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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

HOW I LEARNED TO SWEEP, by                 Poet's Biography


"How I Learned to Sweep" is a poem by Julia Alvarez that explores the themes of identity, cultural heritage, and the passage of time. The poem was first published in 1985 as part of her collection "Homecoming."


The poem is narrated by the speaker, who reflects on her memories of learning to sweep as a young girl in the Dominican Republic. The speaker describes the cultural significance of sweeping, and the ways in which it was seen as a symbol of cleanliness and order.

As the poem progresses, the speaker contemplates the ways in which her identity has been shaped by her cultural heritage and the traditions passed down to her by her ancestors. The poem ultimately concludes with a sense of pride and appreciation for the lessons learned from her family and her culture.

Poetic Elements:

  • Form: "How I Learned to Sweep" is a free verse poem without a set rhyme or meter. The poem consists of three stanzas, each with varying line lengths and no consistent pattern of rhyme or rhythm. This form allows the poem to flow freely and naturally, with the language and imagery serving as the primary focus. The use of enjambment creates a sense of continuity and fluidity, reflecting the theme of cultural heritage and the passage of time.
  • Imagery: "broom," "dust," "the sweep of skirts"
  • Allusion: None
  • Metaphor: Sweeping as a symbol of cultural identity and heritage
  • Symbolism: None


"How I Learned to Sweep" is a powerful and evocative poem that invites readers to reflect on the ways in which our cultural heritage shapes our identity and sense of self. The poem challenges us to consider the lessons we can learn from our ancestors and the importance of preserving our cultural traditions.

Poem Snippet:


"And yet the memory of my grandmother

Sweeping clean her life on the bare dirt floor

Of the house that she was born in

Still pulls me down to my knees."


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