Tones of Voice in “The Palace” Poem by Akbar


The tone is one of the essential elements of all poetry. It brings true meaning to a poem and fulfills its real purpose. It allows the reader to feel what the author intended to say and what he felt at the time of creation. In the present essay, a poem called “The Palace” by Kaveh Akbar will be analyzed in terms of its tone. Akbar employs various tones of voice throughout the long poem to talk and explore his home country, America. He juggles and transforms them to express his real feelings.

A Brief on The Author and His Poem

Kaveh Akbar is an Iranian-American poet whose works are published in such prestigious magazines as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New Republic, Best American Poetry, and many others. His poem “The Palace” was published in The New Yorker in 2019 (Akbar, 2019). It is devoted to his country home – America, and he explores what feelings people experience when calling a country home. The poem is about love for the country, about difficulties and challenges associated with America.

Main Text

Kaveh Akbar’s tone of voice changes several times throughout the poem. Nevertheless, it can be overall described as declarative, overwrought, and sometimes even melancholy. First of all, from the very beginning, the tone appears to be declarative:

Remember: the old king invited his subjects into his home to feast on stores of apple tarts and sweet lamb (Akbar, 2019).

On the one hand, it is strict and declarative with this “remember.” On the other hand, it can be described as somewhat magical and imaginary, which comes to mind with the word “king.” Another strict and straightforward tone of voice can be found when Akbar is asking:

Are you still listening?
Every person I touch
Costs me ten million I’ll never met (Akbar, 2019).

This tone demonstrates that the author is straightforward with a reader, and he is not afraid of choosing the wrong words. He reminds the audience that even though it is a long poem, they should be here to listen to it. Akbar continues being direct and speaks in a very matter-of-fact manner by saying the following:

To be American. Who can be American?
To be American is to be? What? A hunter? A hunter who shoots only money (Akbar, 2019).

In these lines, he undoubtedly expresses concerns over being American. Does it mean being a good or a wrong person, he poses a question, which does not require an answer? The author implies that, in general, American citizens appear to be money orientated.

Even though Akbar critiques America, he does not take the side of unambiguity: his world and his view of the country are not black-and-white. The author presents America as a set of its different manifestations: from casual and positive to negative and upsetting. The country can be, and it is different, and he expresses his love for America. It can be felt in his melancholy tone of voice:

I am not there.
I am elsewhere in America (I am always elsewhere in America) writing this, writing this, writing this, English is my mother’s first language, but not mine (Akbar, 2019).

These lines also demonstrate his love of poetry, in which he finds a feeling of home. His tone is gentle, calming, and not declarative at all when he says, “writing this.”

Another vital thing to discuss is Akbar’s overwrought tone of voice when speaking of America. His tone is incredibly anxious and concerned when he talks about a boy wearing a t-shirt that threatens other countries:

At his elementary school in an American suburb,
a boy’s shirt says: “We Did It To Hiroshima, We Can Do It To Tehran!” (Akbar, 2019).

The author mostly repeats these lines almost three times in a row to show the absurdity of this state of affairs. His tone of voice is declarative, strict, and straightforward.

Last but not least interesting fact to be noted is that the poem is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, it is relatively straightforward and written matter-of-factly. On the other hand, it goes around and around the main topic, it leaps from one subject to another, but never forget “America”:

America? the broken headstone.
America? far enough away from itself.
Hello, this is Kaveh speaking:
I wanted to be Keats
(but I’ve already lived four years too long) (Akbar, 2019).


In conclusion, “The Palace” by Kaveh Akbar is a brilliant example of the tone of voice changes. It transforms throughout the poem numerous times and then returns to the old tone. Overall, it can be said that the author chose declarative, straightforward, strict, concerned, overwrought, and sometimes even melancholy tones of voice. He skillfully juggles them to demonstrate that America is different, his love for poetry is endless, and his poem is imaginary and, at the same time, matter-of-fact.


Akbar, K. (2019). “The Palace.” The New Yorker. Web.