Commentary on "Two Hands"

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  • 1. 1 Siir Tecirlioglu 11A 15 March 2011 Commentary on Two Hands Two Hands, written by Jon Stallworthy in 1976, is a poem that is about father-son relations. The titleis very appropriate to the poem, because the poem compares two hands of the same person and thehands of two people who are physically alike but have different talents. The theme of the poem is toshow these differences and point out the feeling of distance between the two people in the poem. It iswritten in 1st person point of view. The persona is the poet himself as best shown in lines 12 to 15. Thereis great use of personification, and symbols and emphasis put on the narrator. Personification is presented through many different ways. The overall effect is that it addsimportance to specific objects or ideas. For example, the pencil is a very clear example of the usage ofpersonification for symbolizing an idea and an action. It is repeated many times with different humancharacteristics. In line two, the pencil is described as following: “a pencil nodding stiffly in the hand”. Inlines 14 and 15, however, the pencil is described as following: “dance with this pencil”. In the firstexample, the pencil is nodding like a human head. In the second example, the pencil has the ability todance. Another effect of the usage of personification is that it improves the precision of description. Byrelating non-human objects, ideas or actions to human ideas and actions, the reader gets a betterunderstanding of what is being described. Thus, the connection between the reader’s emotions and thenarrator’s emotions is closely related. There is an increased amount of empathy towards the persona.
  • 2. 2An example of this is in line 19: “A spasm shakes the phone at this elbow.” Only living things can havespasms. Phone is not a living thing, but the way it begins ringing seems like a spasm in the persona’seyes. Finally, the usage of personification makes the ideas and objects more memorable and symbolic.For example, the hand is treated as a human being and the persona tells it to do things that onlyhumans can do. It actually represents the hands of the surgeon. It is both a personification and asynecdoche—a part is used for the whole. In the following example, this is clearly presented: “Hand, youmay have your chance to stitch a life for fingers that have stitched new life for many” (lines 15-17). Inconclusion, personification adds emphasis and explanation to ideas and objects that have particularroles in the poem, as well as making those objects and ideas more memorable and symbolic. The narrator in the poem is the poet himself. He makes this obvious in lines 6 to 10 by describingthat his hands can only write well but they are not talented in any other activities. This also makes thenarrator feel distant from his father. The distance is described as two ends of the same house in line 7.In this distance between them, there is the admiration to father and pity to himself. The father is aheroic surgeon who can use only one of his hands; the other hand does nothing of great importance.This fact lowers the amount of admiration the poet has for his father. It is clearly explained in thefollowing lines: “All / today, remembering the one, I have watched / the other save no one, serve noone…” (lines 12-14). Although this fact lowers the amount of admiration, it is not sufficient for thepersona to feel better about himself and his talents. In lines 17 and 18, the reader can see that thepersona thinks he is not good enough to be like his father. The choice of vocabulary, images and thetone put emphasis on the narrator’s thoughts. In conclusion, the narrator has low self-esteem, self-pityand admiration to his father which is presented with negatively-connotated vocabulary and images. The use of symbols helps convey the meaning of the poem as well as pointing out some of the mostimportant ideas. One of the most important symbols is the action of dancing. As mentioned above,
  • 3. 3dancing is a human ability which, surprisingly, is present in a pencil. This makes dancing important anddifferent from other actions in the poem. Repetition, too, gives the same effect; the word dancing isused in different parts of the poem with different connotations. Dancing has two major meaningsbehind it in this poem. The first one is the way the father uses the scalpel—an equipment in surgery.This is explained in lines 4 and 5. The second one is the way the narrator uses the pencil—to writepoems. This is very clear in lines 12 to 15. This symbol brings out a contrast that is used for pointing outpossible characters from the same physical appearances. The contrast is the theme of this poem. Thefollowing sentence is the most important sentence in the entire poem in terms of proving thisobservation: “Who would have thought hands so alike—spade palms, blunt fingers short in the joint—would have no more in common?” (lines 10 to 12). In conclusion, the use of symbolism and personification bring out the theme, the major ideas,actions and objects. They help the reader have sympathy towards the narrator and thus the poet, JonStallworthy, himself. The narrator admires his father who is a heroic doctor and yet he is far away fromhim in terms of talents and father-son relationship.