Only Child by D. Nurkse explores the relationship between parent and child, the deep connection they share and the growth of the child. Nurkse writes about his daughter, spanning from birth to being a young age. Nurkse constantly conveys his surprise at how deeply he is moved and impacted by his daughter, the love he holds for her being incredible to the poet. Another theme explored is the growing up process, with a snapshot of the daughter at a different age explored in each stanza.
Only Child by D. Nurkse begins by focusing on the moments after the birth of Nurkse’s child, holding his Only Child after her birth. He realizes she knows nothing, having just come from the place ‘where there was no world’, not even knowing ‘what a voice was’. He cradles her as he looks at the newborn. The second stanza moves in the child having a voice, asking Nurkse to watch her while ‘cartwheel, the skip, the tumble’ happen. This second stanza child is demanding, finding her voice, and asking for her father’s attention. The third stanza examines a scene in which father and daughter are on a seesaw, with Nurkse writing that she ‘has power’ to lift him off the ground. This is a metaphor for how influential his daughter has become in his life, able to lift him and control him, despite her ‘tiny weight’. The poem is a tribute to parenthood.
You can read the full poem here.
Nurkse splits Only Child into three stanzas, each measuring 11 lines for a total of 33 lines in the poem. There is no rhyme scheme within the poem, flowing from one image to another without structural regularity. The free form structure of the poem could reflect the child’s growth, the quick movement from baby to toddler, and beyond reflected in the flowing structure.
Only Child Analysis
I cradled my newborn daughter(…)were the shape of a nipple.
The poem begins with the personal pronoun, ‘I’ instantly revealing that the poem will be dealing with intimate ideas from Nurkse’s own perspective. The first verb, ‘cradled’, gives a sense of comfort and preciousness, Nurkse holding his daughter close and ensuring that no harm comes to her. This instantly characterizes the relationship as loving, with Nurkse caring for his daughter.
The syntax of the first line places ‘daughter’ as the final word of this line, placing metrical emphasis on it and elevating the presentation of the newborn ‘daughter’. Nurkse reveals the close relationship he has with his daughter through this technique.
The fact that Nurkse’s daughter can ‘pull me out of shock’ suggests the gravity which the daughter will have in his life. Even at this tiny age, the baby is able to emotionally and mentally ‘pull’ Nurkse, tugging on his emotions in order to change his outlook. This foreshadows later in the poem where this concept is displayed through the more tangible metaphor of the seesaw.
Throughout this first stanza, Nurkse constantly repeats the idea that ‘she didn’t know’, the newborn baby not understanding anything about this new world she has arrived into. This extends to not even know ‘what a voice was’, the baby remaining silent, and ‘what her hands were’, the baby needing governing from her parents. Although Nurkse talks to her, ‘I asked her/was there a place’, the baby obviously does not speak back, Nurkse focusing on the child’s fragility and vulnerability. This mirrors the use of ‘cradled’ within the first line Nurkse ensuring that his daughter is taken care of and protected.
In the park the child says:(…)her dreaming voice commands me: watch.
The second stanza leaps forward to when the child is now able to move and talk by herself. The scene is characterized as ‘In the park’, Nurkse drawing upon the peace of nature to house this moment within the poem.
Nurkse’s daughter repeats ‘watch me’ throughout this stanza, directly contrasting to the silence of the first stanza. She asks for attention, wanting to show her father the different skills she is learning. The use of asyndeton within ‘cartwheel, the skip, the tumble, the tricks’ furthers the idea that she is gaining new skills quickly, constantly wanting to show Nurkse what she has learned. The fact she performs these skills ‘at leisure’ shows how adept she is becoming, easily learning and producing skill after skill.
Even when they return home, ‘At home’, Nurkse is still ordered by the daughter, wanting to make sure her father sees her achieve things on her own. This attributes to the child’s independence, also revealing that she seeks parental affection, wanting her father to be proud of everything she is doing. Even when sleeping, there is a ‘dreaming voice’, the daughter commands the father, Nurkse revealing his devotion to her.
Always we passed the seesaw(…)I stunned at the power of the formula.
The final stanza returns to the park, as they ‘passed the seesaw/on the way to the swings’. Although they do this journey often, ‘tonight’ they decided to go on the ‘seesaw’. The anaphoric chime of ‘I sit’ across two lines of this stanza further characterize the personal nature of the poem, Nurkse revealing his love and devotion to his daughter. As he puts ‘the child at one end’, himself sitting ‘near the center’, she is able to lift him off the ground due to him positioning himself near the ‘fulcrum’.
The idea of ‘she has power’ is polysemous. Literally Nurkse is suggesting that his daughter can lift him up when they are positioned this way on the seesaw. Yet, this also signals that the daughter has power over him, his parental devotion to her suggesting a certain amount of ‘power’ within the child. The idea that she can ‘keep me suspended’ in midair shows how she can control the father, her ‘laughing’ while he devotes his waking moments to making her happy. Nurkse suggests the power of being a parent, his life suddenly transformed into putting the daughter before everything else in his life.
The final thought of the poem reflects on how quickly she has grown, Nurkse ‘stunned at the power of the formula’. Yet, ‘formula’ could also be relating to the equation in physics which allows distribution of weight at different points (levers) to allow for the ‘tiny weight’ of the daughter to lift the father’s heavier weight.