"But at nearly fifty he is like those bronze statues in public parks that despite one lucky knee rubbed raw by schoolchildren, discolor beautifully until they match the trees."

What does the bolded fragment mean?

  • 1
    Is this poetry? Or, I'll bet the word "on" is really "one"? Nov 14, 2023 at 21:35
  • 1
    Some bronze statues are rubbed by people because they believe it will bring them good luck. As long as people keep rubbing, that part will stay bright while the rest of the metal becomes dark brown. I have seen a statue of a reclining male saint on a tomb in a Spanish church that is believed to bring fertility to women if rubbed, but it is not the knee that has stayed bright. Nor was it always hands that did the rubbing. Nov 14, 2023 at 21:36
  • Please check I think it should be "despite one lucky knee"
    – James K
    Nov 14, 2023 at 21:38
  • wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/07/19/andrew-sean-greer-less Yes, it is one. Editing
    – James K
    Nov 14, 2023 at 21:39
  • Yes, thanks a lot!
    – Madzia
    Nov 14, 2023 at 22:47

2 Answers 2


Bronze is a gold/brown metal that is used to make statues. When it is new it is golden, but when it gets old, it turns brown.

Some statues are said to give you luck if you rub part of them. For example you get luck if you rub the knee of the statue. Schoolchildren often have superstitions like this. They rub the knee of the statue for luck.

If the knee of the statue is always being rubbed, it stays a shiny golden colour. The rest of the statue will turn brown. The writer thinks the brown colour is beautiful, because it matches the colour of the tree bark.

See https://www.pipeaway.com/statue-rubbing-good-luck-or-bad-taste/ for more context and examples. The man is like these statues. He is more beautiful as he gets older.

  • Among those supposed sources of good luck is the statue of John Harvard on the campus of the college he founded. Tourists perpetually rub his left toe to a golden sheen. Nov 14, 2023 at 22:05

There's a lot going on here, with a complex metaphor. The sentence could be helped by a few commas.

  1. The speaker is comparing the person to a bronze statue. Bronze reacts with oxygen to darken, or "discolor beautifully until they match the trees." (I guess the trees have brown leaves?)
  2. The sentence is interrupted by a clause; this could be made more clear with commas: "...like those bronze statues in public parks that, despite one lucky knee rubbed raw by schoolchildren, discolor beautifully...". This is saying that the bronze statues discolor except for (the author makes the somewhat odd word choice of "despite") one knee, which schoolchildren rub because it's considered "lucky," so it doesn't darken.
  • Oh, and I see that the original actually contained these commas. Nov 14, 2023 at 21:43
  • I feel that usually only human flesh-and-blood knees get rubbed or scraped raw (bloody), so there's perhaps quite a bit of metaphor whimsy here. Nov 14, 2023 at 22:10
  • @MichaelHarvey And plenty more in the rest of the excerpt. "As he waits, around and around the room circles a young woman in a brown wool dress, a species of tweed hummingbird, pollinating first this group of tourists and then that one." Nov 14, 2023 at 22:28
  • Thanks a lot! It' was so confusing😅
    – Madzia
    Nov 14, 2023 at 22:44
  • @AndyBonner - I am beginning to like this writer, whoever it is. Nov 14, 2023 at 22:52

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