Comparing and Contrasting Hughes's Mother to Son and Wilbur's The Writer

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Comparing and Contrasting Hughes's Mother to Son and Wilbur's The Writer

Whether life is a steep climb up a shaky stairway or a challenging voyage over rough seas, a parent hopes a child will persevere to the end. In Langston Hughes's poem "Mother to Son" and in Richard Wilbur's poem "The Writer," the poets use the voice of a parent considering a child's future, and both use imagery of struggle and survival to suggest what lies ahead for the child. Although the point of view, context, and language of the two poems differ significantly, the message is the same: a parent wants a good life for his or her child, but knows that many obstacles can block the way.

While Hughes and Wilbur share a similar message in their poems, their points
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One scene is taking place now: "My daughter is writing a story" (3), and one scene took place in the past: "I remember..." (16) "two years ago" (17). Because the narrator is addressing the reader instead of his daughter herself, most of Wilbur's poem seems less immediate than Hughes's does. The title of Wilbur's poem, "The Writer," sets some distance between the narrator and his daughter. This is not "Father to Daughter." Writing about someone is at least one step removed from talking to someone. There are three levels to Wilbur's poem that reflect three writers: the daughter who is writing a poem, the father who is observing her, and Wilbur himself who is writing about the two of them. The narrator's voice is the formal voice of a writer, especially one who is well educated. The narrator uses a less familiar vocabulary, with nautical terms such as "prow" (1) and "gunwale" (6). The narrator also uses non-conversational sentence structure, for example, "Young as she is, the stuff of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy" (7-8). Only in the final stanza does the narrator address his daughter directly, and even then his voice is more formal, keeping some distance with the more complicated sentence structure: "It is always a matter, my darling, of life or death, as I had forgotten" (31-32).

The contexts of the two poems are also quite different. Although each poem deals with a parent contemplating a child's future, the two families seem to