Kizer’s “Thrall”

I was hard pressed to pick a favorite poem from “The Eighties� section of Kizer’s collected works for here she turns from a sometimes strident declaration of women’s rights to a quieter understanding of herself and her role in creating and, ultimately, freeing herself, from the bonds that would bind all of us to our roles in life.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the section is “Final Meeting� where she describes her last visit to poet James Wright. It was also hard to ignore the more famous “Bitch,� but I found “Thrall� equally moving, and perhaps more revealing of the kinds of insights she focuses on in these poems.

THRALL

The room is sparsely furnished:
A chair, a table, and a father.

He sits in the chair by the window.
There are books on the table.
The time is always just past lunch.

You tiptoe past as he eats his apple
And reads. He looks up, angry.
He has heard your asthmatic breathing.

He will read for years without looking up
Until your childhood is safely over:

Smells, untidiness, and boring questions;
Blood from the first skinned knees
To the first stained thighs;
The foolish tears of adolescent love.

One day he looks up, pleased
At the finished product,
Now he is ready to love you!

So he coaxes you in the voice reserved
For reading Keats. You agree to everything.

Drilled in silence and duty,
You will give him no cause for reproach.
He will boast of you to strangers.

When the afternoon is older
Shadows in a small room
Fall on he bed, the books, the father.

You read aloud to him
“La Belle Dame sans Merci.�
You feed him his medicine.
You tell him you love him.

You wait for his eyes to close at last
So you may write this poem.

If you read carefully enough, you probably don’t have to read past the first stanza to understand this poem, though it’s certainly easier to comprehend the second line after you’ve finished the entire poem. It’s probably not a good sign when you consider your father part of the “furnishings.�

Of course, it’s not a good sign that he doesn’t look up “Until your childhood is safely over,� though it might be a relief when “One day he looks up, pleased/At the finished product … ready to love you!�

The ambivalence of this hate/love relationship is probably not truly revealed until you read Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci� and read the lines, “La Belle Dame sans Merci/ Hath thee in thrall!� and begin to wonder whom the title refers to. Is it a mutual agony, where “Pale warriors, death-pale were they all?� Can there ever really be a true, loving relationship when children are treated this way?

And, if she doesn’t love her father, why does she have to wait until he closes his eyes before she can write this poem?

Though I may ultimately have been influenced to choose this poem by some recent entries on fellow bloggers’ sites, it strikes me as a powerful reminder of the ambivalence many feel toward parents. It is certainly a relationship all of us must come to terms with to feel whole.

6 thoughts on “Kizer’s “Thrall”

  1. What Pascale said, with added thanks.

    “And, if she doesn’t love her father, why does she have to wait until he closes his eyes before she can write this poem?”

    Fear would be my guess.

  2. Having just read 300 pages of Kizer’s poetry, I’m not sure fear or guilt is the reason she waits. She is a pretty “gutsy” writer who seems more than willing to take on many of society’s stereotypes.

    I suspect that there is some element of “respect” in the line, and some form of love that has to do with being a “thrall” in the sense of being imprisoned by both society and the fact that she does owe something to this man for raising her and providing her with “opportunities,” even if he seemed incapable of any real love.

    My favorite idea in the poem is that they are both victims, and they’re both victims because the father was incapable of loving a child. When you read her article about her father that I mentioned in a previous post, you realize that he never had a childhood, that he went out and supported a family at 13, so he was incapable of understanding “childhood.”

What do you think?