Li-Young Lee writes often about his father. What is his father like and what do you think he admires most about him?Li-Young Lee
Li-Young Lee was born in Jakarta in Indonesia. His parents were Chinese and political refugees. His father in fact spent nineteen months in an Indonesian jail as a political prisoner. After fleeing Indonesia they arrived in the States when Lee was six. His father became a Presbyterian minister and he grew up in Pensnsylvania.
His father taught him how to read from the Bible and also the family had a time of silence at least two times a week. Lee writes that "it was one more detail of my life with my father which made me feel strange in a world which found my family strange, with our accented speech and permanent bewilderment." In his poetry Lee writes of the ambguous feelings he has of his father - how he both admires and respects him on the one hand, yet on the other hand fears him. It is clear from his poetry that his father represents a link to his Chinese heritage, and this topic of identity is one that Lee's poems explore.
His most poignant poem, in my opinion, is "Eating Together" which talks about the death of his father, and perhaps represents a resolution in their relationship. What is striking in this poem is the final simile describing his father's death:
... Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travellers, and lonely for no one.
This powerful simle is a beautiful and haunting evocation of death, at the one time depicting death as lonely and isolated, yet at the same time presenting it as a scene of natural beauty and peacefulness. The tone implies an acceptance of his father's death whilst still maintaining a whistfulness at his father's absence during an important family event.