Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
'Father Returning Home' Poem Summary
'Father Returning Home' focuses on a certain individual, a commuting father, returning home from work in the Indian city of Mumbai, although it could be any large city anywhere in the world.
The atmosphere within the poem, narrated by a son or daughter, is rather gloomy and pessimistic. There is little emotion shown as the father ends another day at work and hurries back to a house that is not altogether a home.
Dilip Chitre, painter and film-maker as well as poet, taps into his own father's biography and creates a powerful and imagistic poem, the speaker closely observing the actions of the unhappy protagonist.
Purushottam Chitre, his father, is said to be the inspiration for this poem as he migrated from his birth town of Baroda to Mumbai to try and better his life. The poet has also been influenced by this city:
“Mumbai figures in my early Marathi and English poetry in different ways and at several levels. I perceived the metropolis in juxtaposition with primordial nature as perceived in my childhood. There was a discord. There was a sense of manmade alienation that haunted me."
In the poem, life is not so easy any longer - the father has become a figure of pathos and has lost his raison d'etre.
The major themes include:
- Old age in a modern society
- Cultural identity
- The generation gap
- The future of the individual in the city
'Father Returning Home'
My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart. His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.
He hurries across the length of the grey platform,
Crosses the railway line, enters the lane,
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.
Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man’s estrangement from a man-made world.
Coming out he trembles at the sink,
The cold water running over his brown hands,
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him. He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.
Analysis of the Poem
'Father Returning Home' is a dramatic monologue, the voice of a son or daughter detailing two scenes from the life of their father.
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The opening scene, the first stanza, concentrates on the city commute home from work, the inherent loneliness of a man who is disillusioned with his life. The tone is a little depressing and bleak, the language that of estrangement and detachment.
Perhaps the father has to work long hours to make ends meet because he is on the evening train, passing through suburbs that he takes for granted. It's been raining, the father has been soaked, mud stains his coat. He looks a sorry sight. Like his old bag, he's coming undone, getting on in years.
The first-person commentary continues as the father gets off the train - Like a word dropped from a long sentence - a simile that implies complete detachment from meaning and sense and language.
All in all, the speaker gives the reader a gloomy introduction to their father, a microcosmic view of your typical (or atypical) veteran male commuter. The imagery, together with a down-to-earth narration, is particularly striking and creates a filmic, documentary-type scenario.
In the second stanza, the focus is on the domestic side of life with family present, witnessing the sad movements of a once happy father. The weak tea and stale chapati add to the sense of hopelessness. Is there no wife or partner to greet him? No children to run up and hug him?
Apparently not. Here is a man who prefers books to conversation, his own company to that of shared social space. Even on the toilet, his thoughts are negative; he cannot reconcile how a man can be a stranger in a city teeming with millions of other men. Humans built the city, so how come humans feel estranged in an environment that should encourage positive interaction? Something has gone wrong.
The very thought of his own existence in such a place affects his physicality. He trembles.
- Perhaps the most devastating line in the poem is line 20, when the reader learns that even his children (who reflect his own personality it seems) consciously keep their jokes to themselves instead of sharing them with their father. A truly sad situation.
The father is so far away from his current family life he cannot seem to cope. Something is draining his spirit and there is no one to confide in. Out of habit, he puts on the radio, which is only the noise of interference, a kind of torture. When he sleeps he dreams of the past, of his ancestors, nomads with no static home, who overcame hardships to discover a new land.
Literary Devices Used
- 'Father Returning Home' is a free verse poem, that is, there is no set rhyme scheme and no dominant meter (metre in UK).
- There are two twelve-line stanzas, 24 lines in total.
- Note the use of the present participle...Standing/unseeing/getting off/eating...
- Note the use of language to convey a mood. For example: unseeing/soggy/falling apart/ dimmed/dropped/stale/estrangement/sullen.
- Enjambment is used - when a line carries on into the next without punctuation, continuing the sense - see lines 1 - 6, 8 in first stanza. And lines 15, 20 - 23.
- The simile Like a word dropped from a long sentence in line 9 is powerful and worth exploring.
© 2017 Andrew Spacey