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The poem Father to Son is about generation gap and misunderstanding between a father and his son. Throughout the poem, the father keeps wondering why his son changed. Both have lived in the same house yet they are strangers to each other.
Father wants to forgive his son for wasting his money but they don’t talk. In the end, the son breaks silence and tells his father that he is unable to understand himself and his anger. Both shake hands hoping that one of them will ask for forgiveness. However the gap is so much that the differences remain there.
This poem has 25 lines, without any stanza. However to make it easier to understand, I have divided it into three parts.
I do not understand this child Though we have lived together now In the same house for years. I know Nothing of him, so try to build Up a relationship from how He was when small. Yet have I killed The seed I spent or sown it where The land is his and none of mine? We speak like strangers, there's no sign Of understanding in the air.
According to the father, he does not understand his child though they have lived together in the same house for many years. The lines show that the son is grown up and the father is desperate to talk to him.
Father again says that he knows nothing about his son. He tries to build up a relationship with his son on the basis of what he knew about him (son) from his young years. However, he wonders whether he has killed the seed he spent or sown it where the land is his (son’s) and not his own (father’s).
In other words, the father wonders whether he has lost his child whom he raised or did he provide him (his son) a way which was just for him (his son) and not himself (father). Here the father seems to be asking himself where he was wrong.
Next, the father says that they speak to each other like strangers and there seems to be no understanding between the two.
This child is built to my design Yet what he loves I cannot share. Silence surrounds us. I would have Him prodigal, returning to His father's house, the home he knew, Rather than see him make and move His world. I would forgive him too, Shaping from sorrow a new love. Father and son, we both must live On the same globe and the same land.
According to the father, his child (who is grown up now) is built to his design i.e. he raised his child with proper education and manners yet what the son loves, father doesn’t know. When they are with each other, there remains a silence.
The father further says that his son is prodigal. Prodigal is a Biblical reference in which father gives his fortune to his younger son, against the tradition. The son turns out to be a spendthrift and wastes all the money foolishly. In the end, he returns back with hardly a cloth on his body. Father forgives him and embraces him.
According to the father, he desires to see his son in his home rather than seeing him make and move his world i.e. go away and struggle to make a new home.
Father, who is desperate to end up the conversation gap, says that he will also forgive his son and from the current sorrowful situation, he desires to make the beginning of love.
Based on their relation (father–son), both of them have to live on the same globe and the same land i.e. they have to live on earth with each other and thus the differences must be ended.
He speaks: I cannot understand Myself, why anger grows from grief. We each put out an empty hand, Longing for something to forgive.
Finally, one day, the son speaks. He tells his father that he is unable to understand himself. He doesn’t know why he becomes angry when he is sorrowful.
Both of them then put their hands on each other and expect the other to ask for forgiveness. However, it does not happen and the difference still remains and so does the gap between the two.