Where I Come From by Elizabeth Brewster catches our attention through the use of unusual and powerful images. On the one hand she is strongly stating that we are all the product of our environment and that our surroundings leave an indelible mark on our personalities.
People are made of places.
On the other hand, she is describing the various elements of nature which have a strong impact on human psyche.
They carry with them
where they come from.
The poem is in three sections. The last part is rather short, only two lines. She first describes the rural folk, those who come from the jungles, mountains, the tropics or those who go sea-faring. She argues that they carry with them hints of where they come from. She then describes those who come from the cities and says that they often smell of smog in the cities or the faint smell of tulips
…the almost-not-smell of tulips in the spring,
from tiny gardens in the city with a fountain in the centre. They may also smell of museums with artefacts plotted exactly in the same order as given in a tourist guide book. Still others smell of their work places like factories of posh offices and crowded subways.
The poet is trying to say that what we consider as the identity of people is actually the identity of where they dwell the most. Their personalities are chiselled by the different aspects of their environment. Though smell is the predominant hint the poet states here, it is only in a metaphorical sense. It is not the actual ‘smell’ that the poet has in her mind. She is only talking about the effect these places and things have on people. But she states it in a poetic way using fresh and striking images. As we visualize the various aspects of these places, we can’t help forming images of the different people who are associated with them.
In the second part the poet takes us to her own native land amid the mountains of Canada. She says she comes from a much wooded land and the people there carry woods in their minds. They live among acres and acres of pine woods, with blueberries growing among the burned out bushes. Here one gets to see old, wooden farmhouses which need a coat of paint and hens and chickens circle about them, clucking aimlessly. Obviously she is only describing the images she has seen in her real life without letting loose her imagination like the Romantic poets. However, her skill of observation is remarkable. She also remembers the schoolhouses which had violets growing behind them. She says that mind cares only about two seasons: spring and winter. One is ice and the other is breaking of ice. She is referring to the lack of warmth in people and how the ‘ice breaks’ when situations change. And it is then that spring blossoms in our mind.
Her introspection makes her get in touch with her inner self and she senses that she carries with her a frosty wind from a field of snow.
Thus while trying to understand human nature by analysing where people come from, she brings us close to nature and shows us the wide variety present there. We are forced to agree with her that it should be rather hard not to be affected by such a strong element as nature.