Rebirth of One's Person and Bringing Their Right to Die and Live

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When two people become parents, it is often a time of joyous celebration. They embrace their creation, and look forward to a long life together that now revolves around their newborn child. This time is marks the beginning of the life of their child. Concurrently, however, this is the beginning of the end for the parents, as they start a new life with their child:; a life they will likely die in. In his poem “My Son, My Executioner, ” Donald Hall depicts this other, frequently undiscussed side of becoming a parent, where the son of the narrator plays two roles in his parents’ lives. Ironically, his son, who he gives life to, is the one giving him death, and is symbolic of immortality as well as mortality of his parents.

Hall uses slant rhyme throughout the poem, which maintains a basic rhythm as every other end word on a line has a similar ending. By using this rhyme scheme, though, Hall is able to be more versatile with regards to his word choice. The poem, which stylistically, is fundamentally consistent throughout, is contradictory in terms of the language it uses. The main paradox of poem lies right in its title, which is uncoincidentally its first line. Here, Hall portrays his son in two different ways, addressing him as “My son, my executioner, ” (1). His sonHe plays the role of a son, full of life, put into the world by his parents. He is also the one who will eventually put his father (and mother) out of the world, and is portrayed as an executioner, a person who is responsible for carrying out a death sentence in today's legal system. This comparison, to an outsider, would seem unfitting for a young and innocent child, whose qualities are captured in a vivid image in the first stanza, as he states “I take you in my arms, / Quiet and small and just astir” (2-3).

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This imagery of taking his child in his arms in line two underscores the physical difference between the parent and the child. In line three, Hall describes his son as little and silent, simply stating he is living. Furthermore, his diction of contradicting verbs such as “just” and “astir” portrays the perceived helplessness of the child when put together. However, the fact that the narrator is not describing any of his own emotions or physical features at the moment gives the impression that he is simply witnessing the child living, and not necessarily living in this moment of aroused and deep emotion himself, rather observing. The very next line depicts the role of the author in this image, who simply states “And whom my body warms. ” (4). No true emotion is let out in this line, as the author is merely describing a physical obligation to care for and nourish the child. The imagery used in line four can be connected to the imagery in the second line, as they are both describing the father's actions with regards to doing things for the child, not necessarily feeling anything special. The fact that these two lines are indented as well as being products of enjambment give the reader a sense that they are isolated, and are done so for a reason. These lines contradict each other, and that is why they are both formatted this way, within a poem full of contradictions.

The fact that the father is able to take the child in his arms gives him control over his son;, however, the way he is obliged to take care of a form of life so helpless means that he is ultimately powerless, even as he exerts control and offers life. being controlled is a paradox within itself. The second stanza begins with another contrast in the beginning words of its first line, where Hall addresses his son as “Sweet death, small son, ” (5). The contrasting words of “sweet” and “death” give light to the deeper meaning of the overall message the poem has, the role the son plays in the lives of his parents, as he symbolizes their immortality and their mortality. These themes are further explained in the lines that immediately proceed this one. Contradicting his previous portrayal of his son as death, Hall tells his son he is his parents’ “instrument / Of immortality, ” (5-6). These lines are a vital piece to the central paradox of the poem, as the son is the only way for them to leave their mark on the world; their legacy lives through him. In this sense, the son plays the role of a newborn son, who is symbolic of life. Moreover, he is means to the immortality of his parents, for he will likely live longer than them, and will live by the name they named him, with their last name, and with their memory in his mind. By doing all of the things that support his life, and thus their “immortality, ” the parents become mortal in the process.

Supported in the next two lines, which is a takes a sharp turn away from the theme of the previous, the son’s growing up parallels his parents’ demise. In these lines, Hall describes to his son that “Your cries and hunger document / Our bodily decay” (7-8). The concepts of “cries” and “hunger” illustrate the frequent physical struggles children deal with, often unaware of how to handle them, and thus it is up to the parents to take care of it. However, for every time they take care of their child’s problems, they deteriorate more and more, as it is “documented. ” This interesting diction captures the cumulative nature of this process. Therefore, the son’s other role in the life of his parents is that he is a means to their mortality, through their nourishment of his physical and emotional development. In the same way enjambment was used to isolate every line in a stanza of four lines, it is used in lines 5-6 and 7-8 in the second stanza. Two contrasting ideas, “immortality” and “bodily decay” are both isolated on new indented lines to emphasize their importance with regards to the paradox of the poem, exemplifying the son’s contradictory roles. The third stanza begins with the lines of “We twenty-five and twenty-two, / Who seemed to live forever, ” (9-10). Undoubtedly, the parents are in fact still very young. However, even though they might still have so much left to live in years, it's different now, because of the fact that they had a child makes them know they are going to die. As described by Hall, when people become parents, they don’t live for themselves anymore. In the last two lines of the entire poem, Hall tells his son that he and his son’s mother “Observe enduring life in you / And start to die together. ” (12). They now observe life in their child instead of actually living themselves, as if they cannot even live anymore. The two contradictory parts of the stanza are yet again indented and isolated on their own lines as a result of enjambment. The ideas of “living forever” and “dying together” are drastically different from one another, buthowever are associated with the same person, their son. Therefore, in all, while the poem itself is full of contrasting elements, in a twisted way, they are all interconnected, representing a cycle.

Over the course of human history, this interesting concept of a cycle proving that two seemingly opposite phenomenaons are interconnected has been present in many forms. One that immediately comes to mind is the primal sacrifice in Book X of the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism. In this account, the sacrifice of the primal being, Purusha, is sacrificed, and through this, the universe is created. This creation myth, recited as a hymn, particularly refers to the dismemberment of this cosmic human, by which the cosmos were created. In this case, two opposite phenomena go hand and hand, as creation is reflective of taking apart, and a moment of destruction is also restorative in a sense. While a newborn child is born, not many jump right to the negative aspect of this birth; the “death sentence” he grants to his parents. However, in this poem, Hall exposes these truths, meanwhile maintaining the classic role of the son that gives more life to his parents. And, though it may seem contradictory, through Hall’s literary formatting provides structure that ultimately connects all of these concepts, in a way similar to the Hindu cosmic sacrifice hymn. So, therefore, in this cyclic manner, it is not all that contradictory when an executioner can givesgrant a life as well as takes one.

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