Choose 4 poems that are about the experience of parent/child relationships. Compare and contrast the situations in the poems and the poets' attitudes to them. (You must include at least one poem from each of the Gillian Clarke, Seamus Heaney and pre-1914 banks)
The poems I will be looking at are "Catrin" and "Cold Knap Lake" by Gillian Clarke, "Follower" and "Digging" by Seamus Heaney and two pre-1914 poems, "The Song of the Old Mother" and "On My First Sonne". What unites all 6 poems is that all six look - from different angles and at different points in time - at relationships between a parent and a child.
"Follower" and "Digging" are both from the son's perspective and are interesting because both see the relationship through the eyes of a child who hero-worshipped his father:
"I wanted to grow up and plough
To close one eye, stiffen my arm" ("Follower" lines 17-18)
And then the adult who leaves behind his idolatry and breaks with family tradition:
"But I've no spade to follow men like them" ("Digging" line 28) And the relationship even follows Heaney's father into his old age and senility, where he becomes effectively the child to his son:
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me... "
At which point Heaney comments guiltily:
" ... and will not go away"
Similarly, "Catrin" sees the parent/child relationship, over a period of time, though not a whole life time, and this time it is seen through the eyes of a parent. Catrin, we imagine, is about 9 or 10 at the time of the poem's setting, judging from what she is demanding to be allowed to do (stay out to go skating in the dark), but the poem starts from before her birth and tracks what the mother feels to be a constant battle of wills between her and her daughter. Catrin and her mother have not known each other long enough to experience the change in roles that Heaney and his father have known.
"Cold Knap Lake" and "On My First Sonne" both look at the effects of tragedy and near tragedy on a relationship. "Cold Knap Lake" seems to be about 2 parent child relationships, the one between Gillian and her own mother whom she describes as a "heroine" for saving "a stranger's child", and the second between the rescued little girl and her parents who inexplicably "thrashed her for almost drowning". What we can't know, because Gillian Clarke doesn't know it, is why the parents thrashed the little girl. Were they just violent and inadequate parents punishing misbehaviour, or was this the irrational and shocked reaction of normally loving parents who wanted to teach their daughter never to go near a lake again? The other poem where tragedy does strike, unfortunately with no happy outcome, is "on My First Sonne", where Ben Jonson has to learn to re-evaluate the relationship he had with his dead 7 year old boy:
"My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy"
The tragedy in this poem is the father's guilty realisation that he had too many expectations of his only child and this is something which, ironically, he could only learn through his death. The child's death also teaches him something else:
"... what he loves may never like too much"
Such is the pain of this child's loss that Jonson vows he will never make himself so vulnerable to love ever again.
The final poem is "The Song of the Old Mother" which differs from the others as it does not explore a particular relationship with one child, but more bemoans the life as a mother to a number of children. Again, the poem is from the perspective of the parent and we do not hear the children's side.
You expect to see love in a parent child relationship; in fact it is said that the one love that is unconditional is that a parent has for her/his child. Indeed, you can see love very strongly in many of these poems. It is an overwhelmingly powerful mother's love that fuels the conflict between Gillian Clarke and her daughter. This...
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