Monday, February 26th, 2018...5:51 amElizabeth

“Arabic Coffee” by Naomi Shihab Nye

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“Arabic Coffee” by Naomi Shihab Nye (pp. 38-9)

Notice 10 & T.O.B.

  1. 2 stanzas, 31 lines, 11 sentences, lots of commas
  2. “Us”, including “Papa”, who is the “He”
  3. Descriptive language, through a use of colors, “blacker”, and “white”
  4. Sense of time, as if in the past, “years”, “times”, “present”, “when”, “carried”, “it was”, “The coffee was the center of the flower”, and “live long”
  5. Use of exaggeration/hyperbole, “The hundred disappointments”, and personification, “fire swallowing olive-wood beads”, and simile, “Like clothes on a line saying…”
  6. Words, “…men and women” and “Handkerchiefs” reminded me of Othello by Shakespeare because they are two important and reoccurring themes
  7. Phrases, “how luck lives in a spot of grounds”, “You will live long enough to wear me, / a motion of faith. There is this, / and there is more” makes me think that the coffee symbolizes hope, faith, and growth for the future. This reminiscent memory of making strong coffee is what will keep their strength during the hard times.
  8. Questioning the location because of lines, “And the place where men and women / break off from one another / was not present in that room”
  9. The coffee seems to be the place where the people gather, and integrate to talk. The coffee is the rock that holds the society/group of people together, for example, “…The coffee was / the center of the flower” (26-27).
  10. The use of the descriptive color words symbolize the strong coffee. The strong coffee is a synecdoche to the strong people who have faith, for example, “…There is this, / and there is more” (30-31). Coffee is the object that represents the big picture of strength.

Title: “Arabic Coffee”

  • The simple, and direct title allows the readers to immediately predict the subject of the poem—coffee.
  • The title also gives the readers an idea of the location, and culture of the subject.
  • Since coffee is a common necessity for many people, the readers might be curious to what the author is going to compare the coffee to, or how the author is going to symbolize the coffee.


  • I think the occasion of the poem is to show how the strong, black coffee is a symbol of growth. “It [the coffee] was never too strong for us:” shows how the “us” in the poem resemble or embody strength and power—they are above the coffee. Also to show how the literal coffee is not only strong in taste, but also in physical power. For example, coffee has the power to bring people together, and people are always stronger together.


  • There is one major break/shift in the poem that occurs between the two stanzas. The first stanza directly mentions the “us” in correlation to the coffee, then the second stanza shifts to the active motions and stories of the coffee, for example, “Leaning over the stove…” (7). In the second stanza, where the shift occurs the language starts to include similes, hyperboles and personifications that serve to symbolize the meaning/bigger picture.


  • I think that this is a great choice of poem. Tying the use of “handkerchiefs” and “… men and women” was not something that I connected when reading the poem, but that’s very fascinating. I think that the break in the poem is important, and I started to think that Nye was thinking about connecting coffee to bigger things than actually coffee. This coincides with your reading of the coffee bringing people together and integrate to talk. I think that the last two lines of the poem, “a motion of faith. There is this,/ and there is more.” is very important when finding meaning for the coffee because Nye could be talking about coffee itself or something deeper.

  • I’m particularly interested in your discussion of the occasion. It’s difficult in a poem that isn’t as explicit in its purpose to settle on an occasion, I think your focus on the coffee is (obviously, based on the title) appropriate, but I wonder if the coffee is more of an entryway than a focus.
    I think you touch upon this, so I don’t mean to state it as a completely new idea, but maybe a discussion of family coming together should be considered. The occasion is more than the “prop” of coffee, and I think that your discussion of what the coffee means outside of that really starts to move in that direction.

  • I wonder what the lines “And the place where men and women / break off from one another / was not present in that room” mean in the context of both the poem and the culture of the Middle East. I think in these specific lines the speaker uses this detail to show that the men and women (at least in that specific house / family) were considered equal or at least came together to enjoy each other’s company. However I wonder if the speaker added this part to suggest that other people’s houses may not be so inclusive or tolerant, even to their own people or within their own family home. This poem emphasizes the warmth of the speaker’s home but also draws attention to the other families who may not have had the same warmth, even if they were surrounded by a shared culture.

  •   Professor Seiler
    March 5th, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    Elizabeth–Wow, your post prompted some great questions about NSN’s craft that I hope you and others will ask her tomorrow. (Were you able to get your exam conflict sorted out?) I’m struck in your post by your grasp of this poem’s investment in sense memory (aroma/smell in this poem) and associative memory. Would be worth asking NSN about!

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