The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
- Read the poem again. How does it differ from the first time you read it?
- The poem goes from discussing things and ideas to the speaker’s own desire. Why do you think the poet’s voice shifts this way?
- The poet uses powerful imagery and metaphors to convey meaning. Which metaphor or image stands out most for you?
- Where do you see examples of alliteration and assonance (see what I did there)?
- If you could replace the word “famous” with another word that had a similar meaning, what would it be?
- Where do you see examples of opposites in the poem? Where do you see examples of objects that are related to each other?
- If you were to recite this poem, where would you pause for effect? How would you demonstrate, in your body language, the relationship between the famous thing and the thing it is famous to?
- Write a short poem about what/who are you famous to, and who/what is famous to you.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Famous" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted by permission of Far Corner Books.
Source: Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)