Monday, February 26th, 2018...8:58 pmAnnalee

“The Clean Rinse” by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Notice 10 & T.O.B

  1. 16 lines, 8 stanzas, 2 lines per stanza
  2. No periods
    1. Sentences don’t end
    2. Poem doesn’t end with a hard stop (no period)
    3. Feels like it keeps going (cyclic? eternity? can’t escape it?)
  3. No capital letters, even when referring to the speaker: “i”
    1. Only capital letter is to start the poem
    2. Connected to lack of periods
    3. Dehumanizing?
  4. Uses “you” as if speaking to a specific person/ community
    1. Creates a sense of need/ urgency
    2. Makes it more personal
    3. Writing to someone in need?
  5. “Starch”: odorless and tasteless
    1. Attempt to force conformity
  6. “Try to say”, hard to actually do
    1. It’s almost as though the speaker knows that their message likely won’t impact the recipient
  7. “They will come again”
    1. “They”: generalization, makes “them” feel like the majority and the speaker and recipient are the minority/ the ones that need to e changed
  8. It’s a “gift” not a burden like they’ll tell you
    1. Has to go against others beliefs (popular opinion?)
  9. “Each time you go through this”– on going process
    1. Feels as though this process might never end and the speaker/recipient will never succeed
    2. Has the reader survived this process?
  10. Comparison to a dress shirt and ironing
    1. Word choice: “starch”, “100% cotton”, “wrinkle”
    2. Dress shirt = type of person doing the rinsing?



Without reading the poem, the title has a positive tone as people tend to prefer things that are clean rather than things that are dirty. “Rinse” is also a more gentle term than wash, soak, or cleanse. However, after reading the poem, it becomes evident that this “rinse” is more of a necessity rather than a casual and peaceful wash. It makes it feel as though someone has done something wrong and needs to be cleansed. The poem presents a more honest and straightforward tone than what the title inspires.



I’m assuming that this poem is in response to how people from the Middle East were (and still are) viewed after September 11, 2001. Americans both reject Middle Eastern cultures and try to Americanize them through this cleansing process. Not only is this process discrimination, but it’s racial and religious discrimination. The speaker urges the recipient to not let “them” change “you” and to hold on to their culture and identity.



There is a break in this poem at line six and then again at line thirteen. Before line six, the speaker describes how the process will change the recipient and how it takes away their individuality and their previous identity. After line six, the speaker shifts to try to speaking their message and urging the recipient to stay true to themselves. However, the poem loses hope after line thirteen when the speaker claims that the recipient will at one point not have anything else left to give because “they” will come again and again and repeat this process until they have succeeded.


  • I was convinced by your interpretation of “The Clean Rinse” as an illustration of deculturalization. When I first read this poem, I got the sense that with each rinsing, the subject “you” loses something. However, I was uncertain what this “something” was.

    You pointed out that because this poem lacks a definite stop (a period), it gives the impression of an endless, cyclic, and tedious process in which the originality of “you’’ is taken away. To me, “The Clean Rinse” is about refugees in the Middle East who live every day of their lives under oppression. Forced to conform, they must abandon their subjectivity (personality, dream, hope, and opinion) to survive. Oppression does not end until there is “nothing more” left to be stolen: when people have turned into “puppets.” When I read your post, my understanding of “The Clean Rinse” is broadened. I realized that oppression doesn’t always take a violent form. As stated in your post, racial discrimination is oppression. The Americans’ view towards Middle Eastern countries is indeed a “rinsing” process – prejudices and stereotypes that wash away any cultural identity.

  •   Lillian Carver
    March 1st, 2018 at 6:50 am

    I also enjoyed reading this poem, and I saw it to be a really beautiful discussion of growing up and growing old. I’m interested in your effort to tie this to post-9/11 perceptions of the Middle East.
    I think each “rinse” could be an event that questions and forces minimization of someone’s identity, for example, 9/11. I think this adds a dimension to the poem that I missed, and helps to enhance this idea of growing old and the events that maybe hinder a “natural” growth.

  •   Professor Seiler
    March 5th, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Annalee–I’m with Trang in appreciating your sense of how this poem, whose title initially seemed to you to have a “positive” connotation, in fact depicts a more insidious form of inhumanity… I hear the terrifying ring of “ethnic cleansing” in your post…

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