Teaching Tuesday Memo:
Each semester, I teach Weldon Kees‘ poem “For My Daughter” to my literature class. This year, however, perhaps because my daughter is three and I am becoming increasingly aware of the degenerate roles girls assume in our society, this poem struck a chord in me that causes me great grief and fear intermingled.
Weldon Kees’ poem is as follows:
Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read
Beneath the innocence of morning flesh
Concealed, hintings of death she does not heed.
Coldest of winds have blown this hair, and mesh
Of seaweed snarled these miniatures of hands;
The night’s slow poison, tolerant and bland,
Has moved her blood. Parched years that I have seen
That may be hers appear: foul, lingering
Death in certain war, the slim legs green.
Or, fed on hate, she relishes the sting
Of others’ agony; perhaps the cruel
Bride of a syphilitic or a fool.
These speculations sour in the sun.
I have no daughter. I desire none.
—Weldon Kees (1940)
In summary, the speaker of this poem is a man, a father, who looks upon his daughter and sees only three fates for her: 1) a life burdened by pain, death, and misfortune; 2) a life fed by hatred for others; and 3) a life in which she has married a man who cheats on her and infects her body with sexually transmitted diseases. He concludes the poem by revealing that he does not have a daughter, and because of these reasons, he does not want to have one.
My students’ reactions varied. The women understood what the speaker was implying, drawing on their own hardships in life because of their gender, and although this was dark and morbid in nature, they appreciated his ability to see into their lives. My male students focused on the selfish and bitter tone of the poem and the negative message it imparts upon the reader in regards to ill-fated lives of all women.
Since all my posts seem to harp on the negative attention given to young women and the lack of empowerment they execute on behalf of their bodies and their selves, I found this to be an apt poem for my blog. Kees’ revelations and his view of women’s lives are bitter, but quite accurate. Unlike the speaker, I am a woman who has seen all of the examples he cites, and yet I have chosen to rise above them. I have chosen to bring my own children into this world, and I revel in the fact that I have given birth to a girl. When I look at her, I see all the dangers and darkness that I have to teach her about and protect her from, but I also see her potential, her intelligence, her strength. Women have to fight for their place in this world, for their self-respect, for their independence and self-possession; I have, and she will be no different. And because she comes from me, and is exposed to me, I pray that she will be as strong and empowered as I strive to be.
What about you? Do you agree with Kees’ perception of the ill-fated daughter, the ill-fated woman?
Copyright© 2010 by Marina Delvecchio. All Rights Reserved.