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“Forgiving my father” by Lucille Clifton Essay

As a person treads through life, he or she will realize at one point or another that the existence of complex relationships will often have an affect on the actions of those involved. The nature of these relationships can have either a positive or negative effect on a person depending on the nature of it, or how severe its elements are. It is human nature to hold emotions inward and uphold a proud countenance; however, those who go against this natural tendency will exert a rebellion of sorts to any and every falsehood. In the poem “forgiving my father” by Lucille Clifton, the speaker describes a daughter is haunted by recollections of strife between her and her father. The speaker in the poem actually seeks to hold her father accountable for his shortcomings instead of forgiving him for his deficiencies. In the poem “My papa’s waltz” by Theodore Roethke, it is clear that the papa and the child have a relationship sprinkled with fear, joy and love. Both fathers in the poems are dangerous to their child in many ways. In Clifton’s poem, the speaker is in danger because of the mental distress and financial instability caused by her father. In Roethke’s poem, the speaker is in danger mainly due to his father’s abusive behavior.

In Clifton’s poem, the speaker is using a monetary debt to symbolize a debt of love and affection. The father in this poem is unable to provide the necessary care for his family which leads to the early death of the speaker’s mother, and causes mental distress to the speaker. The speaker is haunted by her father even in sleeping. “all week you have stood in my dreams/like a ghost, asking for more time”(Clifton, Lucile “forgiving my father”, line 3-4) How can a ghost pay debts and asking for more time? It cannot. The word “ghost” symbolizes the worriment that the speaker has over the unpaid debts and lacks of care. While on the other hand, the father in Roethke’s poem, comes home drunk after a long day just in time for his son’s bedtime.”The whiskey on your breath/Could make a small boy dizzy/We romped until the pans/Slid from the kitchen shelf;/My mother’s countenance/Could not unfrown itself.” (Roethke, Theodore “My Papa’s Waltz”, line 5-8)

Envisioning a heavy-drunk man romping through the house with his small son, it is easy to see why a mother may frown at the spectacle. It is nearly time for bed, and the father is doing everything to get the son riles up rather than calm down for sleep. The fact that the romping dance is even disrupting the order of the mother’s “kitchen shelf” surely contributes to her frowning countenance. Instead of bringing joy and love to their home, neither one of the fathers cares about his family. They bring danger to their family and leave unhealed wounds on their children.

The father in Clifton’s poem is dangerous to the speaker. The relationship between the speaker and her father is marked by resentment and abandonment. In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker states that her grandfather is also a needy man just like her father.”but you were the son of a needy father,/the father of a needy son,”

(Clifton, line 12-13) With neediness flowing through the family, the speaker is worried about her own destiny. The father in this poem sets a miserable path for the speaker to follow. In comparison to the father in Clifton’s poem, the father in Roethke’s poem abuses his child physically. The speaker depicts a harsh father-son relationship is that the description of the dancing is violent with systematic child-abuse. “The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle;/At every step you missed/My right ear scraped a buckle./You beat time on my head” (Roethke, line 9-13) The father “beat time” on the child’s head and crashes around the room so much that “the pans/slid from the kitchen shelf.” The word “beat” is a clear indication of abuse, and the fact that the child is held still by a hand that is itself “battered” strengthened the sense that manual violence is the subject of the poem.

A child doesn’t voluntarily use the word “beat” in the context of an adult’s relationship to the child unless intending to suggest child-abuse. The image of the father’s belt buckle scraping the child’s ear in the third stanza confirms the father uses whatever tools are available to accomplish this beating. Furthermore, the child doesn’t appear to be enjoying himself. “But I hung on like death./Such waltzing was not easy.” (Roethke, line 3-4) The child describes the “waltz” as requiring him to hang on “like death” is hardly a positive description of something a little boy would welcome. The word “death” raises the threatening reminder that child-abuse all too often has fatal consequences.

In conclusion, both fathers are dangerous to their children. The father in Clifton’s poem possesses an invisible danger to the speaker; while the other father possesses a visible danger to the speaker. However, I learn an important lesson from both poems also, which is to appreciate my parents even more. It is because my parents always love me unconditionally. I also learn to forgive others who may have hurt me either physically or emotionally. Often, forgiving someone can be a hard task. It can even be a crime for those who wish never to forgive. Forgiveness must come from the heart, and can be the solution to both parties.


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