‘El Ángel De La Guarda’ or ‘The Guardian Angel’ by Juan Felipe Herrera explores themes of parenting, family life, love, and separation. Herrera’s tone is direct as he lays out the mistakes of his speaker. He uses figurative language on a few occasions in order to emphasize those mistakes and expand them and their impact on a grander scale. The mood is solemn and regretful throughout.
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Summary of El Ángel De La Guarda
The poem takes the reader through eleven statements from the perspective of a father who is only now realizes the toll his absence has taken on his children. Their relationship has suffered because he wasn’t there when he should’ve been. He didn’t play, dance, or share in the joy of his children. They grew up with him as a distant figure, more of a guardian angel who didn’t intervene, rather than a hands-on parent. As the poem concludes the speaker realizes that more than anything he should’ve held his children and shown them that he loved them.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Poetic Techniques in El Ángel De La Guarda
‘El Ángel De La Guarda’ by Juan Felipe Herrera is an eleven line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, but they are all quite similar in length. Each line is made up of one sentence, ending with a period. These come one after another, forming a general and specific image of the speaker’s thoughts.
Herrera makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘El Ángel De La Guarda’. These include alliteration, anaphora, and caesura. The first, alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “touched them, that’s” in line ten and “beggar” and “brighter” in lines three and four. This technique is most commonly employed in order to increase the rhythm of lines. The repetition of similar-sounding words also creates visual and auditory connections between lines and phrases.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. Line ten is the best example in the poem, it reads: “I should have touched them, that’s it, it comes to me now”.
In this particular instance, the technique was used in order to add emphasis to the speaker’s revelation. With the pause, a reader is made to expreince what they did: a sudden connection. At this point in the poem, the speaker’s experiences make sense and he realizes the mistakes he’s made and the one major thing he could’ve done in the past o keep his relationships from degrading.
Herrera also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This is one of the most obvious, and immediately striking, techniques employed in the poem. The words “I should have” begin all eleven lines of the poem. By using this technique in the poem Herrara is hoping to emphasize the many different things the speaker did wrong or didn’t do at all. They build up in the speaker’s head until they spilled out into this poem. The reader should feel overwhelmed, just as the speaker does, by all that he’s missed out on and lost.
Analysis of El Ángel De La Guarda
‘El Ángel De La Guarda‘ begins with the first of eleven sentences starting with “I should have…” Throughout the poem, he goes through a variety of things he “should have” done and each takes up exactly one line. These statements are short, to the point, and build up to a climax at the end as the speaker judges his own role as father to his children.
In the first line, he makes a very short, to the point, statement about how he should’ve acted. This line summarizes, along with the final line of the poem, the main points of how the speaker is feeling. He says that he “should have visited more often”. As the poem progresses it becomes clear that the people he should’ve visited were his family members, specifically his children.
Next, he critiques his own choice not to eat any of the “sour pudding they offered”. This image is a clear, and likely relatable one. It’s easy to imagine young children making a food item, a parent knowing its no good, and then refusing/accepting it. In this case, rather than bolster his children’s spirits and playing the role of father and caretaker, he did not eat any of what they made. This is something small that he regrets now.
The lines continue on in this way, he offers up other things he should’ve done but didn’t. These include dancing with his children and painting their “rooms in a brighter colour”. The latter alludes to an overall improvement of their lives. He could’ve made their worlds brighter if he tried.
The fifth line is similar to the fourth, but here he refers to his children as “the daughters”. The use of the word “the” rather than “my” creates a separation between the speaker and the children. It alludes to a deeper disconnection from them, as well as the possibility that there were more children than just “the daughters” perhaps sons as well.
In the second half of ‘El Ángel De La Guarda,’ he uses a metaphor to describe the inspiration he should’ve given them. He could’ve if he’d been paying attention, “nudged them a little closer to the sky” or success. But he didn’t. The eighth line makes clear that there is damage being done to the relationship on both sides. When he visited, and they didn’t come out to wave, he should not, he says, have been surprised. But he was. He didn’t realize that they too were feeling distant from him and that the relationship was really in trouble. If he had guessed, he would have been aware he needed to change his behaviour.
The ninth line is another metaphor, also for the state of his children’s larger worlds. He could have come home, cleaned up the dark parts of their life, (represented by “that mole…in the back”).
The last two lines of ‘El Ángel De La Guarda’ are deeply emotional and moving. He comes to the realization that more than anything else he “should have touched them”. His children were lacking the loving touch of a parent. He never showed them that he cared about them when it would’ve made a difference. The phrase is repeated in the eleventh line, emphasizing the importance of this realization and ending the poem on a very solemn note.