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Elegy for my father’s father. James K. Baxter. James Keir Baxter was born in 1926, in Dunedin, New Zealand Baxter become one of New Zealand’s finest poets and most controversial figures

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author s background

James Keir Baxter was born in 1926, in Dunedin, New Zealand

Baxter become one of New Zealand’s finest poets and most controversial figures

In his short life he produced a huge number of poems, plays, literary criticism and social/religious commentary

His father was Archibald Baxter, who was one of New Zealand’s better-known pacifist from the First World War

Baxter took an interest in poetry from an early age

His first collection of poems where published in 1944, when he was only 18

He was deeply influenced by the Romantic poets and classical mythology

Author’s Background:

author s background3

After visiting India in 1959, he returned to New Zealand, deeply concerned with the poor and social inequality – a idea he showed through his poems

His strong judgements of society were often harsh and were not always well received

Baxter died of a heart attack on 22 October 1972 from a heart attack

Author’s Background:

basic first impressions

Different kind of title – very direct

Written in past tense – reflection

Written is second person – author describing the death of someone else

Idea of ‘Death’ – universal idea

Poem is one stanza long (written on two pages but actually one stanza)

Tone is dull and slow

References to nature and water

Free Verse

Basic – First Impressions:



A sad and thoughtful poem lamenting the death of a person.

Lamenting – passionate expression of grief.

Poem about sorrow and praise

Sorrow for the death but prise for his life.

Elegy For my Father’s Father


‘Father’s Father’

Grandfather not used. Creates more of a distance. Distant relationship or generation cycle.

Adds more to the age.

Title very direct. Targeted at one specific person. Dedicated to father’s father – male dominance

ideas of poem general

Death – natural process

Remembrance of the past





Seasons – change

Phases of life

Ideas of poem (general):

unknown words

‘cairn’ - A mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop. Burial mound made of stones.

‘aaronsrod’ – flowering shrub

‘sods’ – surface of the ground held together by matted roots

‘burning-glass’ – magnifying-glass

‘boughs’ – the main large branch of a tree

Unknown Words:


‘He knew in the hour he died

  • That his heart had never spoken’
  • ‘He’ – personal pronoun
    • Used to refer specifically to the author’s ‘Father’s Father’
  • ‘in the hour he died’ – didn’t know before of after
    • Point of realisation – stuck in a period of realisation
    • Long death – peaceful or painful?
  • ‘ died’ – strong with more impact instead of ‘passed away’
  • ‘his heart had never spoken –personification
    • the father’s father never truly expressed his real feelings or emotions
    • He was more reserved and detached – that was his personality
  • ‘heart’ – centre of emotions and essential organ for life
    • “The human heart feels things the eyes cannot see, and knows what the mind cannot understand”
  • ‘had never spoken’ – silenced/unemotional
    • The heart has not functioned it part – he underestimated his feelings but realised too late
    • Masculine character – strong figure linked to the ‘tall tower’



‘In eighty years of days

  • O for the tall tower broken’
  • ‘eighty years of days’ – used instead of eight years of life
    • Each day was unique and a challenge for Baxter’s grandfather
    • Draws out the time – shows adds to the distance shown in the title
  • ‘O for the tall tower broken’ – ‘tall tower’ metaphor for life.
    • Life is a process of different events that help us to grow, physically in height and emotionally to build our knowledge.
    • The floors of a building are the ages of life – the taller the tower, the more experience a person is in life and the older they are
    • ‘broken’ – when things are falling apart – linked to the point of realisation
    • ‘eighty years of days’ links to the use of the ‘tall tower’
    • ‘tall tower’ – alliteration. Added to exaggerate the length of life
    • ‘tower’ – usually seen as something strong and sturdy, and characteristics linked to males
    • With the addition of ‘broken’ it implies how life is unexpected and can fall apart



‘They stood by the graveside

  • From his bitter veins born
  • And mourned him in their fashion’
  • ‘they stood by the graveside/…/And mourned him in their fashion’
    • The theme of death is present as the author is talking about the burial of his grandfather
    • The family members were finding it difficult to mourn for his death as they all ‘mourned him in their fashion’
    • The family members did not actually know how the grandfather wanted to be fare welled as ‘his heart had never spoken’, he hadn’t expressed what he wanted of felt.
  • ‘From his bitter veins born’
    • ‘bitter’ – resulting from grief, anguish and disappointment.
    • Links back to the ‘heart had never spoken’
    • The grandfather felt ‘bitter’ after ‘he knew in the hour he died/…/that his heart had never spoken



