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My Son

by Zettel 

Posted: 27 July 2011
Word Count: 183
Summary: Not autobiographical. But the 1st person seemed right

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My Son

I taught my son to walk
by instinct he could cry
you taught him how to march
how to kill, how to die

I taught my son to talk
by instinct he could think
you taught him to obey
to withstand pain, not blink

I taught my son to ride
by instinct he could thrill
you taught him how to fly
and throw a switch marked kill

I taught my son to care
by instinct he was kind
you helped him shut his eyes
to other's pain be blind

I taught my son to read
by instinct he could play
you taught him not to question
keep conscience well at bay

I helped my son to love
by instinct he could feel
you taught him how to hate
with penetrating steel

I teach my son no more
he lies here cold and dead
I wish your sick man's game
had taken you instead

I taught my son to live
still hear his cries of joy
you made a man of him
but I will ever cherish

a precious long lost boy

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Comments by other Members

Sallyj at 17:02 on 27 July 2011  Report this post
I have read this quickly and there is much I like about it. The repetitive element works well in each stanza to begin with, and the format of I taught, you taught lulls the reader, yet also foreshadows a turn before the end...which is handled well.
I would like to take little longer and get back to you with more thoughts once I have fully digested the poem...

James Graham at 15:23 on 28 July 2011  Report this post
I like this, but will leave it open to other members to comment first. I tend to jump in too quickly!


clyroroberts at 09:01 on 29 July 2011  Report this post
I think the overall pattern and theme are very powerful and the piece has great effect. The condensed stanzas and the rhythm which is almost a military march match the theme very well.

With your choice to rhyme, you inevitably have a limited amount of words in the word-box and I think you've shown a lot of skill with them.

There are some stanzas I would say need improving:

I taught my son to ride
by instinct he could thrill
you taught him how to fly
to throw a switch marked kill

This one for instance doesn't have the logic of some of the others, - I'm not sure what you mean by "ride" and "thrill" - perhaps there's a stronger way of using the very powerful last line in this stanza.

James R

Zettel at 09:46 on 29 July 2011  Report this post
Thanks James. I agree. Thinking cap on

best Z/K

Zettel at 10:04 on 29 July 2011  Report this post

These are meant to be key steps in fatherhood. One of these, special because it is perhaps the first one where with all the showing and helping, is where the child is learning to ride a bicycle and is perhaps for the first time, 'on his/her own' and heart in mouth you watch, hoping against hope that the inevitable first falls won't be too bad. Succeeding in riding a bicycle is perhaps the first in the many steps 'away' from the parent. Sort of 'I'm on own way now'. A moment for the parent with an intimation of loss. Like a brief shadow from a single cloud on a sunny day.

I very seldom have recourse to searching for suitable rhyming words outside my head but 'thrill' clunks a bit because in the sense I want I can't get the verb right which is the form 'be thrilled'. The most common form of thrill is as a noun and that doesn't work. The rarer use as a transitive verb has the wrong sense.

Ho hum language is sometimes a bit of a rock face isn't it?

best Z/K

Zettel at 10:12 on 29 July 2011  Report this post

I taught my son to talk
by instinct he could think
you taught him to say 'sir'
and withstand pain, not blink

I taught my son to ride
by instinct he could will
you taught him to obey
and throw a switch marked kill


James Graham at 10:32 on 02 August 2011  Report this post
The third verse seems to be the only one that presents any problem with the rhyme. ‘By instinct he could will’ expands to ‘by instinct he could exercise his will’ which is the prose version as it were. But of course in formal verse you have to condense, sometimes use a kind of telegraphic language, which may seem artificial but can be seen as a kind of poetic licence. You wouldn’t say ‘By instinct he could will’ in conversation, but in verse it gets by. That’s one way of looking at it.

