Ultimately

Ultimately

by Ernest Hemingway

He tried to spit out the truth;
Dry mouthed at first,
He drooled and slobbed in the end;
Truth dribbling his chin.

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This four line poem is written in free verse and has a rhyme scheme of ABCC. As the poem is so short, there is only a little bit to take note of regarding technique. He utilizes alliteration (tried/truth and dry/droolled/dribbling).

Substantively, the poem is about an unnamed man who attempts to “spit out” the truth. The use of this language implies that truth is no longer wanted in his mouth. He needs to get it out quickly if possible.

In line 2, though, we see that he is unable to get the truth out because he is dry-mouthed. Therefore, in the metaphor, “dry mouthed” lets us know that getting the truth out is difficult for some reason. The Reader is never told why. It is left to our imagination. There are in life, of course, many situations wherein sharing the truth might prove difficult.

As line three goes on, though, the Speaker tells us that the truth comes out in the end. What started as dry mouthed (or reticent) turns into drooled and slobbed (over-whelmed.) The poem concludes colorfully with truth dribbling on the man’s chin. The suggestion here is that once one decides to tell the truth, it will come forth, and even a person who started out as reticent will not be able to contain it.

It is possible to read this in several ways. One of them is to note that truth is messy and gross. The imagery also depicts a truth-speaker as like the very innocent (young or old) with a chin in need of wiping. One might also read the poem as a warning against wanting to share the truth. Once that decision is made internally, there is no going back, and you will find yourself helpless after.

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