Compare how Thomas Hood and Ann Bradstreet have created the universal theme of parental anxiety in their poems ‘A Parental Ode’ and ‘Upon My Son…’
In the poems ‘A Parental Ode’ and ‘Upon My Son…’ the poets are reflecting on their sons. The two poems are very emotive as Hood and Bradstreet reveal their deep feelings for their beloved boys. Hood adopts a comical tone as he expresses how wonderful his son is only to contrast such expressions with ironical descriptions of his son’s mischievous behaviour. But we can see in his writing that his son’s mischievous behaviour causes him anxiety as frequently his thoughts are revealed through words placed in brackets. His natural parental anxiety can be seen in the sentence ‘(Good heavens! The child is swallowing a pin!)’ While he is trying to write a poem through his rose-tinted view of his son, the reality of the scraps and potential disasters experienced by a normal toddler distracts him and he writes his thoughts down.
Bradstreet on the other hand is filled with fear – caused by anxiety – and faith as she prays to God to look after her son as he voyages from America to England. Her parental anxiety is created by the memory of her experience of this trip. On her trip to America she wrote of arriving in June at the ‘half dying, famine ridden frontier of Salem after a journey of 3 months of close quarters, raw nerves, sickness, hysteria and salt meat. She knows that her son might have to face all these things as well and as a protective mother she fears for the safety of her son.
These two poems are similar in the way that both poets are consumed with parental anxiety for their sons. Both they also contrast in the way that Bradstreet acts on her anxiety and prays to God to protect and save her son, but Hood on the other hand only speaks of his anxiety and doesn’t act on it until the very last line, until he can no longer cope with the reality of his son’s behaviour and the stress which it is causing him,
‘(I’ll tell you what, my love,
I cannot write, unless he’s sent above!)’
Hood lived from 1799 -1845 and was born in London, the son of a Scottish bookseller. He was a journalist, then an engraver and finally an editor. However he is predominately remembered for his comical writing. So although his intention is to write a serious ode to his son, the reality of his son and his behaviour causes him to use his sense of humour to convey the duality of a child. Although he meant the duality of his son to be funny, it allows the reader to also see his anxiety and fear as his son goes about the house ‘swallowing a pin,’ pulling the dog’s tail and nearly breaking a mirror with a skipping rope! Hood even admits his parental anxiety when he says, ‘he really brings my heart into my mouth!’
Bradstreet lived from 1612 – 1672 and was born in England. She was a puritan and married and immigrated with her father and husband to New England, which involved an arduous three month voyage. Bradstreet lived in a harsh society that believed that God controlled everything, that suffering was sent to purify and that the world’s pleasures were at best vanity and at worst, sinful. Thus this poem reflects her deep faith and wariness of life. She openly admits her anxiety to the reader when she prays,
‘Preserve, O Lord, from storms and wrack,
Protect him there, and bring him back’
There is no humour in her prayer, but instead a heartfelt plea to God to save her son. She fully appreciates the danger which he will have to face so her anxiety is sincere.
Both poets have used poetic features to display their parental anxiety in their words. Unlike Bradstreet’s, Hood’s poem does not take the form of a prayer; it is an ode about his son. The ode takes the form of six stanzas varying in length. The difference in the stanza length may reflect the broken concentration of the writer because of his son’s antics. This poem is described from the writer’s point of view of his frustration as he attempts to describe the virtues of his young son while at the same time the boy is distracting his with his unruly behaviour. Thus his poem is full of comical paradoxes! I feel that the form of the poem tells us more about the writer than the child, as the father is attempting to be very intellectual and write about how great his son is, which could be argued to be a form of self glorification, but the brackets in the poem reveal the child’s true personality. The brackets as I have previously said, tell us about Hood’s anxiety for the safety of his son, but the way in which he has used them make his anxiety comical and we learn that he makes fun of his own fear. His son can’t be in too much danger as his anxiety is pronounced as comical. Thus Hood satirises the ode form.
Bradstreet writes a 20 line prayer which emphasizes her pain at losing her son and her deep faith in God. She addresses God directly saying, ‘Thou mighty God of sea and land’ the use of the word ‘thou’ further exemplifies her love for God and recognition that he is all powerful. She believes God knows best, she prays that if she dies before her son’s return that God will also save her a space in heaven so she may see him again,
‘And if thou shalt spare me a space,
That I again may see his face.’
