A handwritten letter
with a struggle for expression
and a sense of importance
written with white lead
on white paper.
The first aspect of this poem is the title: “a letter”. “a” was chosen rather than “the” to have a sense of indefiniteness. This letter is seemingly one of a group and does not at first stand out. Both “a” and “letter” were not capitalized to express a sense of subtlety and meekness. Both of these imply that in some sense, the letter is not meant to stand out
The first line mentions that the letter is handwritten. This is to evoke an image that has some sense of past: the letter is not typed on a computer. Second, it is meant to suggest to the reader the image of someone sitting at desk writing in long hand. Thirdly, even though the image created may be one of someone writing a letter, the line indicates that the letter has already been written. The letter is already finished.
The second and third lines go together to create a mood. The letter writer had trouble finding words to get across the importance of what they were writing. The words “struggle” and “sense” are meant to impart a sense of emotion. It is as if the letter writer was feeling somewhat overwhelmed as they wrote. Another point is that knowing the tone of the letter implies that the letter has been read, however, it does not indicate who has read it, a separate reader, or the letter writer. It is unclear whether the poem is describing the thoughts of the letter writer, or the impression of the letter reader.
The fourth and fifth lines go together and have literal and metaphorical implications. In a literal sense the letter writer wrote something that a reader would not be able to read: white text on white paper. Secondly, the letter writer used a pencil to write as indicated by the word “lead”. This adds to the difficulty that a reader would have in reading the letter because pencil lead would be lighter than ink and would fade. In a metaphorical sense, a letter written with white lead on white paper is meant to imply that the letter writer was hesitant to communicate: they wanted to express something, but they were afraid of what the receipt of the expression would imply. Secondly, “lead” is meant to imply heaviness as the word “lead” in “pencil lead” is pronounced the same as the metal “lead”. This idea relates to the struggle for expression that the writer was having.
The image in this poem is of an emotion where there is difficulty and hesitancy to communicate it. It meant to illustrate this broader idea.