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12th English – Lesson 5 – Poem – A Father to his Son

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12th English – Lesson 5 – Poem – A Father to his Son

Fill in the blanks choosing the words from the box given and complete the
summary of the poem.

Lines 1-25

The poet Carl Sandburg gives a vivid
description of a father’s worldly (1) _______ in directing a son who is at the
threshold of his (2) _______ Here the father motivates his son to be like a
hard (3) _______ and withstand life’s (4) _______ and sudden betrayals. (5)
_______ is like a fertile soil. We can make our life fruitful if we are gentle,
and take life as it comes. At times (6) _______ overtakes harshness. The growth
of a (7) _______ can split a rock. One should have a (8) _______ and strong
will to achieve. Greed for(9) _______ has left men dead before they really die.
Good men also have fallen prey in quest for (10) _______ money. Time for (11)
_______ is not a waste. When you seek knowledge never feel ashamed to be called
a (12) _______ for not knowing, at the same time learn from your (13) _______
and never (14) _______ it.


1. wisdom

2. manhood

3. rock

4. challenges

5. life

6. gentleness

7. tender-flower

8. deep desire

10. easy

11. leisure

12. fool


14. repeat


Lines 26-44

Do (15) ______ often, and do not
hesitate to accept your shortcomings, avoid (16) to protect self against other
people. Solitude helps to be (17) and (18) are taken in silent rooms. Instead
of being one among many, be (19) , if that is your nature. The son may need
lazy days to find his (20) abilities, to seek what he is bom for. He will then
know how free imaginations bring (21) to the world, which (22) change.

During such resentment, let him know
that it is time for him to be on his own, and (23) to achieve like Shakespeare,
the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov and Michael Faraday.


15. introspect

16. white lies

17. creative

18. final decisions

19. different

20. inherent

21. changes

22. resents

23. work


2. Based on your understanding of the poem answer the following
questions in one or two sentences.

would the poet’s advice help his son who is at the threshold of the manhood?

Answers: The
poet’s advice would help the son at the threshold of manhood, to grow as a
positive individual and succeed in life like great scientists and dramatists.


tough will counts.’ Explain.

Answers: One’s
physical strength doesn’t matter. Any person with a strong will can achieve
great feats. A frail flowering plant succeeds in splitting a rock due to its
hard will. Thus a tough will (i.e.) “rich soft wanting” determines one’s


happened to the people who wanted too much money?

Answers: People
who wanted too much money fell a prey to greed. They lost their reputation


has twisted good men into thwarted worms?

Answers: One’s
desire or love for money should be limited to meeting one’s basic needs like
food, clothing and shelter. Beyond that, in ordinate desire to possess a lot of
money in a dishonourable way reduces even good men to “thwarted worms”.


would his being alone help the boy?

Answers: Solitude
would help the boy to be creative.


are the final decisions taken?

Answers: In
silent rooms, final decisions are taken.


are the poet’s thoughts on ‘being different’?

Answers: Instead
of being one among many, one can be different if it is one’s nature to be so.
One need not take conscious efforts to be different.


does the poet advise his son to have lazy days?

Answers: Lazy
days would help the boy to find his inherent abilities and goad him to discover
the purpose for which he was bom.


poet says

rich wanting nothing arrives’

he condemns ‘the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs.’Analyse the difference
and write.

Answers: Appreciating
rich wanting and condemning ‘the quest for lucre beyond a few easy’ needs seems
like a conundmm. One needs to take both the statements with a pinch of salt.
One needs a strong will power to succeed. One can earn a lot too. Jack Ma has
had strong will and earned beyond lucre but invested major part in community
development and charitable works retaining some for his basic needs. Warren
Buffet, Bill Gates and Ratan Tata are other such examples. The wealth earned
should benefit a large number of people and not the individual who initiated
the wealth.


3. Here are a few poetic devices used in the poem.

(a)Antithesis – It is a literary device
that em phasises the idea of contrast,

eg. The growth of a frail flower in a
path up

has sometimes shattered and split

a rock. Brutes have been gentled where
lashes failed.


(b)Transferred Epithet – It is a
figure of speech in which an epithet grammatically qualifies a noun other than
the person or a thing, it is actually meant to describe.

eg. and left them dead years before

Let him have lazy days seeking his
deeper motives.

Bringing changes into a world
resenting change.


(c)Repetition – It is a figure of

eg. Tell him to be alone often and get
at himself and above all tell himself no lies about himself


Appreciate The Poem

Read the lines given below and answer the questions that follow.

(a) “Life is hard; be steel; be a


should one face life?

Answer: One
should face life like a steel.


the figure of speech in the above line.

Answer: Metaphor


(b) “Life is a soft loam; be gentle;
go easy. ”

And this too might serve him.


does the poet suggest to take life easy?

Answer: There
are certain occasions one needs to treat life like wet clay very gently. Take
life as it comes without hard resistance. The poet says, “Brutes have been
gentled where lashes failed.”


the figure of speech in the above line.

Answer: Metaphor


(c) “ Tell him solitude is creative if
he is strong

and the final decisions are made in
silent rooms.”


being in solitude help a strong human being? How?

Answer: Yes,
solitude helps the strong person to be creative. Solitude helps even a strong
human being to introspect and analyse his own mistakes.


the figure of speech in the above line.

Answer: Personification


(d) “Tell him time as a stuff can be

Tell him to be a fool every so often”

does the poet suggest that time can be wasted?

Answer: Unless
one wastes one’s time, one may not commit mistakes and learn from them. Besides
learning not to repeat those mistakes would naturally make him wiser.


the figure of speech in the above line.

Answer: Simile


(e)“Tell him to be a fool ever so

and to have no shame over having been
a fool

yet learning something out of every

hoping to repeat none of the cheap

it a shame to be a fool at times?

