Lucille Clifton’s “Forgiving My Father” Poem Analysis
Lucille Clifton wrote the poem forgiving my father in which she talks about the negative experience of interacting with her father. Despite the fact that the family should consist of love and mutual respect of its members, there are situations in which strife occurs. Children can be witnesses or even victims of both fights and abuse. Using the analysis of this work, it is necessary to find out how the images in the poem help the author convey the general theme.
It is necessary to start with the fact that the main character of the work is a little daughter, thinking about her father. It is important to note that the girl experiences strong feelings of fear even when she sleeps “all week you have stood in my dreams like a ghost, asking for more time” (Clifton line 3-4). In this case, the girl has an image of a ghost, that is, a burdensome and terrible creature hanging over a person. This image is applicable to the father, who is not only terrible, but also does not leave, although he should remain in the past. This is noticeable in the lines “old liar, I wish you were rich so I could take it all” (Clifton line 10). Here the heroine exposes the offender in the form of a poor man who has never been rich either spiritually or materially.
At the same time, the author calls her father a liar because she is devastated and disappointed at how bad a person her own parent turned out to be. She notices that despite all the expression and rigidity of this person, he is empty inside. “you are pocket that was going to open and come up empty any friday” (Clifton line 17-18). The father is compared to a pocket that opens at the first opportunity. Thus, the heroine conveys the atmosphere of distrust and unreliability that reigned in their relationship. The father is like a bad pocket, which should contain something valuable, but always opens up for everyone. And this applies not only to the daughter, but to everyone around. “you gave her all which was nothing”, which emphasizes the abnormal attitude towards women, combined with deceit and hypocrisy (Clifton line 14-15). The heroine literally makes it clear that everything that the terrible father had was nothing, since he is the embodiment of emptiness and insignificance.
In the end, she comes to the conclusion that this seemingly adult person is trapped in his own delusions. He is so sure of his illusions that he cannot think otherwise. “old prisoner, old dead men” emphasizes that he is dead both for the world around him and for her in particular (Clifton line 20). It is important to emphasize that for the author, the father is precisely the dead man, since the image of the parent is associated with the absence of feelings, compassion or love. Such picture conveys the most oppressive atmosphere of misunderstanding and loneliness, as if living with a corpse or stuffed animal. Even at the beginning of the poem, the writer says “but today is payday, payday old man”, which means her readiness to end the conflict (Clifton line 5). The girl uses the image of retribution, symbolizing the hopelessness of the situation. She knows that the empty man has nothing to pay, but declares that he has a debt to her.
In order to convey the theme and atmosphere of the life situation described in the poem, Clifton uses numerous images. It is thanks to this method of narration that the reader feels all the emotions and what life looked like with such a terrible person. It is important to emphasize that she constantly refers to her father not directly, but through figurative expressions in order to better convey the essence of the parent.
Clifton, Lucille. (2015). The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. BOA Editions Limited.