19 pages 38 minutes read

Julio Noboa


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1977

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


“Identity” (1973) is a lyric poem by the 20th-Century Latino poet and educator Julio Noboa Polanco. The poem, though written in free verse and influenced by modernist forms, has a heavier influence from the European Romantic tradition. Like William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Noboa Polanco employs botanical imagery, metaphors, and personification to reveal the speaker’s inner thoughts. Noboa Polanco’s poem also draws from American Romanticism; the poem’s insistence on individuality and nonconformity resonates well with writers like Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, both of whom emphasize self-reliance and individuality.

The poem’s themes reverberate just as strongly today as they did in 1973. In fact, “Identity” has surged in popularity with the advent of the Internet, informing an entirely new generation. As an educator, Noboa also spent much of his later career advocating for Latino representation in American history classes.

Poet Biography

Julio Noboa Polanco was born in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, in 1949. Noboa Polanco wrote “Identity” while he was in the eighth grade, after he broke up with his girlfriend. Noboa Polanco’s Puerto Rican father and a high-school English teacher were major factors in his writing from a young age. “Identity,” Noboa Polanco’s only published poem as of September 2021, was first printed in 1973, when Noboa Polanco was in his early twenties.

In 2008, Noboa Polanco became Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he taught until his retirement in 2014. Much of Noboa Polanco’s professional career investigated Latino representation and identity, and he has published widely on the topic despite only working as a professor for six years. Noboa Polanco received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 for his work in understanding the social factors that influence how Latino history is taught in United States schools. Though Noboa Polanco has written many newspaper articles and scholarly papers since the publication of the poem, “Identity” is still his best-known work.

Poem Text

Noboa Polanco, Julio. “Identity.” 1973. Poetry.com


In the first two stanzas of “Identity,” the speaker establishes a dichotomy between two groups of plants. The first group is identified as “flowers” (Line 1). The speaker describes this group as being taken care of, doted upon, and appreciated, but ultimately “harnessed to a pot of dirt” (Line 3). The speaker identifies the second group, outlined in the second stanza, as “weed[s]” (Line 4) that grow “on cliffs” that are free “like an eagle / wind-watering above high, jagged rocks” (Lines 5-6).

The speaker states that they would rather be part of this second group, the weeds, and continues in the third stanza to extol the benefits of being a weed rather than a flower. Weeds are able to break “through the surface of stone,” and to “feel exposed to the madness / of the vast, eternal sky” (Lines 7-9), and are generally described as more robust. The third stanza contains a lot of natural imagery, but is made up of sentence fragments, making it difficult to discern the speaker’s subject. However, the repeated “my” in Line 11 suggests that the speaker already imagines himself as a weed being acted upon by the natural forces in the stanza. The speaker envisions that weeds are stronger, more independent than flowers, and, as a result, better-equipped to experience the world. The speaker then imagines the “soul” and “seed” of these weeds being carried “beyond the mountains of time or into the abyss of the bizarre” (Lines 11-12) by the “breezes of an ancient sea” (Line 10). Some of the seeds, presumably, will grow into similarly independent weeds.

In the fourth and fifth stanzas, the speaker continues to juxtapose weeds and flowers. As a weed, the speaker would “rather be unseen” (Line 13) than “praised, handled, and plucked / by greedy, human hands” (Lines 17-18). Instead of being a “pleasant-smelling flower” (Line 15), the speaker states in the final stanza that they would “rather smell of musty, green stench” (Line 19). While most people covet flowers for their scent and their beauty, the speaker instead admires the strength and individuality of the weed. While the flowers are “in clusters” (Line 16), the weeds “stand alone, strong and free” (Line 21). This final juxtaposition drives home the distinction the speaker makes between the two groups—one of reliance and conformity (flowers) against self-reliance and nonconformity (weeds).