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Homographs are words that have the same spelling but different meanings. This poem uses homographs to ask witty questions that reveal the magic of language to us. The poet tries to create humour by comparing the different literal meanings of a word. He wonders how the same words are used in different places with different meanings. The poem has three stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is aabb.
Have you ever seen a sheet on a river bed? Or a single hair from a hammer’s head? Has the foot of a mountain any toes? And is there a pair of garden hose?
The poet asks if we have ever seen a sheet on a river bed, or a single hair from a hammer’s head. He further asks if the foot of the mountain has any toes, and if there is a pair of garden hose. The poet is playing with how the same words are used with different meanings in different contexts. A river bed has no bedsheets on it, and a hammer’s head has no hair. The base of a mountain, although called its foot, has no toes. A garden pipe is called a hose but it does not come in pairs like hose or stockings.
Does the needle ever wink its eye? Why doesn’t the wing of a building fly? Can you tickle the ribs of a parasol? Or open the trunk of a tree at all?
The poet asks if the needle ever winks its eye, and why the wing of a building does not fly. He questions if we can tickle the ribs of a parasol, or open the trunk of a tree at all. He wittily uses homographs again. The tiny opening on one end of a needle is called an eye but it does not wink, a part of a building is called a wing but it does not fly. The ribs that give an umbrella its structure cannot be tickled like a person’s ribs, and a tree’s trunk does not open like an actual trunk or box.
Are the teeth of a rake ever going to bite? Have the hands of a clock any left or right? Can the garden plot be deep and dark? And what is the sound of the birch’s bark?
The poet asks if the teeth of a rake are ever going to bite, or if the hands of a clock have any left or right. He inquires if the garden plot can be deep and dark, and what the sound of the birch’s bark is. The poet thus continues his play with words. The pointed ends of the tool known as a rake are called its teeth but they do not bite, and the hands of a clock are not categorized as being left or right like human hands.
The patch of land on which a garden is located is called its plot, but it is not like the plot which means a conspiracy, so it cannot be deep and dark. The outer covering of the birch tree is called its bark, but this is very different from a dog’s bark.
This poem shows us how fun and interesting the English language can be by using homographs and puns. The poet creates humour by using the same words with different meanings.