“How to Paint a Donkey” by Naomi Shahib Nye Analysis

“How to Paint a Donkey” by Naomi Shahib Nye
“How to Paint a Donkey” by Naomi Shahib Nye Analysis

The poem, “How to Paint a Donkey” by Naomi Shahib Nye is a descriptive poetic piece. Naomi has used the literary technique stream of consciousness to show the speaker’s thoughts and continuous reactions to a memorable event.

The poem begins when the speaker is struggling to paint a donkey. Her painting is not right in others’ eyes as people find flaws in her artwork. Her inner voice keeps on interrupting her, guiding her, or somehow confusing her. The speaker tries to obey that voice that commands her actions. She cleaned her paintbrush to fix the errors, but the voice continued to hammer.

The reader knows that the painted donkey is blue as the poem continues. The speaker says that while painting the donkey, she stained her hands. Also, she cried when she accidentally hit the can with that painting. Once again, the voice interrupts her and asks her for the perfect and most pleasing piece of art. Toward the end, the poem takes a symbolic turn. The writer says that even after the ages of this incident, she still thinks of that donkey. She still feels that the donkey she painted was just the right size. There was nothing odd about that blue donkey.

Major Themes in “How to Paint a Donkey”

Artistic spirit, confusion, and conflict are the poem’s central themes. This short yet meaningful poem unfolds the dilemma of our life. The poem is written from an adult’s perspective, struggling to get a perfect artistic sketch. She is trying to paint a donkey, following her instincts. While doing so, she faces conflict. Her intuition guides her to complete the task. But, on the contrary, her inner voice continues to discourage her. It gives her a feeling that her hard work of creating a different art piece will not praise for her.

Through this simple poem, the writer tries to say that we try to do something different so many times in life. We map out the things accordingly. But unfortunately, societal norms and so-called previously established rules throw troubles to our way. As a result, we find ourselves in a state of confusion.

Thus, the speaker of the poem tries to correct the flaws, but she follows her version of the donkey. Surprisingly, the donkey is blue in her imagination, with a large head and small hooves. But she feels ok with her in different thinking. The good thing is that she does not give up. Instead, she completes her artwork. However, somewhere in her heart, she thinks whether she painted a perfect donkey or not?

“How to Paint a Donkey” by Naomi Shahib Nye

Analysis of Literary and Poetic Techniques Used in “How to Paint a Donkey”

Literary and poetic elements are used to bring richness, depth, and clarity to any lyrical piece. Their appropriate use connects readers to the writer’s intended meanings. Naomi has also added poetic and literary elements to the poem to make it the finest read. She has used imagery, symbolism, irony, metaphors and other rhetorical devices in the poem.


The first evident device that she used is irony. Using blue color to paint a donkey is ironic. We all know that donkeys are not blue. Naomi has purposefully used this expression to show what happens when someone tries to make a difference. The reaction of the voice can be generalized. It represents the world’s thought process, like how people react to your new ideas.


The second significant device she has used is imagery. Naomi has used effective words that brilliantly create mental images. With the help of these images, the reader quickly concludes. They can understand the hidden meaning of the poem.


Metaphor is comparing odd things without using comparative words. Naomi has used confusion as an extended metaphor in the poem to show how it impacts our lives. Although the speaker tries to develop something unique, the voice makes her stand on the verge of confusion. It evokes a situation where she doubts herself.


Personification is to give humanistic qualities to non-human objects. The writer has beautifully used this device in the poem throughout the poem. She considers the donkey as a character and continue to refer to him as human.


Symbolism is using symbols to create a profound impact in the poem. Naomi has used symbols like paint, confusion, satisfaction and doubt to show how they hinder her way of working.

Let’s Sum Up

I hope, the article, “How to Paint a Donkey” by Naomi Shahib Nye Analysis would help you understand the idea Naomi has layered in this poem. As always, if you have any questions regarding the poem, feel free to contact us.

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