Love takes up in many forms in life, and the poems ‘Refugee Mother and Child’, ‘If’ and ‘Poem at Thirty-Nine’ discusses about the relationship between parents and their child. Although they are all about love from either parents or a child, the bonds in each poem are not the same. In ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ Chinua Achebe writes about a mother mourning to her dying child during the civil war in Nigeria and brings an image of the scene into the reader’s mind by using different imageries whereas ‘If’ from Rudyard Kipling conveys the idea of paternal love from a father whom transfers virtues to his son of becoming a gentleman. Last but not least ‘Poem at Thirty-Nine’ by Alice Walker shows the admiration of a daughter has for her deceased father and how much she misses him being by her side.
Chinua Achebe establishes the idea of pure love from a mother through the poem ‘Refugee Mother and Child’. Achebe shows how the bond of love can a mother has with a child throughout the poem and relates it back to the Biafran war. The poem starts off with ‘No Madonna and Child could touch that picture of a mother’s tenderness’ which immediately brings the image of Mother Mary and Jesus into a reader’s head. The phrase ‘Madonna and Child’ is a comparison Achebe used to evaluate the love between mother and child with a medieval aged love which is also a Christian’s idea of perfect love. This creates a concrete image for the reader which can allow the reader to relate directly to the bond between the mother and her dying child. Achebe then uses ‘tenderness’ which illustrates the love is gentle, loving therefore creates a soothing atmosphere from the beginning. Achebe then employs a device technique of metaphor and personification in the phrase ‘singing in her eyes’ to create a contrast between pride and sorrow the mother has for her son. When someone is ‘singing’ in their eyes to a child is usually when a mother feels proud but ‘singing’ in the poem illustrates the fear and sadness of the mother. Both of these phrases contain a sense of pure love which conveys the idea to the reader effectively creating not only an image but also the mood.
Poem At Thirty Nine
Not only did Achebe successfully relate the readers to the mother of the dying child, he started to bring in some historical contexts during the civil war into the poem. Achebe established the idea of what parents have to do for their child in ‘Refugee’ by using metaphorical devices to describe the hair of her son. The phrase ‘she combed the rust-coloured hair left on his skull’ implies the symptoms caused by malnutrition. Kwashiokor is a protein deficiency which can be commonly found in Africa during the Biafran war. The Biafran war caused millions of people homeless whilst Achebe relates the poem back to the war to create a concrete image of the time and place. Although combing your own son’s hair is a very simple thing for a mother to do, but the mother in ‘Refugee’ is combing her son’s hair for the last time ever. After the son has passed away, the mother will have to do another daily chore for him. Achebe transfers this idea through ‘now she did it like putting flowers on a tiny grave’ to outline the things she has to do after he has passed on to the other side. The phrase ‘tiny grave’ gives an impression of the grave being significantly small and horrifying than death itself although death is already bad enough. In spite of the child dying, the mother still takes care of him every minute, trying to forget the fact that she’s about to lose him. On the other hand, ‘If’ uses more of a harsh language from a father telling his own son that he has a choice in life only if he becomes more mature.
Rudyard Kipling wrote ‘If’ in a complex sentence to bring the sense of the ‘perfect son’ throughout the poem and this was set during Victorian times when men had to do certain things to stay within the ‘gentlemen’ society. During the Victorian times, a true gentleman never spoke of himself in public and Kipling expresses this idea in the poem through ‘don’t look too good, nor talk too wise’. Kipling used the words ‘good’ and ‘wise’ which both have positive connotations, but when he used ‘don’t’ it turned the positive to a negative connotation stating that the father in the poem did not want his son to be too arrogant about himself. A gentleman has to do a lot of things to impress the others and being humble is only one of a few, a gentleman also has to stay on firm ground and keep his head down. Kipling wrote ‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings’ it indicates how a man cannot feel too proud of himself even when he gets high up in the society. The phrase ‘keep your virtue’, Kipling implied the idea when a man is with his friends or popular within the society, he cannot mislead his peers or exploit them. Kipling whom was a truthful Christian believer showed his faithfulness by stating pride was one of the things a gentleman should not be doing.
Throughout the poem, Kipling uses a father point of view to tell his son to be more mature. He not only tells him to be more mature, he also teaches him to treat good and bad with the same attitude so that he could have a better future. When Kipling wrote ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same’ it contrasts the idea of bad and good in life but yet we have to treat them both with a calm attitude. The phrase ‘Triumph and ‘Disaster’ uses personification by capitalizing therefore the reader can receive the idea of the father trying to convert an abstract concept to a way that a child can understand. A child that never went through any lost tend to not understand the idea of good and evil, but when personification is added, he might understand the concept more thoroughly.
Kipling used the word ‘impostors’ to describe the good and bad in life in order to connect the audience of how an ideal gentleman should be. The father wants his son to be resilient towards the successes and failures in his life so that it does not upset his balance or give him too much hope. Dreams can be a part of your life, but do not let them deceive you into the wrong direction. Kipling indicates this concept by stating ‘If you can dream-and not make dreams your master’. The repetition of ‘dream’ formed a contrast within the sentence from being idealistic to realistic. By this, Kipling passes on the thought of a gentleman can be creative but it cannot take over his true-self.
In the poem ‘Poem at Thirty Nine’, Alice Walker conveys the idea of perfect parenthood by talking about how every parent wants the best for their own child. Walker first writes ‘craved voluptuous sharing of good food’ to illustrate the father being generous and sharing. When Walker employs the words ‘voluptuous’ and ‘craved’ it suggested the father is eager to share and he gets pleasure from sharing with someone else and the kindness in him. Every parent has their own punishment for a mistake, however they do not punish for impractical reasons; they do it because they want the best for their child. ‘He taught me that telling the truth did not always mean a beating;’ advocates this idea of by telling the truth does not always resolve in violence. When Walker used the word ‘always’ she conveys the image of a child telling lies to a parent to avoid getting in trouble but when a child tells the truth, it does not always mean punishment and disagreements. The apostrophe at the end of the sentence suggests the persona stopped and reflected on the sentence she was on.
Other than parents wanting the best for their children, Walker also conveys the idea of how a child follows their parents’ footstep and grows into them. The father of ‘Poem at Thirty-Nine’ was not rich or high up in the society therefore the daughter did not expect much in life. Walker stated ‘I learned to see bits of paper as a way to escape the life he knew’ to show the audience that the persona was an adventurous person whom understood that money was one of the ways of being her further in life. Walker used the word ‘escape’ to make the persona to seem trapped and unable to free herself however if she were to be wealthy, she will be able to travel to different parts of places at anytime.
In conclusion, all three poems are able to convey and illustrate the attachment between parents and child through the use of different imageries and metaphors. Also the three different poets are greatly influenced by their misfortunate past events or particular incidents. Although they all take part in different places at different times, they all still contain a strong yet intimate bond between parents and child. Believing that love is all around, these poems have proved this idea and certainly influenced a lot of reader’s point of view towards parents and children.