Make your own free website on


Poetry Analysis Notes


Incident in a Rose Garden
by Donald Justice
interpreted by Kenya Lyons (Super K)

Gardener: Sir, I encountered Death
Just now among our roses.
Thin as a scythe he stood there.

I knew him by his pictures.
He had a black coat on,
Black gloves, a broad black hat.

I think he would have
Seeing his mouth stood open.
Big it was, with white teeth.

As soon as he beckoned, I ran.
I ran until I found you.
Sir, I am quitting my job.

I want to see my sons
Once more before I die.
I want to see California.

Master: Sire, you must be that stranger
Who threatened my gardener.
This is my property, sir.

I welcome only friends here.

Death: Sir, I knew your father.
And we were friends at the end.

As for your gardener,
I did not threaten him.
Old men mistake my gestures.

I only meant to ask him
To show me to his master.
I 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.

Vocabulary: [NONE]

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.

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.

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
- run-on lines
end-stopped lines
- couplets
- iambic tetrameter

Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:

"Thin as a scythe he stood there," (Justice 3) Simile & Figure of Speech
"He had his black coat on / Black gloves, a broad black hat," (Justice 5-6)
"As soon as he beckoned, I ran," (Justice 10)
"He had his black coat on," (Justice 5)
"I think he would have spoken / Seeing his mouth stood open," (Justice 7-8) Couplet
"He had his black coat on, Black gloves, a broad black hat," (Justice 5-6). Repetition

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 manner.

Most memorable quote from the poem:
"Sire, I encountered Death / Just now among our roses," (Justice 1-2)

© Smelli Notes 2001