Family Relationships in 4 Poems

Family relationships are evident in many of the poems in the anthology, they are central to most people’s lives, and the poems present how these relationships can change with age, and how they often fraught with conflict. I have decided to analyse: ‘Digging’ by Heaney, ‘Baby-sitting’ by Clarke, ‘The Affliction of Margaret’ (TAOM) by Wordsworth and ‘On my first Sonne’ (OMFS) by Jonson.

In ‘Digging’, Heaney presents a relationship that spans three generations; the author, his father and his grandfather.

The respect, admiration and love with which the young Heaney feels for his elders contrasts with the poet’s admitted apathy and coldness towards an unrelated child in ‘Baby-sitting’: “I don’t love / This baby”. In ‘TAOM’, Wordsworth uses powerful imaginary to portray a mother’s tormented anguish over her fragmented relationship with her son. “Seven years, alas! to have received / No tidings of an only child, she laments. In ‘OMFS’, the poet writes as though he is talking to his much-loved son, and suggests that his greatest achievement, “his best piece of poetry”; is the boy.

Both poems involve strong, powerful emotions: the love that a parent feels for their child, both parents grieve for their children, although in Affliction of Margaret the exact fate of the child, now an adult, is unknown.

‘Digging’, contrasts the hard physical lives of parent and grandparent to the somewhat easier life of a writer, although the author is wistful of their skilful labours. At the start, the poet sees his old father digging in the garden, and this reminds him of how skilled and strong his father and grandfather were at digging; “By God, the old man could handle a spade”.

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However, the poet appears to feel guilt that he has not followed in their footsteps, while his father is outside digging; he is inside writing. He says, “I’ve no spade to follow men like them” as if he knows he lacks their strength and perseverance. “Once I carried him milk in a bottle / Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up / To drink it, then fell to it right away.” The phrase ‘corked sloppily with paper’ suggests that the author feels inadequate, he brings refreshment but his father is so absorbed with his task that he only pauses briefly to drink, unaware of the boy’s presence.

By the end of the poem, Heaney feels more triumphant and hopes to gain the same pride and sense of worth with the use of a pen as previous generations did with a spade; “The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it.” The poem ends with this emotional phrase as the poet reconciles himself by drawing similarities from the pen and the spade.

Similarly, ‘TAOM’ and ‘OMFS’ are poems in which the protagonist idolises a family member. In ‘TAOM’, a woman called Margaret worries over her son who disappeared 7 years ago, and even though the reader never meets the son, he is an important character in the poem. Margaret’s memories of her son are warm, loving and positive, she says “He was among the prime in worth, / An object beauteous to behold”. However, Margaret’s love appears to border on obsession, and the reader wonders whether Margaret’s suffocating adoration of the child offers a hint of the true reason for the son’s absence and lack of contact. Margaret says, “Of Him I wait for day and night”, the capital ‘H’ reflects Margaret’s infatuation and worship of the absent child, as a deity.

Jonson also expresses strong emotions similar to ‘Margaret’s’ in ‘OMFS’. Jonson’s relationship with his son was such that; upon the child’s passing, Jonson actually says he envies his son, because in heaven you do not have to deal with all the travesties that happen in life: “For why / Will man lament the state he should envie?”. The poem is written as though Jonson is talking directly to his son: “tho’wert lent to me, and I thee pay”. This is a very personal sentiment, and the reader really feels how close he and his son were, as though the poem is intended to be his child’s eulogy. Jonson also uses language found usually on gravestones, for example: “here doth lye”; this enforces the fact that the poet is writing a speech in praise and tribute of his recently deceased child.

A poem which depicts a dysfunctional, ‘abnormal’ parent/child relationship, is ‘Baby-sitting’; in the poem, Clarke skilfully uses language to present her feelings as a mother looking after someone else’s child, in a house which isn’t hers. Clarke almost sounds emotionless at times, and describes the baby in an uncaring, business-like way: “She is a perfectly acceptable child.” She feels detached from the girl and seems to see her as an object and an inconvenience, rather than a human. Clarke even uses the recurring semantic field of witchcraft with phrases like: “enchant” and “familiar”, to suggest that the child is otherworldly.

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Family Relationships in 4 Poems. (2018, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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