Nesbit Likes The Funeral by Gordon Parks

Revisiting a place of childhood, you might find things are different. Of course, the council might have moved that shopping mall, the botanists might no longer grow their gardens. That tree you used to climb might have fallen down. But in some cases, the places where we grew up remain the same, and it’s only our returning perception that has changed. Gordon Parks paints this perfectly.

The poem begins with Parks’ return. It has been ‘many snows’ since he has been home. Years have passed. He is now an adult and sees things differently. The passing of time has ‘whittled down’ the things he remembers. He explains to us that in the eyes of a child, things appeared in bigger proportions, places were inflated by imagination.

For example, the ‘great mountains’ he saw as a child are now, in his adulthood, ‘mere hills.’ Similarly, the ‘raging rivers’ have become ‘gentle streams.’ The ‘wide road’ thought to have lead to great places like ‘China or Kansas City / Calcutta’ has ‘withered to a crooked path of dust.’

The point of this poem, however, is what doesn’t change, and that is how Parks views his father. At the end of this piece, Parks describes the burial of his father. Cleverly, he illustrates a picture for us, naming him ‘the giant’ and how he ‘remained the same’ since childhood. It takes ‘A hundred strong men strain[ing]’ to carry ‘him to his grave’.

The journey of childhood through to adulthood has been expertly compressed into eleven lines. Park portrays strong images and comparisons that detail our developments growing up. It’s brilliantly done, telling a story that spans years in a reminiscent voice with language that will be sure to linger.

Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it’s relatable, it’s heartbreaking, and it is a summary of growing up, something we all go through. All of us have loved someone and this poem reminds us that the way we see them never changes, not with age, not in death.

I do not own the rights to publish this poem but if you’re looking for somewhere to read it, here’s a quick Google search for you!


Looking for more poetry analysis?

Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Nesbit Likes: Visiting Hour by Steward Conn
You broke the ice with a hammer.
I watched the goldfish appear,
blunt-nosed and delicately clear.

Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year Old by Fleur Adcock
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.

Any questions? Pop an email to nesbitandgibley@gmail.com

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Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year-Old by Fleur Adcock

Throughout life, as children, as adults, we make decisions that change who we are. Some of these will be good, some might be bad, a few may be worse. We carry our histories with us, in scars, in behaviour, in personality. Adcock, in my favourite poem of hers, explores this with a dark sense of humour and simple observation.

It is a straightforward first stanza. ‘A snail’ has ‘climbed’ into the child’s room. The narrator, the mother, provides guidance on what to do. ‘I explain,’ she says, ‘it would be unkind to leave it there.’ It is to be ‘carr[ied] outside, with careful hand’ so that ‘no one squashes it.’ It is even fed a daffodil. The language is simplistic, innocent, directional, as one would talk to a young child.

In the second stanza, the mother reflects that this child has had their ‘gentleness… moulded by [her] words’. What she says builds the child and their morals. The thing is, her actions have been very, very different in the past. She has ‘trapped mice’, ‘shot wild birds’, ‘drowned… kittens’ and ‘purveyed the harshest kind of truth to many another’. She has acted the complete opposite to which she instructs her child.

Perhaps this starts to ring bells for us. When our parents said ‘because I said so’, Adcock writes ‘But that is how things are’. Our parents set the rules.

We all have our ‘grey area.’ None of us are all good, none of us are all bad, and it’s that fluctuation between kind and nasty behaviour which is a morally fascinating occurrence. The poem explores this. Yes, the mother has done awful things to other animals, to other people in her history, but right now, the rule is this: ‘we are kind to snails.’

I absolutely love the juxtaposition presented. The mother gives sweet guidance, careful instruction, to look after another living thing. But this is also the same mother who has done terrible things, performed actions beyond a child’s understanding, for better or for worse. This is reflected, too, in the rhyme scheme. It is the same in both stanzas (with the end of the first and last lines rhyming, couplets in between) and it represents the consistency of her person. She is the same, both when looking after the snail and when capturing and harming others, but it is her words that change. It seems as if even she can’t comprehend it, repeating ‘from me’ in disbelief.

Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it explores our dark histories, our intentions to protect loved ones. Parenting isn’t an easy thing, and both mothers and fathers will understand. But parenting is also a strange thing, often of inconsistency and contradiction. Children have faith in us, trust, to teach them the ways of the world, even when we didn’t get it right the first time.

I do not own the rights to publish this poem but if you’re looking for somewhere to read it, here’s a quick Google search for you!


Looking for more poetry analysis?

Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Nesbit Likes: Visiting Hour by Steward Conn
You broke the ice with a hammer.
I watched the goldfish appear,
blunt-nosed and delicately clear.

Nesbit Likes: The Sightseers by Paul Muldoon
They held a pistol so hard against his forehead
there was still the mark of an O when he got home.

Any questions? Pop an email to nesbitandgibley@gmail.com