Father to Son by Elizabeth Jennings

Let’s face it; the generation gap is a two-sided fact instead of one. It is a fact that every generation has to go through. Whether you are elder to your sister or younger to your brother, the clash of the generation gap continues. However, in this poem, ‘Father to Son’, the poet has portrayed the generation gap between a father and his son. The poem basically brings forth a father’s illusions towards his son. The father is seen as a helpless human being who, since his son’s childhood, has been able to understand his son’s emotional growth.

While the father finds fault in his own son, it is the father who is actually blamed. Where the father shows his incapability to understand his son, he, at the same time, reveals several unknown facts about his son. This makes the situation of lack-of-understanding more ironic. And the very irony puts questions to the father’s integrity and ingenuity.

Father to Son by Elizabeth Jennings

 

Father to Son Analysis

I do not understand this child

(…)

He was when small.

In this first stanza of the poem, ‘Father to Son’, the poet shows father saying that he has not succeeded in understanding his son because, he himself could not grow up with his son. This might be because when the son was growing differently, the father might have been busy in his chores, and would have kept himself aloof from the changes taking place in the outer world.

The narrow-mindedness of the father might have stopped him to understand the changes his son would have been experiencing. But now, the father, having failed to comprehend the height of his son’s emotional growth, is making attempt to understand him as a child instead of trying to know the changing world wherein his son is growing up.

However, the type of relationship the father now wants to develop with his son will do more harm than any good for the father will always think that his son is still a little child and is so far not in such a condition when he is able to understand his actual person.

Yet have I killed

(…)

Of understanding in the air.

Let’s face it; every father wants to design his child as per his own wish and desire, but it goes astray and becomes what he wants to. Similarly, in this second, the father thinks that when he grew the seed of his son, he expected him to grow and take branches under his shade but now when he has fully grown up it seems that all his expectations from his son are in vain.

Whatever attempts he made, and whatever pains and protections he took and gave his son while he was growing are now in vain because, he now wants to design his life according to his own ways, and does not expect his father to do any kind of interference in his life. This is really a very pathetic situation for gardener-like-father, who made all possible attempts to help his child grow under his shade, but he now feels to be left behind because of the generation gap that has come about with the changing world.

The poet says that the father and son now behave like strangers in their own house, and it is hardly possible that they would ever be able to understand each other. The land that once used to belong to the father is now all for the son, who wants to walk, talk and live in his own way. There is almost nil sign of understanding between both of them.

This child is built to my design

Yet what he loves I cannot share.

Silence surrounds us.

In this stanza of ‘Father to Son’, the poet shows the self-centeredness of the father, who though wishes to design his son’s life according to his own, when it comes sharing what his son likes and feels pleasure in, he avoids revealing it. Where he once used to think that his son would not be able to design his life, but it is time to talk about his son’s preferences he feels ashamed of revealing them.

Here, “what he loves” may mean to the things, trends, and people that his son loves, and when he says: “I cannot share” it may mean a lot. Yes, it could either be the bad things or good things of his child or the self-centredness of the father who has now developed a kind of anger or hatred towards what his son likes.

I am really amazed to read this stanza and when I compare it with the previous stanzas, it makes me think about the father what he was thinking earlier and what he is now doing when it comes to speaking good things about his son. This stanza also surprises me when “Silence surrounds us”.

How could you avoid talking about the seed that you planted with much care and cautiousness? Reading through this stanza, it can be realized that all concerns and worries that the father was showing were nothing but affectation of love towards his son.

I would have

(…)

Shaping from sorrow a new love.

This stanza presents a very different character of the father. Here, the father is shown in a very callous form, which is not expected from any father on this earth. I am really surprised to see what the father was in the first and second stanza, and how he has become in this stanza. Let’s face it; no father in his senses would ever wish his son to go away from him and destroy his life.

Why would a father want his so to get lost and struggle for life? But this is the father who wishes so. He wishes that his son should go away from him and return like the prodigal son in the Bible. This sort of callousness of the father towards his son shows that he never loved his son. However, if we take this stanza in another way round, it will come to our knowledge that the father wishes his son to live and struggle so that his child can learn about the bitterness of his life, and become mature after having encountered the ups and downs of life.

He wants his son to return like a matured man full of experiences. This wish of the father may also be because of the tenderness and innocence that his child is going through. Anyway, whatever be the reason, the father wishes so he must stand by his child through thick and thin and help him know about the life though most of the things are known by the human beings itself. But if you can share your experience with your child, it not only helps him go ahead in his/her life, but also let me take a wise decision when it comes to any hardship in life. However, we must know that to err is human.

