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Both poems provide a deeply personal insight into the individual experience of family bonds, in ‘Eden Rock’ this is conveyed through the encounter between a speaker and his parents, who are implied to be dead, as they prepare a picnic. The scene unfolds through a dream-like combination of memory and imagination, suggesting that the speaker is recalling a scene from his childhood whilst also seeing a vision of his dead parents in the present. In contrast, ‘Climbing My Grandfather’ is an autobiographical poem, where the poet writes about his Grandfather in the first person. The poet remembers a time when he was a child and his Grandfather looked to him more like a big mountain than a human being. This is seen through the extended metaphor of ‘climbing’ and distance which effectively creates a vivid image of him looking up to his Grandfather as a young child.
The writer, through the autobiographical prism of their poems, reveal the complex emotions that fuel familial bonds. ‘Climbing my Grandfather’ is a poem dominated by the extended metaphor of mountain climbing which shows both the childish activity of clambering across a relative as well as being an extended metaphor of developing understanding, as the poet gradually moves from foot to head to reach the “summit” of their grandfather. The beginning statement that he does it ‘free, without a rope or net’, suggests a challenge and potential danger. Alternatively, it may also imply the security he feels when he is with his grandfather that eliminates the need for a ‘rope or net’. Furthermore, the metaphor of climbing a mountain also means something that presents challenges, that it very difficult for us to achieve but which does give a sense of accomplishment when complete. Here, Waterhouse uses it to explore the difficulties of knowing and understanding his grandfather, beginning with “trying to get a grip”. This metaphor not only shows that he’s trying to move up the grandfather’s mountainous body but it’s also part of the extended metaphor of the difficulty in understanding your family.
Whilst ‘Eden Rock’ is ostensible about an idealised reunification, there are hints at the painful nature of this prospect. The final lingering line is strange, standing separate, the only moment of reflection. The separation marks not just a change in tone for this last line, but also echoes the divide between the poet and his parents. “I had not thought” is the pluperfect, suggesting he has changed his mind now as in the past, he did not think that this is how it would be. Furthermore, the stanza sizes decrease from quatrains to triplets to a single line which is monosyllabic which creates a feeling of isolation from his parents and the poem. This change could suggest that the narrator has passed away and is finally with his parents which creates a type of conclusion to the poem. Apart from the sizes of the stanzas, the poem is also written in first person present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy – it is as if it is happening in the here and now. The narrator’s reference at the start to where his parents are, “somewhere beyond Eden Rock” suggests a physical distance, but can also be used to suggest the afterlife too. They could physically be in the space after Eden Rock, or the time after that, but it certainly creates overtones of ‘the life beyond’.
‘Eden Rock’, from it’s very title, established it’s portrayal of the idealised tableau of harmonious family. The use of this name evokes the idea of perfect harmony as it be a biblical reference to the Garden of Eden. This reference could also suggest that for the narrator, this small place with his parents is perfect and peaceful. Alternatively, this could be seen as a reflection for the narrator’s gratitude for their parents as they are responsible for the seemingly perfect childhood he remember. Furthermore, Causley’s use of natural imagery such as ‘stone’, ‘grass’ and ‘straw’ which reflect the sense that the narrator sees their relationship with their parents as being natural and pure, as if it was meant to be. This calm, unspoilt setting is exemplified when the narrator claims that the ‘mother’s hair “takes on the light”. Light has connotations of heaven, reflecting the way the narrator sees his parents as angelic and saint like, showing a strong admiration for them. The references to the small details that he rememberers such as an ‘old H.P. Sauce bottle’ and the ‘tin cups painted blue’ reflect how special his childhood is to him and his detailed descriptions of ordinary things shows their importance to the narrator and the affections he has for the way his parents did things.
Whilst ‘Eden Rock’ seeks to recall in photographic detail a real or imagined perfect snapshot of family, ‘Climbing my Grandfather’ conveys a sense of struggle to maintain these bonds. On the 12th line, there is a sense that this grandfather/grandson relationship is far from simple. It is the child who is here respecting the old man, placing his feet ‘gently in the old stitches’ which could suggest the struggle and the unexpected barrier of family ties. The poet’s description of the ‘glassy ridge of a scar’, ridge being a geological feature, but the ‘scar’ reminding us that the man would have had mishaps and injuries during his life. The poet’s reference to the ‘danger’ of ‘climbing’ could suggest that his Grandfather was challenging, his patience might be tried by a playful small boy or else the ‘danger’ is one of loss and grief. The child’s detailed description of the ‘loose skin of his neck’, might represent the dangerous loose rocks of a mountain which could symbolise the tough challenges in life that his Grandfather will have experienced. This therefore allows the reader to get an idea of the depth and breadth of the relationship and the complexity of the elderly man and his Grandson.
Waterhouse adopts a dreamlike vision of family bond which is seen at the end of the poem. By the end of ‘Climbing my Grandfather’, the description of “feeling his heat, knowing the slow pulse of his good heart” conveys the sense that he feels comforted and reassured by his grandfather, this solid mass of a man who seems to the child more like a mountain than a man. But by the end, we have a feeling that the grandfather is less of a cold and challenging obstacle to be uncovered, that he is warm and “good”. The poem, then, is a discovery. It is an uncovering, an understanding. Waterhouse journeys through the poem to better understand his grandfather and by the end, feels reassured by the “slow pulse” of his grandfather’s “good heart”. Not quite so cold and daunting as it was at the beginning. To the poet, this poem might be a voyage of discovery and a way of remembering his grandfather, top to bottom. The present tense makes it vivid and real, even though Waterhouse is no longer a boy, and that remembering his Grandfather in this way brings him back from an unmoving mountain to being a man with a beating heart.
Similarly, in ‘Eden Rock’, the poet also adopts a dreamlike vision of the family bond as ‘Eden’ already suggests a sense of paradise, a paradise that seen as dreamlike. When we understand the “otherworldliness” of this poem, Eden becomes very significant. We get no sense from the title of the importance of the relationship between the narrator and his parents or if this is a real moment. Because ‘Eden Rock’ isn’t a real place as it’s made up, it still does throw into question whether it is an entirely fictional event or whether it’s the remembered pieces of family history. When you read the poem and understand that there is a sense that his parents are dead, it then becomes the setting in which he imagines his parents: their afterlife. That way, it can be a real place and a real, remembered moment, or it can be completely fictional, just the setting of their own afterlife. This therefore creates a sense of empathy as throughout the poem, it has been hinted that it’s an imagined event.
Ultimately, both poets portray family bonds as close and loving. The patents and Grandfather in both poems are the centre of the narrator’s life. ‘Climbing my Grandfather’ recalls the child climbing his Grandfather, and ‘Eden Rock’ recalling memorable moments with his parents. Despite the differences in the poems, the enduring impression from both poems is of deep attachement and love, showing that familial bonds are one of the strongest bonds in nature.
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