It’s easy to see that Bradstreet anxiety for her son is indeed real! She feels no humour at a time like this and unlike Hood’s anxiety, her anxiety at this time is indeed justified as her son is in real danger and could be fearing for his life.
The tone of ‘A Parental Ode’ is shown to be loving, caring and tender. Hood’s use of first person narration engages the reader and allows him to reveal his feelings of anxiety. He sets out to praise the qualities of his 3 year, 5 month old son, but there is much humour in his tone as his frustration grows as we, the reader, obverse his inability to cope any longer. For example, ‘(That dog will bite him if he pulls its tail!)’ Hood uses an elaborate and old fashioned style to praise his son, but his inward thoughts about the lad’s behaviour are described in a decidedly unpoetic way – ‘(Drat the boy! There goes my ink!)’ The mood of this poem can be seen in the general atmosphere of a domestic family scene, light hearted and whimsical, there is also a degree of self mocking by the poet at himself.
Bradstreet’s poem, written in first person narration as well, conveys a trusting tone as she tells God ‘Thy will be done’ and pleads with God ‘to hear me again’ and protect her son. The mood in this poem is sad, as she fears separation from her son: however, there is also a mood of hopefulness, as she is sure that God will answer her prayer and keep her son safe, ‘For sure thy grace on him is shown.’ This hopeful mood is the only time in the poem, when we see that her anxiety is lifted somewhat and she is comforted that God will see him safely to England.
Hood in his poem, ‘A Parental Ode’ uses rhyme and rhythm for effect. There is a strong sense of rhythm in the poem which varies in each stanza. The lyrical descriptions of the boy have a steady flow to them while the internal comments of the father are much more broken and erratic, showing his loss of patience and anxiety for his son welfare. For example:
‘Touched with the beauteous tints of dawning life –
(He’s got a knife!)’
There is a determined effort to rhyme within each stanza, although the pattern is different according to the length of the verse. The rhymes used are strong and full. Only occasionally do they seem a little forces as in –
‘Thou little tricksy Puck!
With antic toys so funnily bestuck.’
Bradstreet in her poem, ‘Upon My Son…’ also uses rhyme and rhythm for effect, to show her concern for her son. The poem is composed of ten octosyllabic rhyming couplets. For example:
‘No friend I have like thee to trust
For mortal helps are brittle dust.’
This has the effect of rushing the reader along, giving some sense of the mother’s barrage of words to persuade God to her plea and anxiety. There are eight beats in each line, a regularity that presses home the urgency of the prayer. Only one line has nine beats and the extra word seems to focus on the ‘even’ showing that she’ll praise God for ever if he spares her son and comforts her anxiety.
The two poets use archaic language due to the historical context, by this doesn’t detract from their meaning when read by a modern audience. When the reader reads the lines of Bradstreet’s poem,
‘Preserve, O Lord, from storms and wrack
Protect him there, and bring him back.’
They can understand them and they know that her language is direct and moving when she makes this plea, it is an appeal from the heart. Her use of liturgical words convey her faith, when she writes of Samuel her ‘son of prayers, of vow…’ This all emphasises further her trust in God and that he will protect her son. Her use of alliteration, ‘And if thou shalt spare me a space’ shows she is being sincere and humble as she says that if God thinks she is fit for heaven, then she would wish for him to save her a space, so she will be able to see her son again in heaven, if she dies before his return. Although she is expressing parental anxiety for her son throughout her poem, she also expresses anxiety of getting into heaven. She is anxious about whether God will see her as fit for heaven.
In contrast Hood writes in a much more effusive style than Bradstreet and this reflects the much less serious content of his poem as his praises his little son:
‘Thou happy, happy elf!
Thou pretty opening rose!’
This poem relies heavily on a string of metaphors and similes to portray the boy as being perfect, ‘Fresh as the morn and brilliant as its star.’ However he also uses language to effectively illustrate how his idealised little angel is also a bold little boy, ‘(He’s got the scissors, snipping at your gown!’) His anxiety although it is in a way heartfelt, he cannot help but laugh at the things which his son does, this reveals the relaxed content of his poem and his attitude.
I enjoyed studying both poems and I feel that the two poet’s conveyed the universal them of parental anxiety very effectively through their words. I experienced sorrow for Bradstreet, but was also inspired by her faith. I think I preferred ‘A Parental Ode’ as I found it amusing but also beautiful. Hood’s method of ironically contrasting perfect with what is actually going on has a direct impact on the reader and the observation of humour used is easy to explore and identify with.