This short and highly effective poem is written in clear and direct language. Throughout, Guest demonstrates his specific style of poetry, in combination with a strict rhyme scheme, to express his admiration for his father. This poem contains few details regarding the man’s identity. This means that most readers will find something relatable within the four stanzas.
Explore Only a Dad
‘Only a Dad’ by Edgar Albert Guest expresses a speaker’s admiration and appreciation for his father’s hard work and self-sacrifice.
This thoughtful poem describes a speaker’s father’s willingness to sacrifice his own happiness for his children. While this man is “Only a dad,” he does everything he can daily to improve his children’s lives. This means working hard hours for minimal pay, going unappreciated in his daily life, and putting aside what he wants in life to make his children happy. He is the “best of men,” even if he is one in ten million.
You can read the full poem here.
The themes of this poem are fatherhood and self-sacrifice. The speaker’s father sacrifices his own happiness daily. He deals with all the troubles the world throws at him and wants nothing more than to provide a better life for his children, and the same way that his father did for him.
Structure and Form
‘Only a Dad’ by Edgar Albert Guest is a four-stanza poem divided into sestets or sets of six lines. The poem follows a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCC throughout while also using an example of a refrain. The strict pattern Guest uses throughout this poem is common to his work. Most of his poems, from a specific time onward, were written with a specific rhyme scheme and metrical pattern at work. This poem’s lines are very visually similar. Most contain between eight and ten syllables.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Only a dad,” a refrain that’s repeated five times throughout the poem.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “his heart” in line five of the first stanza and “With” and “whimper” in line five of the second stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Bringing little of gold or fame, / To show how well he has played the game.”
- Refrain: seen through the repetition of an entire phrase. In this case, “Only a dad” is used five times.
Only a dad, with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race,
To see him come, and to hear his voice.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker begins with the first iteration of a refrain seen throughout all four stanzas. He writes, “Only a dad.” This is followed by a few lines that describe what the speaker’s dad was like. He came home daily tired, unappreciated, far from wealthy, but happy.
He loved his family, as the following stanzas emphasize, and the speaker feels that this is a highly important part of his character. He was brave, determined, and very hard working.
Throughout this poem, the speaker refrains from naming his dad and from providing any details that are too specific. This means that most readers will find some aspect of this poem to relate to.
Only a dad, with a brood of four,
For the sake of those who at home await.
The second stanza begins again with the refrain and then follows with the description of how the father had four children to provide for and did what he could to ensure that they had good lives. He was not special in the world of men.
The speaker adds he was “One of ten million men or more.” But, his determination and love for his family make him stand out. He bore the “whips and the scorns of life “and never complained. He did everything and his pow to provide for his family and never showed his own struggles.
Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
And bearing it all for the love of them.
The third stanza reiterates that the speaker’s father was “neither rich” nor appreciated by the world. He was not celebrated for the way that he strove, day after day, to provide for his family.
He faced whatever came his way with silence and bore it all “for the love of them.” The word “them” clearly refers to the father’s children and wife. It didn’t matter the suffering he had to endure. He was willing to do whatever he could to provide for those he loved.
Words like “surging,” “toiling,“ “harsh,” and “condemn” help paint a picture of the way the world treated his father figure.
Only a dad, but he gives his all
Only a dad, but the best of men.
The speaker concludes the poem by saying that this man was “Only a dad.” He gave it all for his “small” children. He expressed courage, determination, and love in equal measure.
In the stanza, the poet sets up an allusion to the past. Guest writes that this father went about life in the same way that his father did. He wanted to live life with the same determination and willingness to sacrifice his own happiness as his father did.
In the final two lines of the poem, the poet uses the first-person pronoun “I.” It’s at this moment that readers can likely assume that Guest was writing this poem in dedication to his own father. He was drawing on his experiences and how he saw his father suffer for inspiration.
The poem ends with another iteration of the refrain, “Only a dad.” This is the first time the refrain appears outside the first line of a stanza. It concludes the poem by saying that while this man was “Only a dad,” he was also the “best of men.”
It is this last phrase that is the most important. While the father went unappreciated, he was the “best of men.” He lived in a way that expressed his love and selflessness throughout his life.
The speaker is Edgar Albert Guest. He’s describing his father’s willingness to suffer for the sake of his children and how determined the man was to provide for them. The speaker becomes clear at the end of the poem when the poet uses a first-person pronoun—“I.”
The message is that this father figure, and many like him, suffer to provide better lives for their families. Dads put aside their own happiness to provide for their children.
The themes are fatherhood and self-sacrifice. The speaker’s father is more than willing to put aside his own happiness, bear the scorn of an unappreciative world, and provide for his family.
The purpose is to celebrate a father’s strength in the face of adversity and hardship. He lived a tough life and persevered, without complaint, for the sake of his children.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Edgar Albert Guest poems. For example:
- ‘Don’t Quit’ – is a simple poem about facing the difficulties in one’s life and persevering through them.
- ‘It Couldn’t Be Done’ – is a poem with an uplifting message about never giving up. The narrator of the poem encourages the reader not to be discouraged by the pessimism of others.
- ‘Being Brave at Night’ – talks about how the speaker is not afraid of anything that comes across to terrify him at night.