in a Rose Garden
by Donald Justice
interpreted by Kenya Lyons (Super K)
Sir, I encountered Death
now among our roses.
as a scythe he stood there.
knew him by his pictures.
had a black coat on,
gloves, a broad black hat.
think he would have spoken,
his mouth stood open.
it was, with white teeth.
soon as he beckoned, I ran.
ran until I found you.
I am quitting my job.
want to see my sons
more before I die.
want to see California.
Sire, you must be that stranger
threatened my gardener.
is my property, sir.
welcome only friends here.
Sir, I knew your father.
we were friends at the end.
for your gardener,
did not threaten him.
men mistake my gestures.
only meant to ask him
show me to his master.
take it you are he?
Poet: Donald Justice was born in Miami, Florida
in 1925. He studied at the University of Miami (where he earned his BA),
at the University of North Carolina (where he earned his MA), and he also
studied at Stanford University. He has taught at the University of Florida,
the University of Miami, the University of Iowa, and Sycarous University.
Donald Justice's major works include The Summer Anniversaries (1960),
Night Light (1967), Departures (1973), Selected Poems
(1979), which won a Pulitzer Prize, Platonic Scripts (1984), and
The Sunset Maker: Poems, Stories, a Memoir (1987). In writing many
of his poems, he incorporates ancient poetic forms, using them in non-traditional
ways. He has been known to experiment with various types of poetry. Donald
Justice will be remembered in American literature for his creative use
of ancient poetry forms, and the unpredictable nature of his plots.
Type of poem: Dramatic poem, specifically a dramatic dialogue,
because the speakers are people other than the poet, and the entire poem
is a dialogue between them.
Speaker: This poem contains 3 speakers: an
old gardener, his master, and the shadowy embodiment of Death.
Audience: The gardener's words are directed toward his master,
the master's words are directed toward Death, and Death's words are directed
towards the master. The entire poem itself addresses a general audience.
Tone: At the beginning of the poem, during
the gardener's speech, the tone is one of fear. During the middle of the
poem, the master's speech carries a stern and bold tone. The tone of the
end of the poem, in which Death speaks, is quiet, calm, and gentle, though
Death's last comment changes the tone to that of brutal efficiency.
Meaning: There are two messages that the author of "Incident
in a Rose Garden" is trying to convey. The first is that humans have
no way of knowing when their life will end, even though they use various
factors, such as age, to determine how long they have to live. This quotation
from the poem supports this them: "Old men mistake my gestures,"
(Justice 24). In this quotation, Death says that older people often think
that he has come for them because of their age and that this way of thinking
is incorrect. This is significant because it supports the idea that humans
cannot always predict what will happen in their lives, because much of
it is controlled by outside forces. Justice's second message is that human
beings often form opinions about the unknown that may be incorrect. Humans
oftne view death as an enemy, but as this quotation from the poem shows,
death may not necessarily be a foe: "Sir, I knew your father / And
we were friends at the end," (Justice 20-21). In this quotation,
Death says that by the time he took the life of the man's father, the
father knew him well and viewed him as a friend. This suggests that Death
did not frighten the man's father, but instead gave him relief from the
stress of living. This is significant because it shows that it might not
be wise to form opinions about something, especially when the thing has
not been experienced first-hand. The thing that is feared and avoided
may actually turn out to be positive.
Structure of poem: "Incident in a Rose
Garden" is written in free verse. Even though the poem was not a
traditional verse, it contains several patterns:
stanzas of three lines each
Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:
as a scythe he stood there," (Justice 3)
& Figure of Speech
had his black coat on / Black gloves, a broad black hat," (Justice
soon as he beckoned, I ran," (Justice 10)
had his black coat on," (Justice 5)
think he would have spoken / Seeing his mouth stood open," (Justice
had his black coat on, Black gloves, a broad black hat," (Justice
Connection between the poem and the poet's life and/or
times: "Incident in a Rose Garden" would probably
not have been written in free verse if Donald Justice had been born in
earlier times. Society accepted the fact that Donald Justice wrote this
poem in free verse, because he did this during the 1900's. He probably
would not have written this in free verse if he had been born in the 1700's.
The surprise ending and the poet's view of death show that he is a very
creative person, and that his education at the various schools that he
attended allowed him to convey his opinions and ideas in a creative, clever
Most memorable quote from the poem: "Sire, I encountered
Death / Just now among our roses," (Justice 1-2)
© Smelli Notes 2001