The poem, Elegy For My Father’s Father written by James K. Baxter, is written as a response to the poet’s grandfather’s passing. The poem is a single stanza with 38 lines perhaps representing the continuous motion of life and the lack of a rhyme scheme may suggest the haphazardness of life.
The poem, as stated in the title, is an Elegy, is a sad and mournful poem often grieving the death of a loved one. The title also tells the reader that this is written about the Speakers, “Father’s Father”, which suggests a distanced relationship between the Speaker and his grandfather. Being an Elegy, the main theme of this poem is death, which is shown as a natural process, and is explored through the life and ageing process of the speaker’s father, and the speakers’ grief for his father. In the first section of the poem the poet explores his grandfather’s personality and life. In the very first two lines of the poem, “he knew in the hour he died” “that his heart had never spoken”, the poem immediately begins to describe the relationship between the speaker and his grandfather. These two lines are very powerful as the personification of “his heart had never spoken”, suggests that the grandfather of the speaker was very detached from his emotions and feelings, never really expressing them. This personification coupled with the previous line “he knew in the hour he died” is very powerful as it suggests that the grandfather didn’t realise that he had never expressed his emotions until the point at which it was too late, his death.
The poem then goes on to say, “In eighty years of days”, telling the reader the length of the grandfather’s life, but perhaps also implying to the reader that every day of his life was unique, as “days” is used instead of years. After this the line “O for the tall tower broken”, is used as a metaphor for life perhaps suggesting that as life goes on the tower, being the grandfather in this case, grows and gains knowledge, until it is eventually “broken” by death. The speaker then describes his grandfather’s funeral, however, I think the most important part of this is when the speaker describes his grandfather as “from his bitter veins born”. I think this line is very important as this shows a greater admiration of his grandfather, despite their distanced relationship, because the speaker realises that his grandfather’s bitterness has been with him from birth and that it is not his fault, but just what his personality has always been like. Later in the poem the poet begins to explore the concept of ageing, displayed through the contrasting descriptions of his grandfather’s youth against his final years. From line 12 to 17, the speaker describes his grandfather’s youth and the prime of his life. The poet says “a chain of sods in a day” “he could slice and build”, this depicts his grandfather as a very strong and physically active man, referring to him carrying a “chain of sods in a day”, and this coupled with the poets use of active verbs, such as “slice” and “build”, really shows a change to a more positive tone suggesting praise to the grandfather from the speaker, for his skill and commitment.