Father and son, we both must live

(…)

Longing for something to forgive.

In this last stanza of ‘Father to Son’, the poet doesn’t present what is expected from it. It does talk about the reconciliation but doesn’t give any permanent solution. The father is shown and left lamenting and complaining, but doesn’t want to provide any solution.

Similarly, the son is shown to be ready to reconcile and live again as they used to live earlier. But this does not end the problem of the generation gap that remains between the father and son. Therefore, as a sign of reconciliation, each of them welcomes one another to live friendly.

Some readers may deject and resent this reconciliation solution, but according to me, there is hardly any solution to the generation gap. There has always been generation gap, and it will be so for the future generation. The only thing we can do is to understand the feelings of each other and line of respect must not be crossed and forgotten.

 

About Elizabeth Jennings

Elizabeth Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire. Died in 2001, Jennings, having completed her graduation from Oxford University, first worked as an Assistant Librarian at Oxford City Library and then as a reader for the London Publisher Chatto & Windus, and finally, she became a full-time writer for the rest of her life.

She started her poetry writing career at a very early stage after having being encouraged by one of her schoolteachers as well as by an uncle, who himself was a poet. She wrote her earlier poetries on being inspired by Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, G. K. Chesterton’s “Battle of Lepanto”, and then the odes of Keats.

Afterward, Jennings was greatly influenced by the poetries of Edwin Muir and Robert Frost. In most of Jennings’s poems, there have been strong logic, emotional sensitivity, an avoidance of decoration, an absence of vagueness, and an eschewing of any mystification.

She had always taken care of the use of rhyme and meter when it comes to the form of poetry. Her use of words and sentence structure in the poem are very easy to understand. All her poems were simple and without literary decoration and pretentiousness in literature.

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  • Avatar AARAV says:

    thank you very much for explaining this poem in a smoothful way. I often have difficulty in understanding the poems which i have been told to read. but, now i think it would be more easier for me to understand from this website

    • Emma Baldwin Emma Baldwin says:

      That’s great to hear! Glad we could help!

  • Avatar sambhav says:

    the character sketch of the father please?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Do you mean a picture of him? If so, we don’t really do that, sorry.

  • Avatar Manya says:

    You have blamed the father!!!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Powerful stuff isn’t it?

  • Avatar Aparna says:

    I didn’t understand that this small piece of poetry had a mountain of emotion and life clinged to it. Thank you for giving me a deep understanding about this poem, from various angles. ?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      You’re more than welcome. We are glad you found it helpful.

  • Avatar Aaditya says:

    It’s good but not based on the language of ncret……which my schll used to give?however it is little bit helpful for Mee

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I’m glad it has been helpful to you.

  • Avatar IRENE says:

    Thanks a lot for this ! I feel confident for my exam now !

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Good! that’s why we are here! that and the sarcastic comments – but mainly to help people with exams.

  • Avatar shanthi says:

    who does he refers in the poem father to son

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I don’t believe that the poem is about a specific father or son and instead is used to make a commentary on a typical father/son dynamic.

  • Avatar Catherina de la Mer says:

    Seems like you didn’t understand the poem. it’s not the father’s fault alone. in the third stanza, the father doesn’t wish for the son to go astray but wishes for his son who is already gone astray to come back to him rather than see him go and make his own world and make his life a mess. he says he would be ever forgiving when he comes back.

    • Emma Baldwin Emma Baldwin says:

      Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for your comment. Your interpretation of the piece is quite valid and interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar Sanjay Jain says:

    I read the meaning of prodigal in a dictionary. How does it fit into the meaning of the poem?
    Adjective: prodigal
    |pró-du-gul|
    Recklessly wasteful • prodigal in their expenditures
    = extravagant, profligate, spendthrift
    ≈ wasteful
    Noun: prodigal
    (pl. prodigals)
    |pró-du-gul|
    A recklessly extravagant consumer
    = profligate, squanderer
    ~ consumer
    ⇒ scattergood, spend-all, spender, spendthrift, waster, wastrel

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      The prodigal son is also a bible story. The phrase has come to mean somebody who performs a “homecoming”

  • Avatar Rua Home Jorhat says:

    wonderful amazing notes
    thanks a million

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      you’re welcome a million!

  • Avatar meh says:

    Good Analysis.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your feedback.

  • Avatar Divya Sharma says:

    I really appreciate how each stanza has so nicely been described here.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your feedback. Glad you enjoyed it.

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