Relationships

The following poem is from The Journals of Susanna Moodie, by Margaret Atwood.

How relevant is this poem to the way we understand relationships, to the way we imagine relationships to be?

Support your response with reference (comparison/contrast) to one or more poems you’ve studied and to your previous knowledge and/or experience.

Further Arrivals
After we had crossed the long illness
that was the ocean, we sailed up-river

On the first island
the immigrants threw off their clothes
and danced like sandflies

We left behind one by one
the cities rotting with cholera,
one by one our civilized
distinctions

and entered a large darkness.

It was our own
ignorance we entered.

I have not come out yet

My brain gropes nervous
tentacles in the night, sends out
fears hairy as bears,
demands lamps; or waiting

for my shadowy husband, hears
malice in the trees’ whispers.

I need wolf’s eyes to see
the truth.

I refuse to look in the mirror.

Whether the wilderness is
real or not
depends on who lives there.

My Father is a Simple Man

“My Father is a Simple Man” by Luis Omar Salinas is a simple poem which begins with a father and son walking and talking, and then expresses a deeper meaning – about life and greatness.

Theme:

The essence of life is perpetual. The essence of greatness is true kindness and patience.

Techniques:

  • Metaphor, simile

Issues:

Can life really be compared to an orange?

Does education make someone a “scholar”?

What is greatness?

How old do you think the speaker is? Justify your response with reference to details in th epoem.

For what audience do you think the poem is intended?

Do you think the poet ever expressed these thoughts and feelings to his father? Explain.

 

“My Father Is a Simple Man”

by Luis Omar Salinas

I walk to town with my father
to buy a newspaper.  He walks slower
than I do so I must slow up.
The street is filled with children.
We argue about the price of pomegranates.  I convince
him it is the fruit of scholars .
He has taken me on this journey
and it’s been lifelong.
He’s sure I’ll be healthy
so long as I eat more oranges,
and tells me the orange
has seeds and so is perpetual ;
and we too will come back
like the orange trees.
I ask him what he thinks
about death and he says
he will gladly face it when
it comes but won’t jump
out in front of a car.
I’d gladly give my life
for this man with a sixth
grade education, whose kindness
and patience are true…
The truth of it is, he’s the scholar,
and when the bitter-hard reality
comes at me like a punishing
evil stranger, I can always
remember that here was a man
who was a worker and provider,
who learned the simple facts
in life and lived by them,
who held no pretense.
And when he leaves without
benefit of fanfare or applause
I shall have learned what little
there is about greatness.

Death of a Young Son by Drowning

“Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood is a moving poem about the death of a child. The use of metaphor makes the poem more challenging.

Theme:

Hope dies when one’s child dies.

Techniques:

  • metaphor, simile, symbolism, allusion.

Issues:

What happened to the speaker? To her son?

What reflective question does this poem ask?

This poem comes from a collection written by Margaret Atwood called The Journals of Susanna Moodie. In this collection we read of the hardships and triumphs of the title character, who is a pioneer and recent immigrant to Canada. Find and read other poems from this collection.

Write about the comparisons this poem uses. Do you think the comparisons are appropriate or effective?

How do you feel about this poem? What do you like or dislike about it?

What do the last two lines mean?

Discuss the type of journey both mother and son make. Discuss how it symbolizes the journey of life, from birth to death.

 

“Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood

He, who navigated with success
the dangerous river of his own birth
once more set forth

on a voyage of discovery
into the land I floated on
but could not touch to claim.

His feet slid on the bank,
the currents took him;
he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water

and plunged into distant regions,
his head a bathysphere;
through his eyes’ thin glass bubbles

he looked out, reckless adventurer
on a landscape stranger than Uranus
we have all been to and some remember.

There was an accident; the air locked,
he was hung in the river like a heart.
They retrieved the swamped body,

cairn of my plans and future charts,
with poles and hooks
from among the nudging logs.

It was spring, the sun kept shining, the new grass
leapt to solidity;
my hands glistened with details.

After the long trip I was tired of waves.
My foot hit rock. The dreamed sails
collapsed, ragged.

I planted him in this country
like a flag.

The New House

“The New House” by Maya Angelou is a simple poem about what we leave behind in places where we have lived.

Theme:

The mark of one’s personality or soul is left behind in places where one has lived.

Techniques:

  • internal rhyme, onomatopoeia, rhetorical questions.

Issues:

Do people exist beyond a physical presence?

Write as many questions as you can that deal with the important issues suggested by this poem (hint).

What is the significance of the title?

 

“The New House” by Maya Angelou

What words
have smashed against
these walls,
crashed up and down these
halls,
lain mute and then drained
their meanings out and into
these floors?

What feelings, long since
dead,
streamed vague yearnings
below this ceiling
light?
In some dimension,
which I cannot know,
the shadows of
another still exist. I bring my
memories, held too long in check,
to let them here shoulder
space and place to be.

And when I leave to
find another house,
I wonder what among
these shades will be
left of me.

Gaining Yardage

“Gaining Yardage” by Leo Dangel is a casually worded free-verse poem. It reads like a conversation and tells the story of two young people – friends – who play football with equal anility (not very well); and how they work together to get a touchdown.

Theme:

The value of friendship is inexpressible.

Techniques:

Wordplay, jargon (football-related).

Issues:

Are Arlo and the speaker friends?

What makes someone a good friend?

What ideas does this poem share about friendship? Do you agree?

What is odd about the last two lines of this poem?

List the jargon used in the poem. Find definitions of each term. Do the definitions you find work within the context of the poem?

Examine the poem’s use of pronouns. Is the antecedent for each pronoun always clear? What would you recommend the poet do to solve his pronoun problems?

 

“Gaining Yardage” by Leo Dangel
The word friend never came up
between Arlo and me – we’re farm neighbors
who hang around together, walk beans,
pick rocks, and sit on the bench
at football games, weighing the assets
of the other side’s cheerleaders.
Tonight we lead 48 to 6, so the coach
figures sending us both in is safe.
I intercept an underthrown pass
only because I’m playing the wrong position,
and Arlo is right there to block for me
because he’s in the wrong place,
so we gallop up the field, in the clear
until their second-string quarterback
meets us at the five-yard line,
determined to make up for his bad throw.
Arlo misses the block, the guy has me
by the leg and jersey, and going down,
I flip the ball back to Arlo, getting up,
who fumbles, and their quarterback
almost recovers, then bobbles the ball
across the goal line, and our coach,
who told even the guys with good hands
never to mess around with laterals,
must feel his head exploding,
when Arlo and I dive on the ball together
in the end zone and dance and slap
each other on the back.
They give Arlo the touchdown, which rightly
should be mine, but I don’t mind,
and I suppose we are friends, and will be,
unless my old man or his decides to move
to another part of the country.