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Elizabeth Jenning’s Poem “Father to Son”- An Analysis

Written by Dipen Bezbaruah

The poem Father to Son beautifully draws a pen-picture of a father’s agonizing helplessness at his failure to build a rapport with his son and in bridging the widening mental gap between them. The father reproaches himself for his inability in nurturing the child properly and longs painfully for something which can bring him closer to his son.

The poem is divided into four stanzas. The ‘I’ mentioned in the very first line of the poem is the ‘father’ and ‘this child’ is his son. In the first stanza, the poet expresses the father’s inability to understand his child though they have lived together for years. The father knows nothing of his son. The word ‘now’ in the second line of the poem implies that the father either did not live with his son in his childhood, or might have deprived him of fatherly care in the early years. Hence, though they have lived together for so many years now, yet the natural rapport that is usually seen between a father and son is missing. Hence, the father says that one should try to build up a relationship from when he was small. But he still fails to understand that his son is not a child in his tender age and he is in a different height of emotional growth.

In the second stanza the father questions himself whether he has lost his own son owing to the gap between them. The expression …I spent or sown it where the land is his and none of mine? metaphorically expresses his confusion at the mental gap between them. The father questions himself whether the mental sphere of the son is entirely his own to which his father  have no access. The father makes himself responsible for the mental gap between them. Though the father wanted him to grow in his own design, now it has become visible that all his expectations have gone in vain. The reality in front of the father is such that the son has chosen an altogether different mental sphere or his own ways of life in which the father has no place at all. Neither the son expects any interference in the course of his life, nor can the father share what he loves.

The third stanza expresses the father’s prejudiced mind when he says that I would have him prodigal returning to his father’s house. Here, the father explicitly expresses his tendency of rejecting the world of his son. Rather than sharing his son’s world, the father wants him to return to that of his father. The father is ready to forgive himself for his inability to allow his son go to his own world and his son for going away from the world of his father. In return he will forget his sorrows at the distance which existed between them. Here the attitude of the father is patronizing, which even ignores the independence of his son.

In the last stanza, the son also admits his desperation, frustration and confusion for not being able to live in a shared land with his father. The son speaks for the first time that he fails to understand himself. He says that he is also frustrated and there is an anger which arises from grief. The father finally expresses his compromising attitude by saying that each of them must put out an empty hand so that each one can grasp at each other and they find out a way to forgive each other.

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