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The poem “For My Daughter” by Weldon Kees explores what it means to have a daughter in a thoughtful and image-heavy manner. The speaker of the poem thinks about his daughter, who readers will later learn does not exist, and how, when he looks into her eyes, he detects “hintings of death.” He describes how he views death and connects it to this figurative daughter using a number of metaphors and intriguing instances of imagery. In the poem’s conclusion, it is revealed that he doesn’t truly have a daughter and that these speculations are what have made him lose interest in the thought.
About the poet
American poet, painter, literary critic, novelist, dramatist, jazz pianist, short story writer, and filmmaker Harry Weldon Kees (February 24, 1914–disappeared July 18, 1955). He is regarded as a significant poet from the middle of the 20th century, belonging to the same generation as Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell. His collected poems have been featured in several anthologies, and his work has influenced poets of later generations. In his book Modern American Poetry, Harold Bloom noted The Last Man’s 1943 release as a significant milestone for Kees.
Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read Beneath the innocence of morning flesh Concealed, hintings of death she does not heed. Coldest of winds have blown this hair, and mesh
The opening few lines of the poem begin with the speaker expressing what it is like to see “Beneath the innocence of morning flesh” as he looks into his daughter’s eyes. He is able to think about the “hintings of death” that are in her near future when he looks into her eyes. She doesn’t contemplate how short her life and others’ lives are, but he does, and it touches him enough to think about it in this way.
Of seaweed snarled these miniatures of hands; The night’s slow poison, tolerant and bland, Has moved her blood. Parched years that I have seen That may be hers appear: foul, lingering
The speaker keeps referring to his daughter’s attractiveness while hinting at the doom that awaits both of them. In addition to the “night’s slow poison” that “moved her blood,” he thinks of her hands, hair, and hands. She gets closer to the unavoidable doom as time goes on.
These are powerful, frightening pictures that are tough to comprehend and are undoubtedly upsetting for the parent coping with them. In this composition, words like “foul” and “Parched” also contribute to a certain mood. It is a time of death, decay, and gloom. The speaker mentions that his daughter would experience what he has experienced in this life, the “Parched years.” They emerge right in front of him.
Death in certain war, the slim legs green. Or, fed on hate, she relishes the sting Of others’ agony; perhaps the cruel Bride of a syphilitic or a fool. These speculations sour in the sun. I have no daughter. I desire none.
The speaker continues to depict his daughter’s impending death in the next few lines. He thinks about how she would pass away and the grim, gloomy scenarios it could take. Both physical harm and illness might befall her. When he reconsiders these theories longer, they become worse. Under the sun, they “sour.” Using the customary turn between a sonnet’s twelfth and thirteenth lines, the poem ends in a surprising way.
In reality, the speaker says, he doesn’t want or have a daughter. This can startle readers at first, but it makes sense when one thinks about what he has stated in the poem. He thinks about what having a daughter would entail, including having to deal with the possibility that she may pass away one day, and determines he doesn’t want to go through it.