Throughout the poem, readers are going to encounter a series of quite creative images that help to convey the speaker’s emotions. These include images that suggest the imagined daughter’s death and how it would reveal itself in her hands and hair. Although short, ‘For My Daughter’ is incredibly impactful. It should inspire readers to delve into every line.
Explore For My Daughter
‘For My Daughter’ by Weldon Kees is a thoughtful and image-rich poem that delves into what having a daughter means.
The poem’s speaker considers his daughter (who readers later come to understand doesn’t exist) and how he looks into her eyes and sees “hintings of death.” He uses a variety of metaphors and interesting examples of imagery in order to describe how he understands death and associates it with this metaphorical daughter. Finally, it’s revealed at the end of the poem that he doesn’t actually have a daughter and that these musings are what have turned him off of the idea.
You can read the full poem here.
Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read
Coldest of winds have blown this hair, and mesh
In the first few lines, the speaker begins by describing what it’s like to look into his daughter’s eyes and see “Beneath the innocence of morning flesh.” When he sees into her eyes, he is capable of considering the “hintings of death” that are in her future. She doesn’t think about the limited nature of her life or the lives of others, but he does, and it moves him enough to consider it in this format.
Of seaweed snarled these miniatures of hands;
That may be hers appear: foul, lingering
The speaker continues to discuss his daughter’s appearance while alluding to the death that waits for her, as it does for him. He considers her hair, her hands, and the “night’s slow poison” that “moved her blood.” As time passes, she grows closer to the death she can’t avoid.
These are powerful and dark images, ones that are hard to consider are were surely difficult for the parent dealing with them. Words like “foul” and “Parched” help create a particular atmosphere in this piece as well. It’s one of darkness, death, and decay. The speaker notes that he has seen “Parched years” in this life and that his daughter is going to see them too. They appear before his eyes.
Death in certain war, the slim legs green.
Or, fed on hate, she relishes the sting
I have no daughter. I desire none.
In the next few lines, the speaker brings in more images of death coming for his daughter. He considers how she might meet her death and the dark, dreary ways it presents itself. She could suffer at someone’s hand or from sickness. These are speculations are grow worse as he considers them for longer. They “sour in the sun.”
The poem concludes with a twist, making use of the traditional turn between the twelfth and thirteenth lines of a sonnet. The speaker notes that actually, he has no daughter, and he desires none. This might initially surprise readers, but it makes sense when one considers what he’s set out within the poem. He’s considered what having a daughter would mean, having to live with the fact that she was going to die one day, and decides that he doesn’t want to go through that.
Structure and Form
‘For My Daughter’ by Weldon Kees is a fourteen-line poem. It almost exactly conforms to the pattern of a sonnet. It follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCCDEDEFFG. This pattern resembles both a Shakespearean and a Petrarchan sonnet. But, it is not precisely either. The poem also conforms to the pattern of iambic pentameter, with a few variations. This means that most of the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. This is the most common pattern in English poetry and certainly, the most commonly used in sonnets.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines seven and eight.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “hinting” and “heed” in line three and “daughter” and “desire” in line fourteen.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “That may be hers appear: foul, lingering” and “Of others’ agony; perhaps the cruel.”
The tone is emotional and passionate. The speaker spends the poem’s lines considering what it would be like to have a daughter and live alongside her, knowing throughout her life that one day she was going to die. This moves him and convinces him that he shouldn’t have a daughter at all.
The themes of this poem are parenthood and death. The speaker considers what it would be like to be a parent and then decides it’s not for him, at least when it comes to having a daughter. He doesn’t think he could handle losing her or even knowing that she would die one day.
The purpose is to explore the nature of parenthood and consider what having a daughter and dealing with the ever-present figure of death would be like. It’s also meant to appeal to parents who may have had similar thoughts throughout their child’s life.
Readers who enjoyed ‘For My Daughter’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ by W.B. Yeats – speaks about the poet’s family. It demonstrates his concern and anxiety over the future wellbeing and prospects of his daughter, Anne.
- ‘On My First Daughter’ by Ben Jonson – was written in memory of the poet’s daughter, Mary, who passed away.
- ‘To My Daughter On Being Separated from Her on Her Marriage’ by Anne Hunter – is a touching poem in which the speaker describes her hopes and dreams for her daughter as she marries.