Happiness Cannot Be Controlled: On “Inmate of Happiness” by Elizabeth Metzger

Click here to read the poem.

Is it possible for one to be imprisoned by happiness? Throughout the astounding poem “Inmate of Happiness” author Elizabeth Metzger expresses this feeling immensely. She shows how something that should be happy such as a relationship can enslave someone, and make them feel stuck with no freedom. An example of this is where the author exclaims that “you were born with your knees tied together under you, you are bound to need your hands and resent my knees.” These lines clearly show how the authors lover desires them to be in a relationship and resents her when she wants to leave. This is because her knees represent freedom and when she wants her freedom to be untied, it makes the lover upset. When she can not be free then how is it possible for her to be happy? These lines obviously describe why the poem is called “Inmate of Happiness” due to the imprisonment her lover causes her to have.

Happiness is not always something that you can control however everyone has a choice at one point. In line five the author explains how she was “born with and without her knees” and as said before knees represent freedom, so this statement shows how the author was born with a choice to be free. Not only was she born with a choice to be free, but later the passage reads that “behind her teeth is thick liquid shame”, and she was “born to be happy”. When the author says this she means that the character pities herself for not leaving the other lover, and she deserves better than depression because she was born to be happy and if she’s not happy then she is not fulfilling what she was born to do.

The character from beginning to end in this poem is unhappy and depressed. So, in order to fix this lack of happiness the author shows that the medics tried to use methods to unhook them, and attempted to fix them by poorly splinting knees with wood and knees with balm to the point where it feels like you’re flying through stone By saying this the author means that therapists have tried to break the couple up and fix their freedom, but the freedom was fixed lazily, so that freedom could be gone if the planks break. Before the planks break it felt like she was flying, but then when they broke she hit a brick wall. By this she means that her freedom was untied briefly, but eventually she got tied back into a relationship which hurt her.

The authors continuous battle to be in this relationship is brought up multiple times throughout the poem. She leaves at one point, but eventually rejoins. Once she is back into the relationship a phenomenal metaphor for what her situation feels like is given. This metaphor is “so you imagine your hands luring my knees into both sides of your mouth”. The metaphor compares knees being put into a mouth to the freedom of the author being practically eaten. Eventually the author got help from others with the relationship which is represented when she mentions “the knee of a good giant”, and “you make yourself a helmet”. This means the freedom of a good person helped you protect yourself mentally. However, the last line of the poem “you cannot get off those knees” still shows that she is still stuck in the relationship and cannot get up or escape. In conclusion, the poem inmate of happiness is one of despair, imprisonment, and dissatisfaction with love throughout life.


In order for me to understand my poem, I went through multiple steps in order to get where I am today. My first step was to read the poem and see what I could find out with no understanding of the poem. I first thought that the poem was about how it is impossible for an inmate to be happy in prison. Eventually I realized that the poem was more symbolic and not as literal as I thought it would be. Then I analyzed each line thinking symbolically and now here we are today.

Works Cited

Metzger, Elizabeth. “Inmate of Happiness by Elizabeth Metzger.” Poetry Foundation , Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/143921/inmate-of-happiness .

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