Peotry Analysis Essay, Research Paper
Seven Centuries of Poetry in English
Compare and contrast two of the three poems below, commenting in detail on notable features of language-use and on the feeling towards the parents developed in the poems:
My Papa s Waltz
Vastly differing attitudes toward the authors parents are developed in Because and My Papa s Waltz . These ideas are expressed in a variety of ways, resulting in many notable contrasts between the pieces. My Papa s Waltz discloses a snapshot of one vivid childhood memory, whereas Because reveals a broader portrait of many aspects of the author s recollection of his childhood, and of both the parents involved.
The structure alone of My Papa s Waltz resembles a formal dance, with four stanzas of four lines, all of similar length. The content, however, gives a mixed view of the dance. The introduction of alcohol in the first line immediately gives the reader the impression that the dance may actually involve a few missed steps. The author, too, is made dizzy by the whiskey fumes. The idea of a defined dance is further dispelled by the debris left by the father – son couple: We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf . Both partners also sustain injuries in the romp, receiving a battered knuckle and scraped ear. This violent imagery and vocabulary links back to the father, who beats time on the son s head with a palm caked hard by dirt. This harsh vocabulary could be interpreted as a euphemism for serious domestic violence.
This rough imagery does not seem to phase the child, who clings doggedly to his father throughout the whole piece, clinging to his father in continuing filial loyalty. An interesting contrast is raised here, the author hung on like death, a very negative phrase which is countered in the second stanza by turning the situation into a light-hearted romp. The mother is not amused though, her countenance could not unfrown itself. This suggests that perhaps she has known similar scenes too many times to be amused any more. She is also remembered by the author as my mother, a much more formal title than the familiar papa. It is also notable that the drunken father reaches for his son to dance with, not his wife. Is he beating the child rather than the wife?
Because contains a much more thorough reflection of both parents, and depicts the characters of mother and father to be almost opposites of the characters rendered in My Papa s Waltz. The mother in Because sings rather that frowns: indeed, it is one of her songs that forms the title of the piece. Conversely the father conceals his feelings in a strong contrast to the overly affectionate papa of My Papa s Waltz. It seems to be due to this tendency that whilst granted the father and mother never quarrelled , they also never showed a moment s joy in one another. The author feels that this was harder on the mother who had more generous feeling to express than the father who sought to control his Irish blood, especially against such stereotypically Irish fecklessnesses as drinking and praying. The author then describes just how tightly the father has bottled his emotions, likening him to lifeless stone or creaking wood, appealing to the reader s auditory senses, a device continued in the next stanza with the onomatopoeic switching of the man s lips, which once again is lifeless, and continues the thought of the man trying to control his feeling like a machine. The author however, sees this attempt to fight spontaneous impulse as a weakness in itself.
This suppressing of emotion obviously caused the author great pain, which he compares to a cyst, suggesting that the emotion was so strong as to be felt physically. The author realised at the time that his father was different to other fathers who would kiss their sons. The rebuff that he received still causes pain. The use of stuns/my blood here shows not only the hurt that the author felt deep inside his body, but also the affront to the family connection, the bloodline. Once again the author reaffirms the pain by juxtaposing his own delicate proffer of affection with the father s rejection cut[s] like a saw. Again the motif of physical wounding caused by emotion is raised.
This incident permanently changed the impressionable child: home the lesson went: my tenderness thenceforth escaped detection. The child thenceforth hides his emotion in a similar manner to the father.
The mother is contrasted to the father: she sings songs and her voice was sweet. He feels solidarity with his mother, feeling that she too was emotionally repressed by the father, and that they were closed in the same defeat, the use of closed indicating that the father had shut out a part of himself.
Despite his laments, the author does seem to want to appear completely ungrateful. He concedes that they were good people, They cared for us and loved us. The use of they shows that the father was part of this love too. The childhood respect for the parents is also apparent, saying that they stood in the mind s eye as tall as such pillars of noble, honourable wisdom and truth as the school, the steeple.
The final two stanzas are written in reflection, as the author feels his own age. The metaphor of the living not being able to call the dead collect suggests that he feels that he will not get any more answers from his father, and the comment of the charge reverting implies that the living have to pay for the memories. The author realises that his own death is approaching ( my own judgement day ) and feels his own deadness . This relates back to the dead father in the previous stanza, showing that he identifies his malaise with the father. He also hints that this emptiness goes back to the father by saying that the despair is older than any hope I ever knew
Because contains no physical violence, unlike My Papa s Waltz which features violence throughout as a major feature. It also makes the point that the parents were both good people who loved their children, a statement which is pointedly absent from My Papa s Waltz. It is also worthwhile to note the backgrounds of the pieces. Because was published in the 1960 s during the baby boom in Australia among an immigrant family. In this period there was strong belief in the male figure being above emotion. This may be even more applicable in the Because example as it describes a new family who may feel they need to be overly discreet in their new country, suppressing any emotions that may be seen as weakening to the feisty Irish temperament. Conversely, My Papa s Waltz was written in the US immediately postwar. It seems to have been set in a very working class family, whose breadwinner has a palm caked hard by dirt. This sort of background is a stereotypical background for domestic violence.
The two pieces reveal very different aspects of childhood. The broader picture of childhood in Because delves much more deeply into emotions, past and present, which were first awakened early in childhood. The shorter, yet still powerful My Papa s Waltz concentrates on one incident, but uses it to perhaps symbolise what may have been a serious ongoing problem in the author s childhood.