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Two Hands Commentary By Shanat Barua English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1224 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the poem Two Hands Jon Stallworthy , the poet, compares his hand to his fathers hand and shows that many things may be similar at face value but one must view them from a deeper point to truly understand them as they can be entirely different. The hands also act as a synecdoche for the two individuals the father and the son. The relationship between father and son which by default should be close is strained in the poem and the poet aspires to be more successful like his father and end the constant disappointment that his father feels for him.

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The poem is filled with contrast between the father and the son. The father is a man of science and most likely a surgeon .This can be deduced from the word “scalpel” and “Lancet.” Whereas on the other hand the son, the poet, is a man of the arts, a writer, as he states “fingers with some style/ on paper, elsewhere none.” The father is highly efficient and successful in his work while the son fails to produce any quality writing as his hands “indecisions,” keep him cursing nightly. There is a contrast between the hands and there dances the fathers “intricate dance” in which he leads a scalpel is useful but the sons dance with a pencil on paper is not. The setting of the poem is one house yet the poet sits “at the other end of the house” which shows not only the contrast in the two characters but the fact that though they belong to the same family they are so different. The poet almost seems to look down upon himself and regrets not following in his father’s footsteps.

The poem has a continuous flowing structure to it. The poem is not divided into stanzas and each line of the poem does not necessarily end with a caesura or full stop. The poem is mainly broken into lines according to where the poet wants the reader to emphasise a certain word or take pause. An example of this is “thirteen times between breakfast and/ supper led a scalpel”. The line ends at “and” which causes the reader to pause. This pause also depicts the time between “breakfast and/ supper.” This free flowing structure of the poem disturbs the rhythm of the poem but at the same time adds a conversational tone and pace to the poem. The unified verse to a certain extent is ironic as the title refers to “Two Hands” emphasis on the two, yet the poems has only one unified verse.

The title of the poem “Two Hands” is misleading though it suits the subtle message the poem delivers perfectly. When one thinks of two hands they think of two hands on one human being and not on two different human beings. Relating back to the thesis statement one realises that the title cannot be taken at its face value therefore the title is very important to the message the poet delivers through the poem. The line that delivers this message is “Who would have thought/ hands so alike-spade palms, blunt fingers short in the joint-would have no more in common?” This line is quite complex on its own as not only do these hands perform different functions the hands seem almost be those of hard labourers yet they are not. Both the professions in the poem require their hands.

The emotions that the poet expresses through the medium of the poem are those of regret, astonishment, amazement, disappointment there is also hope and aspiration. The poet regrets that he did not chose a profession that would have appealed to his father but at the same time hopes and aspires to write an article or a novel which will change is fathers mind about his choice of profession. He hopes that one day all this will change he states “Hand, you may have your chance/to stitch a life for fingers that have stitched/ new life for many.” The poet is also amazed and astonished that the “hands so alike,” have hardly anything in common apart from appearance. The poet is disappointed in his hands as he states “I have watched/ the other save no on, serve no one,” it shows how the poet feels his hands are useless in comparison to his fathers.

The theme of the poem is the relationship of the father and the son. The relationship between father and son in this case is one of admiration. The father is the dominant in the relationship as the poet refers to his father’s hand as “the one” and refers to his own hand as “the other.” The son admires the father yet their relationship is a distant one. The reader can understand this from the formal language, the lack of direct words of love, and the poet himself states that he sits “at the other end of the house.” This distance of the house represents the distance of the relationship. It is evident that throughout his life he has experienced this coldness from his father and now as an adult struggling yearns for his father’s love. As all sons hope to, he hopes to impress his father. The reader can understand as the poet tells his hand that it may have the chance to “stich a life for fingers that have stitched/new life for many.”

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The language that the poet uses is filled with negative words like “sobbed” and “nodding stiffly”. The language in poem is also very formal and this brings about the distance in the relationship between the father and the son. The poem is written in a first person narrative. The language in the poem brings to light the mutual disappointment that the father feels for the son and vice versa. The son is disappointed not only in him but in his father also as his father as hardly spent any time with him. When the poet describes the phone sobbing he may also be referring to himself and how as a child he would cry himself to sleep. The pencil “nodding stiffly” could refer to the cold stiff mannerisms of the father.

The poet uses various literary devices to help to take the poem to an emotional and deeper level .The literary devices include imagery, synecdoche and personification. The hands are a synecdoche as they represent each individual as a whole and the characteristics that are given to the hand are those of the father and the son. Visual imagery is used in the lines “spade palms, blunt fingers short in the joint.” Kinaesthetic imagery is also used when the poet refers to the hand leading a scalpel on an “intricate dance.” The poet personifies the pencil and the phone to show how late at night when he states the “pencil nodding stiffly” and shows how busy his father is by personifying the phone by stating “The phone has sobbed itself to sleep.”

As the reader of the poem one sympathises and empathises with the poet. He has been continuously neglected by his father. He has grown up by crying himself to sleep at night. The poem is very evocative as it is the son describing his relationship with his father. What made me sympathise with the poet was the emotions of sorrow, abandonment and loneliness that poem portrayed. The father merely played the role of a father at face value but did not emotionally support his son yet the poet strongly desired to impress him and as a reader this had the strongest impact of all on me.


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