What are some poetic devices in "My Son My Executioner" by Donald Hall?My son, my executionerI take you in my armsQuiet and small and just astirand whom my body warmsSweet death, small son, our...

What are some poetic devices in "My Son My Executioner" by Donald Hall?

My son, my executioner
I take you in my arms
Quiet and small and just astir
and whom my body warms

Sweet death, small son,
our instrument of immortality,
your cries and hunger document
our bodily decay.

We twenty two and twenty five,
who seemed to live forever,
observe enduring life in you
and start to die together.


Expert Answers
mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem discusses how our children are the way that our lives can be eternal; through them, our genes and influences live on beyond even our own lives.  Also, the birth of our children documents the end of our own lives; as they grow and get stronger, we slowly weaken and die.  It's an interesting and beautifully written poem.

One poetic device that Hall uses is metaphor, where you compare two things that have similar qualities.  He compares his son to death; granted, that isn't a very pretty or nice metaphor, but, for the purposes of his poems, it works.  He compares his son to an "executioner", and to "sweet death", using the comparison to point out that as he grows strong, they will slowly grow weak and eventually die.  To contrast this, he also uses a metaphor to compare his son to everlasting life.  He calls him "our instrument of immortality" and "enduring life."  So, Hall uses two contrasting metaphors to portray the idea that children are both the end and beginning of their parents.  Inherent in this contrast is a paradox, which is another poetic device.  A paradox is a seemingly impossible or constrasting statement.  So, his son is both death and immortality; technically, he cannot be both, so, it is a paradox.

Hall also uses slant rhymes, which is when you kind-of rhyme things; it's not an exact rhyme.  Look at the ends of his lines:  executioner/astir, arms/warms, forever/together.  These words are slant rhymes; they kind-of rhyme, but not exactly, and it's another poetic device.  There is also a bit of alliteration, where the first consonant sounds of words are the same:  "Sweet death, small son" repeats the "s" sound, and "instrument of immortality" repeats the "i" sound.

Those are just a few devices, and I hope that they help; good luck!

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, Donald Hall uses metaphor and antithesis to convey the idea that in the body of his "small son" is contained a reminder that the speaker himself is experiencing "bodily decay." Birth and death are opposing, and yet intertwined concepts, and the use of antithesis in this poem ("Sweet death, small son" and "my son, my executioner") serves to underline this. These two ideas of death and life are juxtaposed with particular starkness in the second stanza, where the son is metaphorically described as "our instrument and immortality," and yet, at the same time "document[s] our bodily decay."

The opening line uses another, even more jarring, metaphor to describe the son: "my executioner." The speaker is not suggesting that the son is actually killing him, but that the birth of his son, while helping his genes to live on forever, is also a reminder that time is continually marching onward and that the speaker soon will grow old and die. From the moment the son is born, "we," the parents, "observe enduring life in you / and start to die together." The birth of a child marks a shift for these two from experiencing the sense of immortality that lives in the young—those who "seemed to live forever"—to the next stage of existence, in which they realize that their immortality now lives in their child.