Analysis of ‘An elegy for my father’s father’ by James K. Baxter
Analysis of ‘An elegy for my father’s father’ by James K. Baxter - Baxter is a New Zealand poet who became famous for his anti-establishment views and alternative lifestyle. His parents came from widely differing backgrounds which created some conflict in the poet’s mind. He did not favor institutional education, an attitude which caused frequent disruptions in his academic life. Baxter lived often among the Maoris which helped him to understand nature intimately.
This poem is about his grandfather who he refers to as his “Father’s father”. He clinically examines the life his grandfather lived: he was not a warm person, he seldom spoke his heart. But he was a skilled farmer who could coax the land to produce its best.
Baxter’s poetry was deeply influenced by Maori lore and also by the works of British poets like W H Auden, T S Eliot, Yeats and Hart Crane. There were conflicting influences in Baxter’s life. While his parents were left leaning people with his mother a daughter of a well known academic, his father’s people were small farmers who lived in the cold Scottish Highlands.
A reading of the poem reveals the taciturn nature of the grandfather. He never spoke much and rarely opened his heart to anyone. While he was young, he had legendary strength being able to cut hard soil and build structures as tall as a man all in the course of a day. Even after he became old and lost sight, he was able to see in his mind’s eye the glowing stars of the night. The poet seems to have respect and admiration for his grandfather but he disapproves for his reserved nature.
At the moment of his death, the poet’s “Father’s father” realizes that in his eighty year long life, not even once did he speak his heart out. There is no memorial for him, this stern, taciturn man. As he lay dying, his family who were born of his “bitter veins” stands by his graveside and mourns him in their different ways.
He was a man of legendary strength who could cut and build at an astonishing speed and he could carry on his shoulder full grown flowering trees braving the hot blazing sun. When he grew old, he lost the sight in his eyes but still could see in his mind’s eye the stars burning in the night sky. Even though he could not see, he was alert to the changes in nature. His last days on earth brings back to him memories of a house beside the water. He realizes that his end is near but he has no fear of death.
As the reader goes through the poem, the impression gained is of man who in his youth had almost superhuman strength. The man barely spoke; he was an enigma. His family who hover at his graveside barely knew him; they mourn his loss in different ways. In his old age he cannot see. Naturally, he would have become dependent. His last memories are of a house by the water. The waves seem to speak to him and death holds no terrors for him.