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What is the critical analysis of this poem " The Portrait" by Stanley Kunitz.My mother...

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elozoya | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted December 7, 2009 at 11:58 AM via web

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What is the critical analysis of this poem " The Portrait" by Stanley Kunitz.


My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

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kimfuji | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted December 7, 2009 at 3:33 PM (Answer #1)

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The poet is speaking about the presence of his father and how that molded his entire life. He never knew him because he committed suicide before he was born;however his entire life, he felt the absence of his father through all the emotions his mother carried around with her. He recalls an incident when he carried a portrait of his father down from the attic and his mother grabbed it from him and tore it to shreds. He is 64 when he wrote the poem and still feels pain about his father.

This poem is a tribute to the reality that the unlived life or unexpressed emotions(anger) of a parent can be passed onto his or her child, unknowingly. It is as if the "sins of the father" are visited on his son. His father killed himself; but he also killed his son.

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brianbogosian | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 9, 2015 at 3:40 PM (Answer #2)

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Kimfuji's analysis of this poem is very good. His father was absent but the effect of the 

circumstances of that absence and his mother's unresolved reaction to it had

left a haunting 

presence of his father. I especially like what Kimfuji wrote about the "sins of the father.." I 

have to disagree with her last sentence though. The poem is factual. Solomon Kunitz did 

commit suicide and Stanley was slapped for bringing out his portrait but the father did not 

kill the son, he wounded him. Stanley Kunitz was able to confront this, reconcile with it and 

live successfully as a poet until he was 100!

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