes of distorted images and perceptions which plague the speaker.

         “Postcard” is written as if the speaker were sending a postcard to her lover. Atwood uses short sentences and the plus symbol in order to exemplify the shorthand style of writing that is associated with writing postcards. This style augments the extended metaphor of the vacation by placing the reader on the receiving end of the postcard. Further, Atwood writes three distinctive stanzas which allow for Atwood to show the different ways the speaker is trapped. The first stanza showcases the “delusion” of the vacation in a negative manner, as if the speaker wishes she weren't there. This idea transitions in the second stanza to how the speaker is trapped in time: “then down into the uneasy/ nights but never/ forward.” The speaker feels as if she could never move on, forever trapped in this one part of her life, which at which further exemplifies through her use of enjambment in each stanza to represent the continuous flow of time, juxtaposed with yet another nearly identical stanza in order to trap the speaker and the reader. The third stanza attests to the speaker's feeling of being trapped in love, as if, like the vacation and time, she cannot escape. Her use of repetition in the last stanza, when she repeats her claim from the second stanza about “time” to “love”, further captures this inability to escape: “Love comes in waves... a sickness which goes on/+ on.” The three-stanza poem written stylistically like a postcard enables Atwood to present the repetitive nature of seeing a feeling trapped in a certain situation but particularly a love that has turned emotionally damaging.

         Atwoods word choice throughout the poem is both sensuous and cacophonous in order to juxtapose the emotions associated with love and to exemplify the illusions of love. Words such as “glossy,” “wish,” and“”sweet” show the positive feelings the speaker once had for her lover and which ensnared her and our relationship. Yet, Atwood’s  inclusion of more words that have a negative connotation such as “rot,” “sweat,” and “junk” illustrate the fact that this relationship has turned toxic. Further, her inclusion of cacophony throughout the poem add discomfort for the reader, in that harsh sounds are not what one would expect to be associated with a vacation or with love. Through consonants in Atwood’s words of “fractured,” “sickness,” and “crow” exemplify the theme that everything is not as it seems to be: if love and vacations are associated with harsh, cacophonous sounds than the illusion is shattered for the reader, in which case the reader recognizes that there was an illusion present in the first place.

         The entirety of “postcard” serves as an extended metaphor for love. In the poem, love should be a vacation from the harshness of reality, something to bring a person positive emotions. Yet the speaker recognizes the ugliness of the vacation but cannot escape from it. In turn, the speaker understands that love has become like “a sickness which goes on/ + on,” but she could not let go or move on. Thus, the theme that love can trap a person is exemplified through the speakers adamant remaining in the vacation, and,  in turn, her inability to let go of this toxic imperfect love. Atwood frames the metaphor of the vacation in the context of a “postcard” which one would send from a vacation place to a loved one who is not with him or her. Yet, the speaker recognizes that “the palm trees on the reverse/ are a delusion.” She interpolates negative aspects of vacation to represent the damaging elements of love and her relationship as well. The fruit that are “on the verge of rot,” and “blue” birds are “elusive,” meaning that she can no longer obtain the beautiful aspects of love. Atwood also makes references to Latin America, which is a common vacation destination. However, many countries there are damaged by war and poverty, which Atwood mentions when she writes about “a prodded child... on the pocked road to school” and “a race of cripples, from the store/ to the church.” She characterizes “a clipping about democracy” as “junk” to recognize that democracy is in many Latin American countries was simply an illusion further augmenting the metaphor for illusions and the imperfection of love.

         The tone of the poem fluctuates between melancholic and pessimistic. The melancholic tone exemplifies the yearning of the speaker to escape her love for her lover to whom she writes, which is solidified by the permeation of poverty and negative vacation aspects. This tone can be seen when Atwood mentions, “wish you were here,” and “a hollow cave in the head.” The melancholy is most strongly present in the third stanza where the tonal shift from pessimistic to melancholic is evident between stanzas two and three. The pessimistic tone underline the theme of the facade in that appearances can be fooling. When Atwood begins to list the negative elements of her vacation, she calls them the “visual,” meaning she expected this damage. She says that “this is the sort of junk/ I carry with me,” meaning that the speaker believes she will never be able to escape these illusions because she always is faced with this kind of damage. The melancholy and pessimism present to the poem attest to the speaker’s negative attitude about her vacation, and thus, her relationship in love in general.

         Although people generally expect love to serve as an escape in itself from reality, Atwood juxtaposes this idea with the theme that preconceived notions and appearances can be deceiving, and love when damaged, can trap a person in a cycle of “sickness.” In the poem, “Postcard,” Atwood utilizes a specific three-stanza structure permeated with enjambment to illustrate the cyclical nature of love as a prison, as well as includes cacophonous word choice to associate harsh sounds with her descriptions of something generally perceived as peaceful such as a vacation and love. Her use of the extended metaphor of a vacation to represent love, presented with both a melancholic and pessimistic tone, shatters the readers illusions by revealing the illusions themselves. Thus, Atwood proves in “Postcard”  that the trials of love cannot be escaped, especially when humans are fooled by the idealistic images on the back of postcards.

Write a written commentary on the following poem by Margaret Atwood.


1 I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?

2 The palm trees on the reverse

3 are a delusion; so is the pink sand.

4 What we have are the usual

5 fractured Coke bottles and the smell

6 of backed-up drains, too sweet,

7 like a mango on the verge

8 of rot, which we have also.

9 The air clear sweat, mosquitoes

10 & their tracks; birds, blue & elusive.

11 Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one

12 day after the rolling on;

13 I move up, it’s called

14 awake, then down unto the uneasy

15 nights but never

16 forward. The roosters crow

17 for hours before dawn, and a prodded

18 child howls & howls

19 on the pocked road to school.

20 In the hold with the baggage

21 there are two prisoners,

22 their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates

23 of queasy chicks. Each spring

24 there’s a race of cripples, from the store

25 to the church. This is the sort of junk

26 I carry with me; a clipping

27 about democracy from the local paper.

28 Outside the window

29 they’re building the damn hotel,

30 nail by nail, someone’s

31 crumbling dream. A universe that includes you

32 can’t be all bad, but

33 does it? At this distance

34 you’re a mirage, a glossy image

35 fixed in the posture

36 of the last time I saw you. Turn you over, there’s the place

37 for the address. Wish you were

38 here. Love comes

39 in waves like oceans, a sickness which goes on

49 & on, a hollow cave

41 in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.