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Father's Day, 21 June 1992
Transcript of Father's Day, 21 June 1992
The poet is preparing to leave his home in Dublin for two weeks.
Father's Day, 21 June 1992
Aim: To examine the poetry of Paul Durcan
How would you describe the poet's style?
What features are common across the poems you have studied?
What is a common theme?
Name the poems you have studied.
Who is the speaker in each of these poems?
Looking at the title for this poem, what do you think it will be about?
What have you learned so far about Paul Durcan's relationships?
Describe the subject matter.
He will travel by train to Cork. A taxi has arrived outside to take him to the train station. 'The taxi was ticking over outside in the street'.
The cab attracts the attention of the poets neighbours.
The poet is running late and feels he is in danger of missing his train. He seems flustered and disorganised, telling us how he is 'dashing' around the house.
The poet's wife asks him a favour, requesting that he bring an axe to her sister in Cork: 'She told me that her sister in Cork wanted a loan of an axe'. The sister needs the axe to prune the buddleia tree in her back garden, which because it is high summer, has 'grown our of control'.
The poet is initially reluctant to oblige, telling his wife that 'A simple saw would do the job, surely to God/She could borrow a simple saw'.
His reluctance is understandable and his wife has made no effort to cover it up in anyway. We can understand why the poet might feel awkward carrying around sucha dangerous implement with nothing to conceal its blade: 'not a blanket, an old newspaper....not even a token hanky/Tied in a bow round its head.'
However, the poet agrees to bring the axe to Cork, he is in a rush so he doesn't argue. He decides not to argue with his wife and relieve the texi from waiting idly outside in full view of the neighbnours.
The poet realises that his wife is happy to see him depart for his two week stay in Cork.
'I could see that she was glad/To see me go away for a while'.
The poet feels she will be glad for a break from him, she wont have to put up with his sexual advances or dubious eating habits.
Because the couple's daughters are 'all grown up and gone away', she'll have the house to herself, and she seems 'Glad at the prospect of being/Two weeks on her own'.
The poet's reaction to this is most unusual. We might expect him to respond with anger and resentment, but instead he finds himself beset with terrible feelings of guilt; 'The whole long way down to Cork/Ifelt uneasy. Guilt feelings./It's a killer, this guilt'.
As the train approaches Portarlington station, the poet comes to a strange and sudden conclusion: he feels guilty because his wife has fallen slightly out of love with him.
It's as if he has failed his wife by allowing her to fall out of love with him, by not remaining interesting or youthful enough over their years of marriage.
The poet finds himself blurting out this realisation to the passenger sitting opposite, asking 'I am feeling guilty because she does not love me/As much as she used to, can you explain that?' This is obviously a bizarre question to ask a stranger.
The poet describes how he 'overheard' himself speak, as if he spoke out loud without intending to. We can imagine how this happens sometimes, how we might find ourselves blurting out the answer when we are deep in thought and have a 'eureka' moment.
The poet's passenger is of course taken aback. The sight of the axe disturbs him further: 'The passenger's eyes were on the axe on the seat beside me'.
The poet must strike him as a crazy and possibly dangerous individual, as some kind of madman who carries this dangerous weapon around while talking to himself.
The poet attempts to convince the passenger that he is normal. He tries to explain the axe: 'Her sister wants a loan of the axe'.
He finds himself babbling as we do in awkward situations and states the name of Portarlington in Irish for no reason at all. 'As the train threaded itself into Portarlington/I nodded to the passenger 'Cul an tSudaire!''
The passenger is not convinced and even more freaked out. He is eager to escape what seems like a crazy person, he moves to another area of the train.
'The passenger stood up, lifted down a case from the rack,/Walked out of the coach, but did not get off the train'.
The poet is left alone with the axe until the train reaches Cork.
Is it OK to bring an axe on the train?
Durcan's poetry typically avoids an idealistic or fairytale view pf marriage. Instead his poems are honest about the difficulty and conflict that lie at the heart of many marriages.
This poem highlights the difficulties that arise when a couple have been married for a long time. The passion has faded and the wife sees the husbands advances as pestering.
The poet also highlights how over time one's quirks and habits, such as eating habits, can become extremely annoying: 'Two weeks of not having to look up from her plate/And behold me eating spaghetti with a knife and fork'.
The poem paints a frank and sorrowful picture of a couple who have fallen a little out of love, something that brings great guilt and distress to the poet: 'I am feeling guilty because she does not love me/As much as she used to, can you explain that?'
The poem also describes that difficult transition that occurs when children leave home. The poet and his wife then have 'served their purpose' as a couple; they have successfully raised their daughters.
This then involves a re channeling of their energies, their marriage must change if it is to survive at all.
The symbol of the axe is important in this regard. The dangerous axe may symbolise the conflict between them.
Furthermore, at the end of the poem the poet sees the axe as a representation of his wife herself: 'we sat alone,/The axe and I....All our daughters grown up and gone away'. Perhaps this suggests the poet has come to view his wife as a source of conflict and pain; just as the axe poses physical danger, so she now poses emotional danger.
However, it is possible to view the symbolism in a more positive light. The axe is dangerous but also useful. The wife reveals her practical nature, attentiveness and generosity when sending the axe.
The fact that the poet sees the axe as 'standing in' for his wife might mean that she is somehow always with him.
In Durcan's poetry family can offer great comfort but it can also be a terrible source of conflict. This poem focuses on the difficulty that arises when children leave home. The poem is entitled 'Father's Day, 21 June 1992', but in an important sense the poet is no longer a father. Tellingly, the poet states that his daughters have left, in lines 42 and 59.
We get the impression that their departure not only contributes to the tension in the poet's marriage but also leaves him feeling abandoned, empty and perhaps a little useless.
Durcan's poems deal with individuals in various states of mental torment. In 'Sport' the poet finds himself confined to a mental institution. The mental suffering in this poem is far less extreme. Yet we must not dismiss it entirely. The poet comes to the grim realisation that his wife does not love him the way she used to, that she is actually glad to have him out of the house. He blames himself for the dimming of his wife's affections: 'it's a killer, this guilt'. The knowledge that his daughters have left him also contribute to his guilt.
The Strength and Power of Women
Durcan's poetry frequently presents us with strong and powerful female figures. In this poem we get a sense that the poet's wife possess such a strong personality. We are left with the impression that this is a cool, calm and competent woman who knows her own mind. For instance she easily overcomes her husband's reluctance to bring the axe with him to Cork city. She is completely unfazed when the fold-up settee snaps around her pregnant body, while her husband panics and loses the plot completely. At the end of the poem, she is symbolically associated with the axe itself, which, as we've seen, might suggest her general competence, attentiveness and usefulness.
'Father's Day' is written in a loose free verse with lines and stanzas of an irregular length.
This poem features a hint of Durcan's surreal and zany humour, especially in the image of the flustered poet wandering around with a massive axe, talking to himself on the Dublin-to-Cork train. It is also evident in the image of the sofa-bed snapping shut to swallow his pregnant wife.
Metaphor and Symbolism
The poem also features some very effective symbolism. The axe might symbolise the conflict that threatens to emerge in the poet's marriage, or might perhaps represent the wife herself. The bed snapping shut, too, serves a symbolic function, representing how the poet's wife feels stifled or suffocated by their relationship.