Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
A Story

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Have you ever had difficulty in your relationship with your parents? Do you sometimes feel simultaneously close and far from them? “A Story” (1990) by Li-Young Lee (1957-present) explores a father and son relationship. The poem picks up on the nuances of a close and caring relationship riddled with doubt and the knowledge that the child will inevitably grow and outgrow the father. Although it explores the theme of a father and son relationship, it is a piece that speaks to the nature of many types of relationships and how growing up can sometimes mean growing apart.

A Story At a Glance

To best analyze a poem and draw deeper meaning, an understanding of the basics is best. Let's look at a breakdown of the poem’s details.


“A Story”




Li-Young Lee


Six stanzas of varying length (between two to six lines each)


Free-verse narrative

Literary devices

Enjambment, diction, metaphor


Tactile, visual


Father and son relationship


The father-son relationship changes as the son grows and the father ages. A father’s awareness of this strengthens his love and causes him pain.

A Story Summary

Before a deeper analysis, a summary of “A Story” is necessary. "A Story" is in the third-person point of view and is the dramatized account of a father trying to tell a story his son has requested.

Third-person point of view: a perspective in which the narrator is not one of the characters and uses third-person pronouns such as "he," "she," and "they" to explain what is happening

In conjuring up a new story and trying affectionately to hold his child’s attention, the father realizes that his son will one day grow up and sadly outgrow him. Their relationship will change, and the son may not have time for such imaginative stories. The father’s thoughts are pulled back into real-time and the present, with the little boy still waiting for his father to tell him a story. The silence as the two patiently and lovingly sit together is symbolic of a father-son relationship — of all that's said and all that goes unsaid.

Li-Young Lee's father was the personal doctor of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic of China. His father was later exiled due to his anti-communist beliefs, and the family moved to various countries before permanently settling in the United States. Li-Young Lee was born along the way in Indonesia. His father was put in an Indonesian prison for over a year because of anti-Chinese sentiment. Li-Young Lee was only 1 year old when his father was imprisoned.

A Story Full Poem

Read the full poem "A Story" below.

Sad is the man who is asked for a story

and can't come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.

Not the same story, Baba. A new one.

The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear. (5)

In a room full of books in a world

of stories, he can recall

not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy

will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees (10)

the day this boy will go. Don't go!

Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!

You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.

Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts, (15)

he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,

the man screams, that I sit mute before you?

Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?

It is an emotional rather than logical equation, (20)

an earthly rather than heavenly one,

which posits that a boy's supplications

and a father's love add up to silence."

A Story Analysis

“A Story” is a brief poem with a strong message about parenthood, but it requires deeper analysis to flesh out the various literary devices used. Some of the devices poet Li-Young Lee uses include enjambment, metaphor, diction, and imagery.

A Story, a father and son reading, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Knowing quality time between a father and son will lessen over time makes the father all the more upset that he can't give his son the story he desires.


Lee uses no patterned rhyme scheme or consistent meter in "A Story" as it is a free-verse poem. Its rhythm is dependent upon the natural cadence of language and purposeful techniques, such as enjambment.

Enjambment: the trickling over of ideas from one line of poetry onto the next without the use of end punctuation

Lee begins the poem with an instance of enjambment, and he connects the first two lines of the poem — all of stanza one — together.

Sad is the man who is asked for a story

and can't come up with one."

(Lines 1-2)

The purposeful line break creates a visual pause as your eyes move from one line to the next, creating a bit of suspense before concluding the idea. The reader's anticipation of finishing the idea heightens the emotional connection the reader has with the voice as the poem progresses.


Metaphors are a wonderful literary device often used in both poetry and prose to help writers establish mood, tone, and setting or connect with the reader and provide a more vivid description.

Metaphor: a direct comparison of two unlike things without using the words like or as. Metaphors typically utilize one object familiar to the reader to describe a less familiar or abstract idea, such as an emotion.

Lee uses metaphor in lines 16-17:

...Are you a god,

the man screams, that I sit mute before you?"

The metaphor here compares the son to a god. The father becomes insecure before his son, who he thinks of as a transcendental being, and it causes him to fumble and forget stories that he was once able to tell. He feels hopeless and like he can't complete the request, even though books surround him. The metaphor comparing his son to a god also implies unconditional love. The son does have an absolute love for his father, and it's conveyed through the son's pet name, "Baba" for his father.

A Story, book shelves, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A room full of books should make it easy to choose a story... but the father still struggles.


Diction often indicates the voice’s perspective or the writer’s perspective. Each word is meticulously chosen to communicate a cohesive idea and create a certain effect.

Diction: the specific word choice the writer uses to communicate the tone and mood of a piece.

Here the informal diction chosen by Lee effortlessly communicates the tender and caring relationship between the father and his young son. Words like “Baba” are a term of endearment and speak to the very close and personal connection the parent has with his child. The little boy “waits in his lap” (line 3) to hear a story from his father. These simple gestures are evidence that this is a recurring event in their lives. Another important stylistic technique is the use of italics within the poem to show the father’s perspective through internal dialogue. Readers understand this self-doubt through the father’s experience and can relate to these feelings of uncertainty.