Having said that, I prefer ‘thrill’. Another kind of poetic licence is the poet’s freedom to use parts of speech unconventionally. We’re the journeymen in this trade and we know how to use the materials to hand. For me ‘By instinct he could thrill’ means ‘by instinct he could experience a thrill’ - i.e. the first time he rode the bike unaided. (The first time I did that, I ran into a wall!) I think it’s better than ‘will’. And it’s much more apposite to learning to ride a bike.

The poem is a very assured piece of formal writing. I mean not only the rhyming verses, three beats to a line (which isn’t easy) but the way you manage that progression through the stages of fatherhood. One other thing I like is the really sharp edge of

I teach my son no more
he lies here cold and dead
I wish your sick man's game
had taken you instead

- the general tone of the poem is more grief than anger (both are present) but this flash of bitter anger is a necessary touch, towards the end.


Zettel at 10:16 on 03 August 2011  Report this post
Thanks as ever James for the time, the thought and the, as usual, perceptive comments.

Like most of my stuff this sort of came out 'almost complete' and the rhythm and pattern was driven by the idea. Most of my time on WW I have been trying to get away from rhyming but I 'hear' a poem before I write it and this one just 'marched' out.

As ever could be better - but there comes a time to tinker and a time to stop.

thanks again


clyroroberts at 11:53 on 03 August 2011  Report this post
I must admit I've been trying to think up ways of making that stanza better and I've failed miserably! I agree with James that the tone of grief rather than anger comes across strongly. The last lines make a real impact.

Sallyj at 12:13 on 03 August 2011  Report this post
I have been pondering this poem for ages now, and following the comments in this thread, especially about the 'will' 'spill' debate.I have to say, I have come up with no improvements. Personally I think 'will' works sufficiently, but it is the only clunky (for want of a better word)line in the whole poem.
As I said before , I love the repetition...it strengthens the underlying emotions of the poem brilliantly.
There is one other comment I would make, and it is only a very personal thing, for me, the lines,
'I wish your sick man's game
had taken you instead'
detract from the purity of the emotion in the poem. My son is a serving soldier and a large part of me agrees with the sentiment in the italicised line, but in this poem it jars. The grief, the anger is stronger if it is not sullied by vengeful sentiments. As I said, this is only a personal thought, so feel free to dump it in the waste bin!
A very strong poem, it is effective and moving.

Zettel at 00:04 on 04 August 2011  Report this post
I very much agree with your reservations Sally. We have friends with sons n Afghanistan. I believe with conflicts like Bosnia and Darfur for instance that a disciplined army able to intervene to save human life is not only admirable but necessary. In other poems I have explored the feelings of the loved ones of serving soldiers who agonise about illegal conflicts like Iraq and for me, unwinnable ones like Afghanistan, who have to come to terms with their loved ones being at risk for unwise political adventures rather than humanitarian protection roles.

But in the end that is what being a professional soldier means I guess: your job is to do what the politicians decide. I cannot imagine what parents of young people killed in Iraq feel if they were deeply opposed to the war. It is clear that we have 'lost' in Afghanistan and politicians will do a deal with the Taliban, despite their despicable attitudes to women etc.

So in this poem 'sick man's game' refers more to politicians than to soldiers. I do sometimes wonder whether if we had women in positions with political power we would take the military option so readily. It is an interesting fact that in Native American society not only were women involved in sll the discussions but no tribe would go to war without the women of the tribe being in agreement.

It's a tough issue with no 'right' answers but the military culture is an irreducibly male culture and sometimes I feel very uneasy about that - as a man.

Thanks for the comments about the poem. All the more appreciated because I can see and understand your ambivalence.



Sallyj at 09:22 on 04 August 2011  Report this post
So true...I often wonder whether Blair would have taken us to war if his son was in line to serve!
In that light, perhaps the sentiment belongs in your poem.

Zettel at 12:42 on 05 August 2011  Report this post
It's there - but in other poems. Michael Moore did challenge congressmen and senators to send their sons of appropriate age - you will know the results.



