Streets by Naomi Shihab Nye

Streets by Naomi Shihab Nye is an ironic poem that talks about the adaptive nature of humanity. Published in 1991, the poem talks about the transience of life. The writer brilliantly sketches a picture of a dying man and the world’s reaction toward his death. It begins with the description of a man being present on the verge of extinction. To him, the streets he lives on grow shorter, implying his longing for life. His death leaves a permanent mark in one house of the city as the window of his house grows dark after his demise.

After describing that unknown man’s sad demise, the writer shifts the narrative. She talks about the world’s reaction to this tragic incident. She talks about the change of time when she says that the figs on windows will soften for birds, loud grackles are enjoying their musical flight in the sky. Also, the sky changes its color in the same pattern. Although for a moment, the death of a person brought silence to the city, soon after, everything gets back to normality. Life runs on the same motion, regardless of any tragedy.

As the poem goes on, she talks about two types of sleep; one that makes us fresh and the other that takes us to an unknown world. She explains that some people enjoy normal human sleep, while others share a different experience. They sleep for a while recalling the names of those who have left for heavenly abode leaving their names behind.

Major Themes in Streets by Naomi Shihab Nye

The transience of life, unavoidable death and cyclical nature are the major themes spotted in the poem. Although many poems have been written on these universal thematic strands, but Naomi has given this poem a unique touch by showing true nature of the world in the face of death. She has impressively details that death of a person wreaks havoc for his family only. For a moment, it seems that the whole world mourns for death, but as soon as we walk away from the sorrowful situation, we catch the normal pace of life. It’s rather ironic that a man who spends a lifetime in a city gets forgotten in short time.

Through this simple poem, the writer unveils that man considers himself important in the world, but as soon as he leaves the world, the world quickly replaces him as if he never existed. Its law of nature, every living creature is bound to death. Right from its existence, the world follows the cyclical natural patterns, and death and decay are part of them.

Techniques Used in Streets by Naomi Shihab Nye

Although the poem, streets deals with universal phenomenon like life and death, reality of life and man’s nature, yet Naomi has used many poetic and literary devices to make her poem sound different from the other poetic pieces. She has inserted Assonance, consonance, imagery, metaphor and symbolism in the poem to express her remarkable ideas.

  1. Assonance: It refers to the repetition of vowel sounds in the same verse such as; “streets he lived” and “whole company of.”
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same verse such as the sound of /s/ and /w/ in “sews and sews.”
  3. Imagery: Imagery is to use persuasive diction that creates mental images. Naomi has skilfully used this device in the poem to appeal to the reader’s senses such as; “They sleep completely” and “calling out names.”
  4. Metaphor: Metaphor shows an indirect comparison between two odd things. Naomi has used death as an extended metaphor in the poem to show how it plays its role in the world.

Personification: Personification is to give humanistic qualities to lifeless objects. Naomi has personified streets in the opening lines, where she states that the streets grow shorter.