Poems about fathers and sons

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about the relationships between fathers and sons. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. As a class read each poem below. After you read each poem, discuss the kind of relationship you think is had between the father(s) and son(s) in the poem. After reading each poem discuss how important father-son relationships are in shaping men's understanding of manhood.  

  2. (‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

    If you can keep your head when all about you   
        Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
        But make allowance for their doubting too;   
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
        Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
        And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
        If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
        And treat those two impostors just the same;   
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
        Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
        And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
        And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
        And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
        To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
        Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
        Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
        If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
        With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
        And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

    Sundays too my father got up early
    and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
    then with cracked hands that ached
    from labor in the weekday weather made
    banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress,
    fearing the chronic angers of that house,

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well.
    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices? 

    Between my finger and my thumb   
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Snug at the club two fathers sat, 
    Gross, goggle-eyed, and full of chat. 
    One of them said: ‘My eldest lad 
    Writes cheery letters from Bagdad. 
    But Arthur’s getting all the fun
    At Arras with his nine-inch gun.’ 

    ‘Yes,’ wheezed the other, ‘that’s the luck! 
    My boy’s quite broken-hearted, stuck 
    In England training all this year. 
    Still, if there’s truth in what we hear,
    The Huns intend to ask for more 
    Before they bolt across the Rhine.’ 
    I watched them toddle through the door— 
    These impotent old friends of mine. 

  3. If you were to write a poem to your father or about your father, how would those poems be different? Study the poems again. How does narrative technique play a role in constructing meaning? Consider: point of view, verb tense, speech (to whom is the narrator speaking) and use of pronouns. 

  4. Break up into groups and assign each group a different poem from Texts 1-5. Visit the page on poems in the text types section of this support site. Are there any poetic, stylistic or structural devices that you can identify in your group's poem? What are the effects of these devices on the reader? Why do you think the author chose these words in this order? Take notes on your group discussion.

  5. In your group, (re)visit the 18 question from the areas of exploration and select 2-3 questions that relevant to your poem. Discuss your poem in relation to these questions. Take notes on your group discussion.

  6. Visit the page on concepts in the 'Guide and outline' section of this Support Site. Write a discussion question for your classmates about your poem, which includes one or more of these seven concepts in the question: identity, culture, communication, creativity, perspective, representation or transformation. 

  7. Give a 5-minute, group presentation on your group's poem or song lyrics, in which you comment on: the global issues that are presented in your poem, the kinds of stylistic and structural features that you found in your poem and the AOE questions that you discussed as a group. Ask your classmates the questions that you wrote, using one or more of the concepts from this course, in order to initiate a classroom discussion on your poem.

Take one of the poets who are featured in this lesson and find more poems by him or her. What kinds of global issues are present in more poems by this poet? Can you find a non-literary body of work elsewhere (on this site) to pair with your poet to explore a global issue of choice in your individual oral?

Last modified: Sunday, 21 April 2024, 11:49 AM