James Graham at 19:41 on 05 August 2011  Report this post
Like a dog with a bone I’ve been chewing over your third verse, to see if I could find a better rhyme. After an hour or so with the rhyming dictionary, I began to agree more than ever with Milton (in his preface to the second edition of Paradise Lost) where he scorns ‘the jingling sound of like endings’ as ‘trivial and of no true musical delight’. He was partly right - certainly right not to rhyme Paradise Lost. Right for himself but not necessarily for other poets. Anyway, nothing I came up with is as good as your verse.

I taught my son to ride
by instinct he was glad

There are lots of rhymes for ‘glad’, very few remotely suitable for this verse. Add, bad, mad, sad, forbade.

I taught my son to ride
by instinct he was joyful

is marginally better, as you could choose any suitable word ending in ‘-ful’ e.g. remorseful, shameful, hateful. Not full rhymes, but acceptable if the verse makes a strong enough statement.

Notwithstanding (a word I like to use occasionally) any of the above, your verse

I taught my son to ride
by instinct he could thrill
you taught him how to fly
and throw a switch marked kill

still seems best to me. I see nothing wrong with ‘thrill’ which is defined in Chambers as a verb both transitive and intransitive, i.e. ‘the music thrilled me’ or ‘I thrilled’ = I felt pleasure and excitement.


Zettel at 13:36 on 06 August 2011  Report this post
Thank James

we 'nothwithstanding'-lovers must hang together

I'm a big fan of 'hitherto' too or I have been hithertoo.



V`yonne at 16:29 on 07 August 2011  Report this post
I'm not a great fan of form or repetition as most people here know and I see that the issues dealing with that been well aired. I was surprised how much I liked this given my preferences. I was a little disappointed that the ending seemed more sentimental than angry. I would have ended it here:
I wish your sick man's game
had taken you instead

where the anger is still strong.

Thanks for the read.

JessicaPaul at 11:47 on 30 August 2011  Report this post
I love this poem. I love the way you use the repitition, the way it rhymes and how you use the contrasting ideas of 'i taught'/'you taught' in each verse. Without this 'formal' and 'methodical' style of writing, this piece about the army would not have such strong effect on the reader. The only time I think that this slips is right at the end which personally i feel is a shame, although I can also see the value in having the last sentence stand alone. Perhaps though, you could rework it so it read something like:
I taught my son to live
still hear his cries of joy
you made him die a man but I
will ever cherish my long lost boy.
(Obviously not a perfect reworking but just a suggestion for how it would work.)

I like the sentiment in the penulitimate stanza, it has a great sincerity to it. Furthermore, (another of those great words!) it gives the reader a clear view of what the poet or narrator feels about teh way in which wars are fought and why and so without 'telling' the reader what to think, it is influential on their own oppinions.

Another point that's been raised in discussion is the stanza
I taught my son to ride
by instinct he could thrill
you taught him how to fly
and throw a switch marked kill

Personally, I agree with James when he says that as a poet it is your job to use the language as you see fit. For me I also read this line as 'by instinct he could experience a thrill' and so don't see a problem with the way you use it at all. Swith marked kill had me stumped for a while, until I thought of it as he was flying in the RAF perhaps as a fighter pilot.

One more thing I'd just like to say is, from the above comments I see you are a man. I honestly read this from what I percieved to be a mother's viewpoint. Perhaps this is because I am myself a mother but I wanted to know whether you had written it to sound like that or not. Either way it speaks volumes of your skill as a writer. By that I mean, that if it wasn't intentional, then you are skilled enough to write in a universal way so that the reader can feel your sentiments through their own viewpoint; and if it was intentional, tehn you've done a fantastic job of taking yourself out of your own voice and putting in someone else's whilst still writing in 1st person narrative.

Well done, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, both as an example of formulaic poetry designed to make a point and as a piece of easy reading.


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