Sample Interpretive Essay on

“Lament, for Cocoa” by John Updike



Old Cocoa and Old Age



Nothing is as satisfying on a cold winter’s night as a warm cup of rich cocoa.  Its sweet texture seems to invigorate not only the palate but also the spirit.  However, as any cocoa imbiber has experienced if one allows a cup of cocoa sit too long, the once delicious beverage turns bitter and cold.  John Updike’s “Lament, for Cocoa” relates this experience and relates it to the aging process.


This poem is an extended metaphor.  Updike compares the human aging process with the not so gradual transformation of cocoa from a delicious beverage to one which is unpalatable.  In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem personifies the cup of cocoa by attributing it with the feeling of numbness.  Numbness often occurs when a person ages and his or her tactual sensitivity is no longer as acute.  The speaker directly concludes the first stanza with, “And I grow old.”


The speaker of the poem states in the second stanza, “It seems an age since from the pot…”  This directly indicates the passage of time.  The rapid progress of time is indicated by the speaker in the next stanzas.  As the speaker placed the too hot cocoa in a draft to cool and took a bite of breakfast, the speaker noted, “Alas, time flies and minutes chill.”  Updike is stating that in the human aging process, it seems that time progresses all too quickly.  Old age seems to come to a person almost unawares.


In the final stanza, the speaker of the poem states that old age is irreversible.  “How wearisome!  In likelihood, the scum once come is come for good.”  In this poem, Updike compares the rapid cooling of cocoa to the hasty advancement of age.  Just as cocoa will form a film of scum as it cools, one becomes an older person with wrinkles and physical problems.  This all occurs before one knows it.




(For the sake of brevity, this essay was shortened and not every aspect of the poem was covered.  However, this serves as an example of an academic analysis of a poem.  Your assigned essays will be complete and detailed, of course.)