Reading works of literature by different authors on a common topic broadens our understanding about human nature, cultures and history. Poetry that expresses angsts and pangs, or exalt the beauty or of things around us, in forceful language or elevated style like the lyric poem, can be an enriching experience. Watching or reading a play can likewise be an inspirational experience. Indeed, there is a variety of meanings, sentiments, and even moral lessons that unravel to readers exploring poetry and play focused on a central unifying theme.
This paper presents six types of fatherhood types as gleaned from five poems and one play: (a) the grieving father, (b) the despised father, (c) the hardworking but detached father, (d) the itinerant far-off dad, (e) the involved father, and (e) the deadbeat dad. The selected works of literature all say something about the human experience, motivation, and condition, with special focus on the overwhelming father-child bond. While all of them are created in thought-provoking manner and are replete with figurative language, taking the reader on a journey and letting various insights linger in the memory, they differ in their approaches.
In effect, the different perspectives on fatherhood are crystallized into an integrated idea with a richer context. “On My First Son” by Ben Jonson has an opening line that reflects a father’s deep melancholy and anguish as he mourns what most people may consider to be their greatest loss: the death of one’s own child. When Jonson writes, “Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy” (Ciuraru 191), there is heartfelt grief as he shares a painful loss. The use of the word thou, oftentimes used in formal religious context as prayers, adds impact because it conjures an image of a father paying his last respects to his young son.
The last few lines which echo the poet’s relief that his son has escaped the trials and tribulations of this world (Ciuraru 191) point to how the author attempts to soothe his intense pain and reflects his acceptance of his son’s fate as well. On the other hand, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath speaks from a daughter’s point of view for a father who has passed away. It has a somber and dark mood and the feelings of intense hatred and betrayal are shown in the very selection of words and imagery.
“Perhaps no poem is as explicit and powerful as Sylvia Plath’s `Daddy,’ which describes an idealized yet oppressive father, one whom the speaker rejects with a resounding, forceful brutality” (Ciuraru 14). Parental relations, as most psychoanalysts may confirm, carries over into one’s adult relationships, and this was clearly the case with Sylvia Plath. During her childhood, she lost her father, Otto Plath, to complications from surgery following a leg amputation (Martin, para. 1) and this, along with her memories of feeling smothered and betrayed, appeared to have left an imprint on her.
Plath uses metaphors, notably a shoe to describe her father, and herself as the foot that is in some way trapped in the shoe, to express just how suffocated and oppressed she felt. As many who are familiar with Sylvia Plath’s life would know, the talented writer had a tumultuous relationship with her poet-husband Ted Hughes, and “personal jealousies, differences in American and British views of gender roles, and a return of Sylvia’s depression complicated the Plath-Hughes marriage” (Martin, para.
8) and she makes references to how her very life was sucked out of her the way a vampire drinks the blood of its captive, in her poem. In the 15th stanza, she states: If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two— The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year, (Barnet 703) There are many other figures of speech, including similes, rhyming and tone, that helpfully lend emphasis and effectively transport readers to a time when people felt quite shackled by parental authority and were powerless to do something about it.
Plath’s poem ends with a sense of closure, nonetheless, reflecting her resolve to take matters into her own hands. As for “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, the specific use of figurative language effectively highlights the hardworking but detached type of father that many of us may be familiar with. Upon reading the poem in its entirety, one senses a certain remoteness shown by the father, or as perceived by the son from his father.
The first line in the second stanza, which says: “I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking” creates a mental picture in the reader’s mind, through poetic devices like rhyme and assonance or the use of long vowel sounds to slightly slow down the poem for emphasis. The reader also senses that cold refers not just to the weather but to the feeling that envelops the son as he rouses himself from slumber and faces his father. Hayden also places specific words at the beginning of his lines to give it focus and importance.
The very last line in the poem which describes love as being austere is an indirect acknowledgment that love dwells even in a home where the patriarch rules in an authoritarian or a cold, forbidding way. The very first stanza also reveals that the father is very hardworking and sacrifices his own physical well-being for his family’s sake, but gets no appreciation for his efforts and dogged determination to carry out his parental duties. Another poem, “My Father in the Navy: A Childhood Memory” by Judith Ortiz Cofer speaks of a daughter’s longing for a father who is busy working in distant shores.