Answer: No,
everyone does commit funny mistakes in life. One might just laugh at them.


does one learn from every folly?

Answer: Every
folly teaches a person his limitations and vulnerabilities. By making conscious
efforts to avoid them in future, one will become stronger and wiser.


(f)“______ Free imaginations

Bringing changes into a world
resenting change ”

does free imagination help the world?

Answer: Free
imagination brings changes in the world.


the figure of speech.

Answer: Personification


(e)Pick out the alliterated words from
the poem and write.

“And this might stand him for the

Answer: The
words stand and storms alliterate.


5. Explain the following lines with reference to the context.

(а)“and guide him among sudden

and tighten him for slack moments.”


Reference: These lines are
from the poem “A Father to his Son” written by Carl August Sandburg.

and Explanation:

The poet says these words while explaining the need to stay strong like a rock
or a steel. The steel will guide him when confronted with unexpected betrayals
from trusted friends. It will also help him to be strong against future


(b)“Brutes have been gentled where
lashes failed.”


Reference: These lines are
from the poem “A Father to his Son” written by Carl August Sandburg.

and Explanation:

The poet highlights the importance of soft but firm will to melt even hardened
criminals. Love can transform even criminals. Harsh punishment may harden them
but gentleness and love may bring about a change of heart.


(c)“ Yet learning something out of
every folly hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies”


lines are from the poem “A Father to his Son” written by Carl August Sandburg.

and Explanation:
poet says these words while hinting at the possibilities of failures in the
pursuit of knowledge. People may mock at a beginner as a fool. He should not
feel ashamed of being called a fool. He must continue the pursuit of knowledge
doggedly to achieve success.


(d)“He will be lonely enough

to have time for the work”


Reference: These lines are
from the poem ‘A Father to his Son” written by Carl August Sandburg.

and Explanation:

The poet says these words to explain how creative thinkers and those who strive
to bring about changes are left alone to fend for themselves. The poet says his
son must take advantage of this loneliness to pursue his creative imagination
and succeed like Shakespeare, Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov and Faraday.


6. Answer the following questions in about 100-150 words each.

how the poet guides his son who is at the threshold of manhood, to face the
challenges of life.


The poet shares his
wisdom with his son who is at the threshold of manhood. He persuades his son to
be hard like steel or rock to withstand challenges and unforeseen betrayals in
life. A person with soft heart will crumble before a breach of trust. Similarly
he wants his son to be discerning enough to be soft when needed to grow like a
frail flower plant splitting a rock. Occasionally one has to go with the
current because life is at times fertile with a lot of opportunities to grow
even among the harshest circumstances. ‘Rich soft wanting’ can help a person to
win against all odds. He reiterates this’idea by explaining how gentleness can
reform a hardened criminal when lashes would, in contrast, harden them further.


according to the poet is it possible for his son to bring changes into a world
that resents change?


The poet advises
his son to introspect often and not feel ashamed of being called a fool
especially when he pursues knowledge. He can examine himself and remove his
follies. He must enjoy the advantages of solitude. Solitude would help him to
be creative. He would invariably leam that final decisions are always taken in
silent rooms. Being alone, he can identify his innate potential and talents.
His free imagination will bring about changes even if the world resents them.
The zest to bring about changes will elevate him to the level of Shakespeare, Pasteur,
Wright Brothers, Pavlov and Michael Faraday. Thus he will be remembered as one
of the great men who changed the world.


Listening Activity

Listen to the poem
read by the teacher or to the recorded version and write a synopsis in about
100 words. The teacher can choose any three stanzas.

Letter to his Son’s Teacher:

He will have to
learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him
also that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish
politician, there is a dedicated leader.. .Teach him for every enemy there is a

Steer him away from
envy, if you can, teach him the secret of quiet laughter.

Let him learn early
that the bullies are the easiest to lick… .Teach him, if you can, the wonder of
books.. .But also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in
the sky, bees in the sun, and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach
him it is far honourable to fail than to cheat…Teach him to have faith in his
own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong .Teach him to be gentle
with gentle people, and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son
the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the band
wagon…Teach him to listen to all men.. .but teach him also to filter all he
hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him if you
can, how to laugh when he is sad…Teach him there is no shame in tears, Teach
him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness…Teach him to sell
his brawn and brain to the highest bidders but never to put a price-tag on his
heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob and to stand and
fight if he thinks he’s right. Treat him gently, but do not cuddle him, because
only the test of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the
courage to be impatient.. .let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him
always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will have sublime
faith in mankind. This is a big order, but see what you can do.. .He is such a
fine little fellow, my son!


Abraham Lincoln

of the first three stanzas:

Abraham Lincoln’s
letter to his son’s teacher is full of his optimism and ethical values he
believed in. He asks the teacher to teach his son to have faith in humanity and
teach him not to be discouraged by scoundrels, selfish politicians and enemies.
For every selfish politician, there is a dedicated hero. He need not condemn
all politicians as bad. There may be enemies but there is a friend for every
enemy. Thus, the equations in life are wonderful. He must learn the dignity of
labour and hard work. He should be taught the necessity of undergoing the pain
of failure in order to appreciate success. He requests his son to stay away
from envy and to enjoy quiet laughter. He wants him to teach his son that
bullies accept defeat quickly. He also urges him to teach his son the wonders
of reading books and deep quiet reflection on the beautiful mysteries of

Given below is a
well-known quotation.

“Cowards die many
rimes before their death”.

Study the
quotations and identify the adverse human qualities that are worse than ‘death’
and discuss the underlying message conveyed.

Greed and the craze to amass wealth
through dishonourable methods is like dying years before one actually dies.
Cowardliness is equally worse than death. Shakespeare has said, “the valiants
die only once in their lifetime.”

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