To a Sad Daughter Summary


Lines 1-11:
The first stanza of “To a Sad Daughter” provides a snapshot of the girl who is the subject of this poem. If we did not know the title, our first assumption may be that the speaker is describing his son who is a typical sports enthusiast. Knowing the name of the piece, however, we are intrigued by the description of the bedroom that belongs to a girl and by her behavior at the breakfast table. She has not only selected sports figures as her idols, but she has chosen players from a very violent, rough, and highly male-dominated sport: “Belligerent goalies are your ideal.” She has posted pictures, probably from sports magazines, of hockey players on the walls of her bedroom where most young girls may hang photos of popular singers or handsome movie stars. She does not sleep in a pretty gown or in typical girls’ pajamas, but in a tracksuit. Perhaps most revealing in the description of the daughter is that “Threats … / cuts and wounds” please her. These are words not commonly thought to describe pleasant circumstances for anyone, especially a young female, but, nonetheless, the subject here is attracted to the bloodshed, bruises, and ruthlessness of the sport of hockey. The only hint of “girlishness” that appears in this first stanza is in line 8 where we see her italicized reaction to a sports page article: “O my god!” she exclaims, and it is easy to imagine the scene as a father watches his wide-eyed daughter hold a newspaper over her bowl of cereal (“Alpen”) and spout out her alarmist remark about a broken ankle or fight between player and coach. Obviously, in the sport of hockey, neither of these incidents is even unusual, much less alarming, but Ondaatje is careful to let us know there is still a bit of innocence and “silliness” beneath the otherwise tough exterior of his little girl.

Lines 12-25:
The second stanza discloses more of the daughter’s vulnerable, softer side and also provides insight into the father’s personal assessment of his female child: “When I thought of daughters/ I wasn’t expecting this/ but I like this more.” He also confesses that he likes her “purple moods” when she demonstrates a typical teenager’s aloofness and reclusiveness, probably stalking off to her room “to sit in bed under a quilt” with a nobody understands me attitude. Ondaatje admits that he uses the word “like” only in deference to his daughter’s embarrassment over hearing a parent talk about love, although love is precisely what he feels for her. We also see the girl’s youthful disposition in her scoffing at things old-fashioned, as she feels “superior to black and white movies.” In the last three lines of the stanza, the poet returns to the image of a daughter with prevalent tomboy features, telling us that she had to be “coaxed for hours to see Casablanca,” a romantic love story that many women, as well as men, have watched over and over, but that she was “moved / by Creatures from the Black Lagoon,” an old horror movie featuring a web-footed lizard-like creature who rises from murky waters and terrorizes everyone in its pathnot typically a “girl’s” movie.

Lines 26-36:
The third stanza gives us a first look at the father’s main concerns involving his daughter’s future. Some parents may find his advice unthinkable and even dangerous, but Ondaatje delivers such a compelling rationale that we cannot help but understand he has the girl’s best interest in mind. In the first five lines, the poet uses striking mythological imagery to make his “cautionary” point, although we may see it as “reverse” caution, since he urges her to do exactly the opposite of what many fathers would advise. In mythological tales, sirens were sea nymphs whose sweet singing lured unsuspecting sailors to their island. The catch was that the island was surrounded by craggy rocks, and the mariners met their fate when their ships were destroyed by the hidden danger. Eventually, some sailors learned to cover their ears and pass the seductive singing without falling victim to it, but many failed. In this poem, the father tells his daughter, “One day I’ll come swimming/ beside your ship or someone will / and if you hear the siren / listen to it.” This may sound like astonishing advice—a father telling his daughter to follow a path to sure destruction, but he offers his reasons in the next lines: “For if you close your ears /...

(The entire section is 1825 words.)