I remember one of my former
students once exclaiming "Huh, families!" in quiet desperation. He
had simply felt smothered by his. On another occasion I remember an older
colleague remarking about his first marriage that he had married a family not
an individual. Freud spoke about the Oedipus Complex, that is, his theory, the
validity of which is often hotly debated still, that there is a complex of
emotions aroused in a young child, typically around the age of four, by an
unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and a wish to
exclude the parent of the same sex. (He had applied the term originally to boys
but Jung and others applied the term also to girls and designated it by a new
title, namely the Electra Complex.) However, let's not get too bogged down in
terminology for its own sake. What I simply wish to point out here is how
complex the relationships within any one family are in actuality. As we
grow up we initially model ourselves on our same-sex parents, then we begin to
pit one against the other, and as we further age we begin to grow away from
them as we enter our adolescent years and finally we then break to a greater or
lesser extent those ties that bind us to our family of origin as we form new
families of our own. All of this intense relational interaction causes a
complexity of joy and pain, little clarity and much confusion for all
concerned. However, that is the price we must pay for growing up.
Having given this brief
introduction to the complexity of our inter-relationships within our families
of origin, I wish to present the reader with two poems in which the respective
authors look back rather critically on how their parents reared them. As
many have often remarked parenthood is often simply thrust upon us by
necessity, rather than by foresight or planning and that it is one task for
which none of us has really ever been properly prepared in the first place.
I remember when I was in my late teens arguing with my mother and saying
to her in a fit of anger that I had never asked to be born. Indeed, it was a
dreadful thing to say, and had I even thought about it I would have realised
that neither had she either. Indeed, recently I was sitting with some
friends looking at some little birds feeding at a seed feeder in a garden when
a magpie came up and chased the little ones away. My friend Mia remarked
that the magpie while a somewhat ugly and repulsive bird was "just another
of God's creatures that had never asked to be born." Here I was reminded
of Heidegger's phrase that we humans experience a sense of "dasein"
or "thrownness" into existence. Indeed, for me this is exactly
what my friend Mia was expressing. The two poems I offer the reader in
today's poetic reflection are poems that speak essentially about that
existential condition of our thrownness (random as it is) into existence.
No wonder the first action of any child is to cry out in fear at the feeling
of new being in an alien world.
Our first poem is called
"This Be The Verse" by Philip Larkin (1922-1985), a poem which I have
seen used quite profitably in a counselling session and "Sorry" by
R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) They are two poems that are very provocative and
necessarily so, as we often need to be confronted by such reality! I believe
they have much to teach us insofar as they may help us come to grips with
ourselves and our relationships with our mothers and with our fathers. I will
offer them below as a diptych without commentary by way of comforting the
disturbed and disturbing the comfortable.
Philip Larkin, librarian and poet
fuck you up, your mum and dad.
may not mean to, but they do.
fill you with the faults they had
add some extra, just for you.
they were fucked up in their turn
fools in old-style hats and coats,
half the time were soppy-stern
half at one another’s throats.
hands on misery to man.
deepens like a coastal shelf.
out as early as you can,
don’t have any kids yourself.
forgive you my life,
Begotten in a drab town, The
intention was good; Passing
the street now, I
see still the remains of sunlight. It
was not the bone buckled; You
gave me enough food To
renew myself. It
was the mind's weight Kept me bent, as I grew tall. It was not
your fault. What
should have gone on, Arrow aimed from a tried bow At
a tried target, has turned back, Wounding
questions you had not asked.