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!