It is interesting that Elizabeth Jennings has chosen a Father and his Son in this poem rather than a relationship that she is more likely to have had experience with. A Father and his son however, traditionally have a very strong bond built on shared interests with the son generally making his father his role model. The effects and feelings of separation that Jennings wants to convey in this poem are therefore enhanced in that she is dealing with one of the strongest emotional bonds that exists. The family relationship has become a despairing situation and it is only the fact that they are father and son that means there is any connection, let alone relationship between them. The title, 'Father to Son,' as opposed to Father and Son is significant and immediately indicates estrangement and detachment. The phrase implies a one sided conversation with the father in the dominant role and the son passive and silent.
The reference in the opening line to the son as, "this child," giving him an impersonal label, "Child" rather than the boys name, confirms that the Father is neither addressing the son in the poem nor thinking of him as his son. Throughout the poem the father is not addressing the son directly but refers to him in the third person as if talking to another person, an outsider. "He speaks: I cannot understand Myself, why anger grows from grief." The poem's layout is deceivingly regular in appearance but when read, the enjambment of the sentences makes the poem read in a disjointed manner. Alongside this Jennings has given the poem a regular metre which seems an unusual choice for such a dysfunctional subject. This could represent the strange situation that the father and son are in. They appear normal; they live in the same house and anyone as an outsider who were to look at them would see them as a father and his son.
The detached nature of their relationship is not seen, as any of the traditional bonding that should be taking place would occur inside the house, like the disjointed sentences inside the poem. "This child is built to my design Yet what he loves I cannot share." This could probably be said about a lot of parents and the relationship between them and their children except the word 'loves' is too strong for a normal parental affinity to be without. The last lines has similar connotations to the line, .".. strange child that is my own," in 'The Annunciation,' The "This child... ." quote is said at the end of the second stanza and summarises a lot of the man's problem with his son.
They have nothing in common except their genetic relationship. They formally "speak like strangers," to one another, only when necessary as strangers do rather than talking in a socialising way. The two characters may share genetic, "design," but not character framework or design, meaning the father's intent. .".. there's no sign," between them that they are father and son. What the Father hopes to achieve from this poem is unclear.
He opens in the first stanza by accepting that there is a problem, appears to try and set out to do something about it. .".. so try to build Up a relationship from how He was when small." Equally this could be one of the causes of the problem. The fact that the man relates to the son in this way hinders a progression and development in their relationship.
By stressing "He," the son, by starting it on a new line, Jennings is highlighting that the Father should relate his childhood and past rather than his son's short history. Having initially seemed to desire an improvement between himself and his son, he becomes a little irrational and selfish. "Silence surrounds us. I would have Him prodigal, returning to His father's house...
." Here Jennings is referring to the parable of the lost son from the Bible. The Father has a fantasy of his son admitting all blame and coming back to his Father to ask for forgiveness. The patriarchal father resents his son's natural flourishing and development without him whose male authority the father would arrogantly like to impose. "Rather than see him make and move His world." This self-centred wish to maintain control over his son reveals an undetermined anger that the man has. The melancholy tone of the poem suggests that the father has had time for his emotions to settle rather than the poem capturing a sudden realisation. The phrase, 'Silence surrounds us', as well as expressing the idea of, "air" and "silence" representing the fact that there are no foundations for the protagonists to relate to each other.
The sibilance and alliteration of the 's's o und could be seen as the Father being told to be quiet by his son or whispering so as not to be heard by one another. Even if the father were to genuinely agree to compromise and begin a relationship between himself and his son he admits, "We both put out an empty hand, Longing for something to forgive." They have no grounds for resolve, nothing to forgive. This is probably the ultimate separation the failure to connect. The poem defines the separation created in relationships through habit, a stalemate of characters, where nothing will bring them together.