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Poem “To a Sad Daughter” by Michael Ondaatje Essay

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Updated: Apr 6th, 2020

“To a Sad Daughter”: A Unique Exploration of the Relations between a Father and a Daughter.

Many authors attempted to create unique pieces of poetry exploring father and daughter relations. However, very few of them managed to be innovative and avoid commonplaces. Michael Ondaatje can be considered among those authors who have succeeded in creating poems dedicated to a daughter that are difficult to be censured for banality. His poem “To a Sad Daughter” (1984) demonstrates the author’s ability to find creative approaches to trite things. The author explores the feelings and concerns of a father of an adolescent daughter in a unique way by masterly using different techniques.

The author explores the relations between a father and a daughter in a unique way by focusing on the feelings of a father towards his adolescent daughter and his concerns about her future. The main hero has hard times while making a decision to let her go into the cruel modern world. Though numerous concerns about the daughter’s future disturbs him, the hero gives an unexpected advice to his daughter to do whatever she wants, just to not “be fooled by anyone then yourself” (Ondaatje 36). However, the hero claims that he is always there for her, as he states: “I will sell my arms for you” (Ondaatje 70). Therefore, the poem helps to explore the unconditional love of the father to his daughter and his willingness to experience any difficulties related to her future life choices.

The author uses numerous contradictions to demonstrate the complexity of the images and feelings of the main heroes. Such method contributes to the uniqueness of the poem. The first contradiction can be viewed in the image of the daughter. At the beginning of the poem, she is portrayed as a tomboy, as she is fond of “belligerent goalies”, sleeps in a “tracksuit”, and puts “hockey pictures” on the walls of her room (Ondaatje 1-4). Though the first impression left by the description of the daughter’s behavior makes the reader think she has no girlishness, next stanzas reveal her vulnerability and fragility by admitting her purple moods and inclination to “sit in bed under a quilt” (Ondaatje 18).

Such contrast between different traits of the daughter’s character helps to reveal the complexity of her personality. Another contradiction can be observed in the hero’s reflection on the daughter’s future. While he understands that his daughter has to enter the real world and encourages her to “break going out not into”, he also feels sad because of much time she spends with her friends and regard it as if he had lost her (Ondaatje 68). Such contradiction helps to understand the complexity of father’s feelings as he wants to treat the daughter as a grown-up person and give her freedom while still viewing her as a child and being willing to be next to her all the time.

The author also employs certain techniques to create a unique world inside the poem and let the reader feel like being present in it. The form of free verse is used to create a feeling of open interaction with the reader. Such form follows the rhythm of natural speech and makes the reader feel like the author is talking to him/her in a frank manner. The poem is written in the first person singular, which also contributes to creating the atmosphere that ensures that the reader feels that the hero shares his personal thoughts with him.

Though the theme of the poem can be regarded as a general philosophical issue, the author tends to connect it with real life by using everyday language, such as “purple moods” and everyday events, such as his daughter reading a newspaper while having breakfast (Ondaatje 16). By mentioning certain things familiar to modern people, the author manages to make the reader see that the theme of the poem is not estranged from life. Such things as “Alpen”, “Casablanca”, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” help the reader feel the hero talks about the things connected with modern real life (Ondaatje 9, 23, 25). All of these factors contribute to promoting the reader’s feeling of being involved in the atmosphere of the poem.

The author masterly uses such literary devices as simile, metaphor, and allegory to enrich the poem with bright images and ensure its uniqueness. The example of simile can be found in the seventh stanza: “Forsythia outside the window / and sun spilled over you / like a thick yellow miracle” (Ondaatje 54-56). The example of metaphor can be found in the first stanza: “All night long the hockey pictures / gaze down at you” (Ondaatje 1-2). The example of allegories can be found in the third stanza, where the hero portrays his daughter’s lifeline as a ship and future exciting events as sirens. The challenges and difficulties related to future choices are portrayed as “creatures with webbed feet” in their “caves and castles” in the fourth stanza (Ondaatje 33-34). Such abundance of appropriate literacy devices helped the author to create a vivid and refined text of the poem.

Various contradictions presented in the poem help to emphasize the complexity of the images of main heroes and their thoughts and feelings. By choosing the form of free verse, writing from the first person singular, and connecting the described issue to the everyday life, the author manages to make the reader to submerge in the atmosphere of the poem and grab its message. Various literary devices contribute to the exquisiteness of the poem. All of these techniques contribute to the uniqueness of the poem.

Works Cited

Ondaatje, Michael. “To a Sad Daughter.” The March Hare Anthology. Ed. Afrian Fowler. St. John’s, Canada: Breakwater Books Ltd., 2007. 31-33. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Poem “To a Sad Daughter” by Michael Ondaatje." April 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/poem-to-a-sad-daughter-by-michael-ondaatje/.

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