The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Peter Meinke’s “Advice to My Son” is, as the title suggests, a poem on how to live one’s life, from the perspective of one who is older and more experienced. In a fashion both witty and wise, the parent advises the son, and by extension the reader, on the dangers and delights life holds in store. In only twenty-three lines, Meinke conveys a powerful sense of the multiple and often opposing aspects of life: the practical and the idealistic, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the long-term, the sensual and the intellectual, the secular and the religious, the aesthetic and the mundane. He does this both directly and indirectly, through contradictory statements as well as sudden and at first seemingly incongruous shifts in imagery, diction, rhyme, and tone. He suggests that the key to a successful life lies in the ability to reconcile, or at least accept and cope with, very different desires and needs. A sense of humor helps, too.

The narrator, who is never specifically identified as the mother or father, begins by suggesting, somewhat paradoxically, that the son should both live for the moment and plan for the future. Because the days “go fast,” he is told to live them “as if each one may be your last.” Yet only a few lines later the reader is told that they “go slow” and it is necessary to “plan long range.” The narrator admits it is a “trick” to pull this off, implying that there is a danger if one does not do...

(The entire section is 447 words.)