Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Children That Never Were

It turns out that learning how to use transitions and embedding quotes not only make for a better grade...but a better paper.  On my first paper, I got an 84.  On this one, I got a 92!  Woohoo!!  I -may- actually make it out of this class with an A!

For our second paper, we were told we could choose any 2 poems from our 'Backpack Literature' book.  As he specifically listed the connection between 2 poems that we'd read that I was first considering, I chose 2 poems we hadn't even read.  I don't like being spoon-fed ideas.  It makes me ornery.

As my original poems, "My Papa's Waltz" and "Those Winter Sundays" were both about fatherhood, I decided I was going to stick with a parenting-ish theme.

I chose, Weldon Kee's "For My Daughter"

Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read   
Beneath the innocence of morning flesh   
Concealed, hintings of death she does not heed.
Coldest of winds have blown this hair, and mesh
Of seaweed snarled these miniatures of hands;
The night’s slow poison, tolerant and bland,
Has moved her blood. Parched years that I have seen   
That may be hers appear: foul, lingering   
Death in certain war, the slim legs green.   
Or, fed on hate, she relishes the sting   
Of others’ agony; perhaps the cruel   
Bride of a syphilitic or a fool.   
These speculations sour in the sun.   
I have no daughter. I desire none.

and Gwendolyn Brooks' "the mother"

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,   
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,   
The singers and workers that never handled the air.   
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,   
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.   
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?   
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.

And wrote the following compare/contrast paper.


Janin Wise
4 October  2011
Children That Never Were
One sometimes wonders, “Is it worth it to bring children into this world?”  When that world is war torn, rife with racial hate and financial hardships, it is easier to answer with a resounding, ‘No!’  Weldon Kees’s, “For My Daughter” and Gwendolyn Brooks’s, “the mother,” are two poems written in the 1940’s during World War II, that deal with the idea of children that never were, through their use of voice, imagery and figures of speech.
            Made evident from both the title, “For My Daughter,” and the opening line, “Looking into my daughter’s eyes,” (1) Kees uses voice to imply a parent speaking of his or her daughter.  The poem develops, revealing worry for the uncertain future of this daughter, “foul, lingering / Death in certain war” (8-9), or “perhaps the cruel / bride of a syphilitic or a fool” (10-11):  Will she be a victim or an aggressor?  The conclusion reveals this daughter never existed, “I have no daughter” (14) and the speaker would have it no other way, “I desire none.” (14)  Again in Brooks’s, “the mother”, the title implies the voice of a parent, specifically a mother, but the opening lines, “Abortions will not let you forget,” (1) make it clear that there were never any living children.
            In addition to voice, Kees’s poem is full of imagery supporting the speaker’s fear of a Nazi ruled future.  Death is a palpable possibility and implied in the “Coldest of winds” (4) that have blown the hair of this daughter.  Violence is tangible in the “mesh/ of seaweed”(4-5) that has “snarled these miniatures of hands” (5).  The future can be tasted, “fed on hate, she relishes the sting / of others’ agony” (9-10) and it is bitter and sours in the mouth.  These images support the feeling that this is a world unsuitable to bringing a child forth.
In contrast, Brooks’s is an African American poet whose imagery focuses on the acts of tenderness that will never be experienced. “You remember the children you got that you did not get,” (2) because the speaker chose not to experience them.  From the sounds that will never be heard from, “the singers and workers that never handled the air” (4) to the tactile acts of giving birth, “I have contracted” (13) and nursing, “I have eased / My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck” (13-14), one is simultaneously invited to experience these acts of motherhood and made poignantly aware that they can never happen.  The reader is left aching for these children that are not, sympathizing with this mother that is not, and wondering, “What could be happening in the world that she could bear to do this?”  With a little historical context, it is apparent that genocide overseas and racial persecution of African Americans at home, lead this woman to have, not just one, but multiple abortions.
Coupled with imagery, both poets use figurative language to reveal deeper, underlying meaning.  Kees recognizes the vitality of youth when he, “read/ Beneath the innocence of morning flesh” (1-2) and the inescapability of mortality, “Concealed,”(3) beneath that flesh, “hinting of death she does not heed” (3).  The passage of time is expressed in a tangible manner, “Parched years that I have seen” (7) leaving the reader dry, thirsting for a return to life.  And concludes, “These speculations sour in the sun” (13) with the realization that, in a time of war, the bright dream that should be new life is nothing more than dark thoughts and future nightmares.
Comparatively, Brooks’s ‘mother’ has “heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed / children” (11-12) recognizing the termination of possibilities. She will never “scuttle off ghosts that come,” (8) allaying the fears of small children, for she is the monster itself, more real than any ghost.  She did not mean to be their murderer, “If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths, / Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.” (20-21):  Her thoughts were only for herself.  Or were they? “Believe me, I love you all. / Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you / All.” (31-32):  The mother may be America personified  and the abortions may symbolize the truncated futures and families of all the men that die in the war.
To summarize, two poems, written during World War II, dealing with parents that are not:  In Weldon Kees’s, “For My Daughter”, it is for a child that is not real; In Gwendolyn Brooks, “the mother”, it is multiple children that are aborted.  Through their use of voice, imagery and figures of speech, they ask, “How can one conceive of bringing a life into a world that is rife with war, hate, and genocide?”  They intimate at children that never were—and answer that, in such a world, perhaps they never should be. 



Works Cited

Brooks, Gwendolyn. “the mother.”  Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry,
Drama, and Writing. Ed.  J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, 3rd ed.  New York: Longman,
2010. 594-595. Print.
Hacker, Diana and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.
423-487. Print
Weldon, Kees. “For My Daughter.”  Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry,
Drama, and Writing. Ed.  J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, 3rd ed.  New York: Longman,
2010. 403. Print.

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