The reader gleans how the poet’s career Navy father requires him to be apart from his family for considerable lengths of time. As such, the speaker in the poem aptly phrases the love, intense longing, as well as pride for the traveling father who looked “stiff and immaculate in the white cloth of his uniform and a round cap on his head like a halo” (Barnet 727) in such creative and vivid manner: His homecomings were the verses we composed over the years making up the siren’s song that kept him coming back from the bellies of iron whales
and into our nights like the evening prayer. (Barnet 727) The author’s use of simile, personification and metaphor, among other literary devices, added to delivering a poem with grace and impact. The poem, in effect, strikes a resonant chord among readers who, at some point in their live, have had to be apart from a beloved father or father figure, and fully know what it is like to celebrate their return. The poem, “A Parental Ode to my Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months” by Thomas Hood conveys the vulnerability of the new and involved father.
This special father-child bond is written about only on few occasions by a handful of writers seeking to dwell on such topic. The first few lines of the poem, which contains metaphors, mirrors the unrestrained happiness and amusement of the father for his toddler. His lines, like “Thou happy, happy elf!… Thou tiny image of myself!… Thou merry, laughing sprite! ” (Klein 109) are punctuated by asides that let readers experience his joy. The poet also juxtaposes poetic verses with a very fatherly voice describing a much-loved child.
Aside from the use of rhythm and rhyme, Thomas Hood likewise uses other figures of speech like similes and alliteration to express his terms of endearment for his young son. Another work of literature, the well-known “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, has a common thread that ties it to the five poems explored in this paper, in that it revolves around the life and dreams of a main character who happens to be a father. Willy Lohan, the salesman, represents the dog-tired father who has worked all his life to provide for his family’s needs (Williams 51), and nurtures big dreams for his sons, but the demands of fatherhood have drained him.
Though his mental faculties appear to be failing him and one of his sons tends to belittle him and finds him off-track, his all-consuming fatherly concern is unassailable. Referring to his son Biff, whom he mistakenly hopes will follow in his footsteps, Willy says, “That boy’s going to be magnificent” (Williams 79) reflecting a father’s immense pride and rosy hopes for his son, even if he had been a bum for years. Readers of the play, with its timeless theme of reaching for one’s dreams, will attest to the great impact of this piece of literature.
As one of them said, “Reading drama was far more enigmatic than reading prose fiction” (Oates, par. 4). All the works of literature studied here contain immense value, not just for their stylistic accomplishments and the succinct voicing of themes that are usually treated in traditional or melodramatic fashion without the rich context. Compared to the portrayal of fathers in other non-literary media like movies or television, poetry and plays rely heavily on figurative language that help elevate the experience for readers, and underscore life lessons, while bringing to readers’ minds their own poignant family experiences.
The language and literary devices contribute much to a broader understanding of the subject matter. Analyzing a group of poems and a play bordering on the same subject showed that gathering different points of view or interpretations, reflecting various angles, leads to a clearer and more comprehensive study.
Works Cited Barnet, Sylvan, et al. An Introduction to Literature. 14th ed. New York: Longman, 2005. Ciuraru, Carmela, ed. Poems About Fathers.. New York: Random House, Inc. , 2007. Klein, Patricia, ed. Treasury of Year-round Poems.
New York: Random House, Inc. , 2006. Martin “Two Views of Plath’s Life and Career–by Linda Wagner-Martin and Anne Stevenson. ” Modern American Poetry Home. 1994. 11 May 2008 < http://www. english. uiuc. edu/maps/poets/m_r/plath/twoviews. htm>. Oates, Joyce Carol. “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman: A Celebration. ” Weblog entry. Celestial Timepiece: A Joyce Carol Oates Home Page. 11 May 2008 <http://www. usfca. edu/~southerr/arthurmiller. html>. Williams, Liza M. , and Kent Paul. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman Book Notes. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 1984.
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