Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dockery and Son” is a portrait of how a chance remark brings about an awareness in the hearer of the emptiness of his life. A simple comment from the Dean about a schoolmate of the persona’s having a son now at their college spurs a meditation about how unlived the persona’s own life has been.

It is usually the chance remark or observation that elicits such a contemplation. The speaker was adventurous as a student; then called before the Dean, still “half-tight” in the morning after the previous night’s exploits, he now stands before himself, trying to explain not what he did but what he did not do. Dockery himself is an abstraction, even to the speaker: “Was he that withdrawn// High-collared public-schoolboy, sharing rooms/ With Cartwright who was killed?” He remembers the dead but is unclear as to the living.

The speaker does say that to have “no son, no wife,/ No house or land still seemed quite natural,” but the fact that others who were his juniors do have these things makes him realize the emptiness of time. In other words, it is only when comparing himself with others that the speaker realizes how little he has done. It is important to realize that this is not envy; the speaker does not desire Dockery’s son, but he does see nothing in his own life that could be the envy of others. He has diverged “widely from the others.”

At first he thinks that Dockery must have planned his life, must have seen...

(The entire section is 456 words.)