Imagery within the poem helps establish the close and caring relationship between the two and gives a sense of place within the narrative poem.

Imagery is a description that appeals to the five senses. For example, tactile imagery appeals to the sense of touch, while visual imagery appeals to the sense of sight.

Lee uses tactile imagery in the second stanza:

The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear."

(Line 5)

The words “rubs” and “scratches” show the father’s inability to find the words he wants to say and his nervousness about letting down his son. The father's touch in this line provides a more concrete method to communicate to the audience the father feels a sense of worry and overall sadness.

In a room full of books in a world"

(Line 6)

The visual imagery shows the father surrounded by books filled with stories, yet it's juxtaposed with his inability to recount a single story. This expresses his emotional state, which is in the present with his five-year-old but lost in the inevitable future he fears. The man senses the disconnect coming. There will be times in the story of life when he can’t provide an answer for the son, and both will be lost in silence.

A Story Theme

The primary theme in the poem “A Story” is a father’s love for his son, their relationship, and the inevitable change in their relationship as they age.

The father’s acute awareness of this fact draws him away from the present, where he's attempting to tell his young child a story he requested. The father is pulled into the narrative of what the future holds. This poem's true story is all too familiar to parents. It is the story of growth, maturity, and development. The story inevitably leads the child away from the parent. Although a heartbreaking experience, it is one that must be.

A Story, father and son walking, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Many parents tell each other to enjoy their children's childhood while it lasts.

We see the love between the father and son with terms of endearment, such as “Baba” (line 4). The man, the father, yearns to hold onto the time he has with his five-year-old son, but he also worries that “the boy will go” (line 11). This man, simultaneously sad over what the future holds and trying to embrace the present, becomes a visual representation of the meaning of “a father’s love” (line 23).

A Story Meaning

The meaning of “A Story” is a familiar one. It is the tale of a parent’s labor and the tragedy of parenthood. The father’s job is to teach his child to want to live without him. While his five-year-old boy sits on his lap pleading for a story, the man envisions the true story of fatherhood, and he fears the inevitable loss. He is simultaneously joyful and sad, appreciative of the present, and fearful of the future. The father-son relationship changes as the son grows and the father ages and a father’s awareness of this both strengthens his love and causes him pain.

A Story - Key takeaways

  • “A Story” is a free-verse narrative poem written by poet Li-Young Lee and published in 1990.
  • "A Story" is about a son asking his father to tell him a story, yet the father can't remember any.
  • “A Story” focuses on the love between a father and son and how the father is already feeling sadness over his child inevitably growing up and away from him.
  • The main theme of the poem “A Story” is the father-son relationship.
  • Poet Li-Young Lee uses literary elements such as enjambment, metaphor, diction, symbolism, and imagery to add depth and meaning to the poem.

Frequently Asked Questions about A Story

“A Story” is about the love between a father and son and how the father is already feeling sadness over his child inevitably growing up and growing away from him. 

The main theme in the poem is the nature of the relationship between a father and son. 

"A Story" was written by poet Li-Young Lee. 

The poem "A Story" was published in 1990. 

Enjambment, metaphor, diction, and imagery are literary devices used in "A Story."

Final A Story Quiz

A Story Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


What is the poem "A Story" about? 

Show answer


A father and son relationship

Show question


The first stanza in the poem, 

"Sad is the man who is asked for a story

and can't come up with one"

is an example of which literary device?  

Show answer



Show question


What type of poem is "A Story"? 

Show answer


The poem "A Story" is a narrative poem.

Show question


The poem "A Story" has no rhyme scheme or meter. What is the term for this? 

Show answer


free-verse poem

Show question


In lines 16-17 the metaphor "...Are you a god, / the man screams, that I sit mute before you?" is used to show...

Show answer


the father's insecurity before his son, who he thinks of as a transcendental being. It causes him to fumble and forget stories that he was once able to tell.

Show question


The enjambment in lines 1-2 helps to create

Show answer



Show question


The overall meaning of the poem is how 

Show answer


the father and son relationship changes as the son grows and the father ages. The father’s awareness of this both strengthens his love and causes him pain. 

Show question


What year was "A Story" published? 

Show answer


"A Story" was published in 1990. 

Show question


What is diction? 

Show answer


Diction is the specific word choice the writer uses to communicate the tone and mood of a piece. 

Show question


What is an example of diction in the poem that establishes the strong relationship between the father and the son? 

Show answer


The term of endearment "Baba" used in line 4 shows a deep connection and love. 

Show question


of the users don't pass the A Story quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.


Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.


Create and find flashcards in record time.


Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.


Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.


Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Get FREE ACCESS to all of our study material, tailor-made!

Over 10 million students from across the world are already learning smarter.

Get Started for Free