‘He could slice and build…

  • On his walking shoulder held
  • Under the lion sun’
  • ‘He could slice and build’
    • A more active time in life – active verbs ‘slice’/‘build’ – Prime stage for him
    • Author is praising the grandfather for his skill and commitment – Adds a slight more positive tone for this section of the poem
    • Linked to summer – A stage in life where we are most active
    • Contrasts what's on the next slide
  • ‘On his walking shoulder held’ – Metaphor
  • Carrying the load on his shoulders – carrying the pressures of life along with him
  • Being the man of the family – having to stay strong as the masculine figure and carry more of the load.
  • ‘lion’ – a strong authoritative/dominant figure
  • Linked to the ‘tall tower’
  • ‘summer’ – season – linked to the life cycle



‘When he was old and blind…

He sat in a curved chair’

‘old and blind’ – aging

Live is catching up to Baxter

Capability to be the strong figure fading

‘When’ – past tense – reflection of what used to happen before the grandfather passed away

‘sat in a curved chair’

Contrasts the active words mentioned in the previous slide

As the time is coming nearer to the cold ‘Winter’ of end, things are becoming progressively slower – the tone is transferred back to being dull

‘sat’ enhances the grandfathers incapability

Reflects the old age of inability in contrast to the prime age of activeness



‘The tongues of water spoke

And his heart was unafraid’

‘tongues of water spoke’ – personification

Another person of his conscience talking to him in his dreams

Reminding him that all this time the grandfather had been able to keep the emotions bolted in and now death shouldn’t be something to bring them out

Baxter’s father’s father was aware of the cycle of life – shown through the various seasons

This aided his heart to be ‘unafraid’

‘water’ also has its own cycle, like the life cycle

It is an essential element for life, like the ‘heart’

The ‘heart’ and ‘water’ are both natural aspects of life – Baxter uses these aspects to explain how natural death comes as a process of life

Despite the grandfather’s failure to express feelings, he was sensitive to his experiences of the natural world around him.



The Cycle of Life – Shown through the seasons which are metaphorically mentioned in the poem.

  • ‘flowering cherry tree’
    • ‘flowering’ – coming into life/blossoming
    • New beginning, being re-born, new hope
    • Reminder that beautiful things must be enjoyed and appreciated in life before it is too late
    • Shows the stage in life when we are born and coming into life
  • ‘Under the lion sun’
    • ‘lion’ – a strong authoritative/dominant figure
    • A leader – someone others follow
    • Again linked to the ‘tall tower’
    • ‘sun’ – summer – a time for growth and development
    • Represents a time of growth and development as humans
    • youthful days



The Cycle of Life – Shown through the seasons which are metaphorically mentioned in the poem.

  • The winter world in their hand.’
    • ‘winter’ – time of reflection
    • Usually refer to wet, cold, suffering, destruction, freezing
    • The end of time and life
    • Period of coldness, misery and death
    • Remembering the past but also shows wisdom
  • ‘Boughs oh heaven folding’/’leaves the wind had shaken’
    • ‘boughs’ – largest branch of a tree – grandfather was the support system of the family
    • Autumn is the season which things slow down, to enjoy the time remaining
    • A time to appreciate the things in life that remain before winter arrives
  • Again, the symbols of nature also shows how the father’s father had a keen awareness of the cycle of life – this enabled him to be ‘unafraid’ of death



The poem is just one stanza long

(even though it is on two pages – it is actually one stanza)

The stanza consists of 38 lines

The use of one long stanza represents life as one long process – it is continuous

It starts from the beginning and finishes at the very end – there are no pauses between life just like there are no gaps between the lines of the poem

The length of the lines have no pattern and there is no rhyming scheme – showing how life is not structured.

It is random with no automatic pattern it can follow

Through the in-depth interpretation, the author has tired to draw on audiences attention towards the deeper meanings of life, if they even is one


poems to compare to

Follower – Seamus Heaney

Praise Song for My Mother – Grace Nichols

A Dream – William Allingham

My Parents – Stephen Spender

Poems to compare to: