Online Journal: Poetry (I), Family Relationships

Poster¡G Sarita Chuang at 11:13:7 11/7/97 from
RE Kate at 13:4:34 11/3/97 posted ¡uon-line journal, Chinese or English¡vSubject
"I Ask My Mother to Sing" by Li-young Lee. 
1)The Knowledge of Li-young Lee's family background helps us to understand the meaning of this poem better. The song Lee asked his mother to sing might represent the family tradition or ritual Lee's family had been passing down from generation to generation; that's why Lee's grandmother joined his mother to sing the song. In the 3rd line of the first stanza,Lee's father's image joins in, although he was already dead. By claiming that his father would play the accordion along with his mother and grandmother's singing, Lee connected his family members close together, whether they were all alive or not, because the kindread spirit will always continue, just as the song will be passed down to the next generation. 
2)Since the 2nd stanza is about Peking, the Summer palace, and Kuen Ming Lake, we may infer that the song is about China. It might e a Chinese folk song. These places, especially Peking, are symbolic of China, where Lee's parents fled from. In my opinion, the rain on Kuen Ming Lake implies the political turmoil in China, and the frustration Lee's family faced when they were on the run from China. The picnickers who ran away in the grass represent Lee's family. 
3)Lee talked about waterlilies in the 3rd stanza, about how the waterlilies filled with water, spilled it out, and then filled with more water. I think Lee compared his family to the waterlilies, too. And the water around the waterlilies represents the hard life Lee's family had gone through. The continuous movement of waterlilies can have two meanings. One is the hardness Lee's mother encountered after she left China. Another meaning is his mother's continuous courage or willpower to overcome difficulties. 
4)In the end, Lee wrote," Both women have begun to cry, but neither stops her song." A song normally makes people feel better, but here the singers began to cry. the cried because they sang about China,they remembered their past, and all their struggles. The contradiction is that they continued singing while crying. This behavior suggests their efforts to survive despite of the hardships. 
"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden. 
1)In this poem, we see a father-son relationship. I think the speaker is a grown-up, since this poem is like the memory of his childhood. This 1st stanza talked about that the poet's father got up early to warm up the hearth, but no one thanked him. The first word of the first line is "Sundays," and I think it is related to the last word of this poem, "offices." The love of the poet's father to his children is without holidays. The fatherly love never takes a break, even on Sundays. The love is so constant that it's compared to an office, which suggests the idea of duty and responsibility. The "blueblack cold" in the 2nd line could have two meanings: (1) Blueblack is the color of the sky before the dawn breaks, and thus we see how early the father gets up--even before dawn. (2)Since Hayden is an African American, I just relate blueblack to his skin color. Then I associate "blueblack" with "cold", "cracked hands that ached," and "labor," words in the 1st stanza. These words all together remind me of the sad history of African Americans, and of their cold, hard days under slavery. 
2)In line 9, second stanza, wee see the phrase,"the chronic angers of that house." The chronic anger could be the unhappiness of the speaker's poor family. Since the father is a laborer, he might very well be a coarse person, with a not-so-good temper. That's why Hayden wrote about angers. In the last 2 lines of this poem, the speaker repeats "what did I know, what did I know..." The repetition of a sentence serves as a stress and makes the readers wonder what the speaker "didn't know as a child," and "what he knows now as an adult." In other words, the question at the end fo the poem draws the readers closer to the poet's mind. We can be sure that the poet learned from his father that love is constant, and the care from a father is without any rest. 
"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke. 
1)This poem has very clear rimes, such as "breath", "death", "dizzy","easy," etc.. Because the father described in this poem was drunk, and the son wasn't a good dancer, the many stresses and heavy tone parallel with the episode (the wild dance). We can infer that the son is not a good dancer, because he "hung on like death." And the waltz was so wild that the pans fell off the kithen shelf. I would say the relationship between the boy and the father is very intimate, especially in the 4th stanza: the boy's father waltzed him to bed, and the boy still clung to his father's shirt. But on the other hand, the father is a coarse person. He was drunk and he beat time on the boy's head. The second line of the 4th stanza described that the father's hand was caked hard by dirt, so he must be a laborer, just like the father in "Those Winter Sundays." 
2) On the contrary, the boy's relationship with his mother is different. The post used "countenance" instead of the simpler word "face." I think this is a hint that the boy has a colder relationship with his mother. His mother seemed more serious compared with his father. The stresses in line 13-14 suggest the wildness of their dancing, too. 
"I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing" by W. Whitman 
1)In this poem, the oak tree mirrors the speaker in many ways. First, Whitman used "live, rude, unbending, lusty" to describe the oaktree; actually, these are images of himself. Whitman wrote that the oak tree "uttered joyous leaves" twice, and I think he compared himself to the oak-- he uttered joyous leaves of poems. But Whitman was still different from the oak tree, for he couldn't be away from his friends, while the oak could stand alone in the whild space. So, the main idea of this poem is the manly love, or the love for all human beings. The speaker in line 6 took a twig of the oak tree back to his room. This might mean that he brought the nature home. Or it means the oak is just like a live human being, and the speaker placed a twig in his room just to remind him of the love for others. 
"Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" by Adrienne Rich 
1) This poem is about the relationship of an old couple. However, the relationship is not balanced. Line 7,8 and 10 show that the aunt's husband was domineering. Since the poet is a feminist, I think the poem is written from a feminist point of view. Although Aunt Jennifer was controled by her husband, she still found a way to develope her own world--in tapestries. The pictures of the tigers on her tapestry symbolizes the aunt's power. Since the 1st line says,"Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen," I would assume that Aunt Jennifer had wished that she had more opportunities to develope her talent, just like a tiger prancing across a field of grass. 
2) To be more specific, the tigers are symbolic of Aunt Jennifer's spirit. Although Aunt Jennifer couldn't resist her husband's control, she must have no fear in her mind, for she knew her spirit would live on in her tapestries, even after she died. The broader meaning of this poem is that it's a reflection of traditional women's role in the patriarchal society. Actually, I think the social meaning of Aunt Jennifer is no different from those distinguished female artists, such as Camille Claudel, or Frida Kahlo.