How can I compare "To My Mother" by George Barker and "Father" by Elaine Feinstein? How are the two poems different and similar in language, style, and form? How do these aspects of the poems...

How can I compare "To My Mother" by George Barker and "Father" by Elaine Feinstein? How are the two poems different and similar in language, style, and form? How do these aspects of the poems contribute to each poet's portrayal of the parent figure? How do they link to the meaning and effect of the poems? How do they reflect a few relevant key traits of modern poetry? 

Expert Answers
andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two poems have similar themes in that both are eulogizing a parent. It is obvious that both speakers have great love, affection, and respect for the subjects of their poems. Barker clearly displays these sentiments in the poem dedicated to his mother, and Feinstein likewise shares such sentiments about her father.

Barker's diction is somewhat more involved than Feinstein's more direct language. Feinstein's poem is also less complicated than Barker's, although the language in both pieces is fairly straightforward and simple. Barker's poem consists of two stanzas: the first constituting eight lines (octave) and the second six (sestet). The poem is written as an Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet. Each of the two stanzas focuses on a distinct idea. The first describes his mother and his sentiment, while the second carries a plea. Feinstein's poem consists of four quatrains, each relating to a particular aspect of her father.

Barker's poem has a clear rhyme scheme, while Feinstein's has none. Feinstein's poem is written in free verse. It seems as if she, through such a structure, wishes to portray her father as a man unfettered by convention, a man dedicated to his task as a carpenter, and a man who laughed freely and provided her pleasure during her childhood by purchasing trout, unseasonal strawberries, and holidays in Switzerland. These acts enriched her life and metaphorically made her father a rich man.

Barker's use of rhyme and rhythm gives his piece a lyrical quality, which effectively adds tenor to the eulogistic nature of his writing. He employs repetition to accentuate the different sentiments he has about his mother. He repeats the word "most" to emphasize how emotionally close she is to him, and yet, paradoxically, she is also removed, perhaps in a physical sense. The poem conveys the image of someone larger than life. His allusion to the French Renaissance writer Rabelais confirms this since he was famous for his extraordinarily outrageous and honest writings and opinions. The mother is one who takes the lead, and her exuberant nature makes her "a procession." The implication is that she draws attention wherever she goes and none can outdo her in this regard; they can only follow in her wake "like a little dog following a brass band." 

Conversely, the elementary nature of Feinstein's diction suggests no such grandiose claims about her father and, as already mentioned, depicts him as a straightforward, stubborn, and simple man who was quite direct in his contact with her aunts, whose advice and admonitions he stubbornly refused and resisted. His honesty and direct attitude did not need further discussion or explanation. 

Feinstein is clearly proud of her uncomplicated father, and her description of him as "shabby and powerful as an old bus" conveys her admiration of his strength, even at age sixty, to persevere and continue doing what he loves most. No one is going to stop him.

Barker, in the second stanza of his poem, portrays his mother as, like Feinstein's father, stubborn. She is fearless and will not allow the arrival of bombers to make her drop her favorite cordial and rush down to a cellar for cover. She will "lean on the mahogany table like a mountain," suggesting the strength of her will. She is just as immovable as a mountain, and only faith can move her. Barker beautifully extends this simile to emphasize how he wishes to encourage his mother to believe that she should not grieve but face the next day knowing that he is safe. The use of "O" further stresses his plea that his mother should trust that he will be secure. 

The speakers in both poems effectively convey the deep feelings they have for their parents, and the reader is satisfyingly left in no doubt that both poets have only the greatest love, respect, and admiration for them.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question
Additional Links