That Tally Stick

Topics: Love

So many people have keepsakes to symbolize their love for one another. Couples have pictures and mementos to remind them of their special times. In “The Tally Stick”, Jarold Ramsey introduces us to a couple who use a tally stick rather than pictures to represent what is important in their lives. Ramsey takes us from the beginning of the relationship, when the stick is bare, to the end when it is carved end to end. We learn of the outside events that build their love, as well as internal measure, upon which their love is built.

According to Ramsey the stick is a part of the couple’s relationship.

The tally stick shows that love can be a long-lasting bond defined by failure and success that strengthen their relationship. Before there is a single notch in the stick the narrator shows its significance. Ramsey indicates the stick is a gift, which represents the couple’s lifetime together. Saying, “From our first of days…/ I have carved our lives in secret on this stick” (1; 2).

Their unique and extraordinary bond is directly represented by the type and length of the “Mountain mahogany” stick, Measured by “the length of your arms/ outstretched…”(3; 4).

Also, because their relationship is so concrete and red with passion, Ramsey describes “the wood” as “clear red, so hard and rare” (4). In the opening stanza Ramsey shows that the tally stick embodies every part of this relationship, and its characteristics signify more than just important events. The first and most elaborate notch on the stick is the couple’s wedding.

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It is very detailed and enables them to relive their wedding. Like their lives “the grains /converge and join” (6; 7). The details of the notch are so specific the couple can tell “who danced, who made up the songs, who meant” them “joy” (9).

The complex structures not only depict their wedding but the intricacy of their relationship, its specialness and how much they mean to each other. Inscriptions along the grain show the love they have for their children and how they want them involved in their lives’, indicated by “little arrowheads along the grain” (10). During times of grief the couple’s heavy hearts are exposed to the reader. Ramsey uses “heavy crosses” to mirror the couple’s mood during /“the deaths of” their “parents, the loss of our friends” (12; 13) Ramsey shows us that the difficult times made their onnection grow stronger. Death was not the only hardship they had to endure. Stanza three outlines all the external hardships the pair suffered through. Historic events were randomly cut against the grain, symbolizing occurrences that tried their relationship. “Hashmarks cut against the swirling grain” show how certain events could destroy what they have (16). The poem indicates all the events their love survived, and shows their love has lasted many years. They remember what they thought was “the year the world went wrong” and “the days the Great Men fell” (17; 18).

The third stanza ends with the power of the couples love, “The lengthening runes of our lives” that “run through it all” (19). This line from the poem signifies the strength their love possesses. There love persisted through hard times and their marriage grew stronger. These lines show that nothing compares to the love the two have for each other. Despite hardships their love continued to grow. In the final stanza the narrator talks about what it is like to look back on all the events that shaped the couple’s life.

The stick is full of memories and represents a long lasting relationship. This relationship is made stronger by the events shown on the tally stick, every notch made them stronger and although the stick is beginning to wear, their love is not. “Our tally stick is whittled nearly end to end; delicate as scrimshaw, it would not bear you up” (20). Ramsey mentions that the stick is polished with regrets. Because they both have regrets that helped build their love, the couple clusters those regrets with all other mishaps “hand over hand” (22).

The author ends the poem with the couple looking back on everything they have done. Running their fingers from beginning to end they will explore everything that shaped their relationship and forgive each other’s regrets. Ramsey refers to their blameless eyes, telling us that the two no longer blame one another and can go on loving through old age. Starting from when they were children, they follow the grain all the way to adulthood and “talk softly as of ordinary matters and in one another’s blameless eyes go blind” (27). The Tally Stick” is symbolic of everything this couple shares with each other. It not only shows special occasions like a picture but tells a detailed story of their life together. The couple relives the significant times they spent together by running their thumbs through the intricate notches. Detailed depictions of their wedding, the births of their children, the tragedies they have gone through can all be found within the stick. This stick defines the relationship, and is part of the each of them.

The marks indicating internal events are the ones that remain special and are intricately drawn, where as the historic actions are just random marks, indicating they are not as exceptional as the internal dealings and everything random just fades away. “The Tally Stick” is a physical representation of this couple’s love for one another. It tells a practical story of the couple’s companionship, nothing on the stick is idealistic and depicts real events that drove their love, not what their relationship could have been, but what it is.

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That Tally Stick. (2017, Nov 28). Retrieved from

That Tally Stick
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