Student Question

Compare the depictions of love in "The River-Merchant’s Wife," "To a Daughter Leaving Home," and "Those Winter Sundays."

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These three poems express different kinds of love in that the emotional attachments between the characters are based on different life situations.

In Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife,” we have a young couple (extremely young by our culture’s standards). This couple marries in their early teens, and initially the wife is so bashful and insecure that she cannot return her husband’s attentions. However, she grows to love him. This is something along the lines of romantic love.

In Pastan’s “To a Daughter Leaving Home,” we see parental love, as a parent watches a young child riding a bicycle for the first time. The parent feels the anguish of separation, while the child is “screaming with laughter.” The poem serves as a microcosm of the parent-child relationship and the fact that the parent must let the child go off into the world on their own at some point.

Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” also involves a parent and a child (probably a mid-to-late teenage boy), but this time it is the child speaking (possibly as an adult, looking back on his past). It is not about love that has to let go, as in “To a Daughter Leaving Home.” Instead, Hayden expresses the kind of love that makes one do things for others, or take care of others, because it is the right thing to do, or because it is a duty. Notice how the child reveals his own attitude toward his father, an attitude that he knows is wrong and harsh after all the things his father has done for him:

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

The child has learned, possibly years later, that the father expressed his own love with his actions and his care for the child.

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Compare the "types" of love in "The Tally Stick," "To a Daughter Leaving Home," and "Those Winter Sundays."

In "The Tally Stick" you find all types of love. The strongest form of love depicted here is the agape love that one friend has for another. The selfless, non-judging type of love.  You could also call this storge (stor-gay)  love as it centers around the family and develops slowly over time.  This love has developed into a very strong bond of friendship that has a history over time.

In the poem: "To a Daughter Leaving Home", you find the agape form of love that encourages and inspires without having the need of being reciprocated. It is unconditional love based on achieving the success of being able to ride a bike. The loved and the beloved both experience joy at the success. The child is overjoyed and happy, but does not thank the parent for the time spent in teaching the skill.

In the poem "Those Winter Sundays" the love being depicted is Agape or unconditional love by the father toward his family. He takes care of the details of making the fire, polishing shoes etc...often unappreciated by those for whom he does these tasks.  The child, now evidently grown, appears to finally understand the type of sacrificial love the father has shown by doing these tasks without first waking the child to do them.

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