Introduction & Overview of Elegy for My Father, Who Is Not Dead

Andrew Hudgins
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Elegy for My Father, Who Is Not Dead Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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"Elegy for My Father, Who Is Not Dead" was published by Houghton Mifflin, in 1991, in The Never-Ending, Andrew Hudgins's third volume of poems. The poem calls itself an "elegy" in the first half of the title, and thus we expect to hear a poetic lament for someone who has died. But Hudgins puts a strange twist on the ancient genre, elegia . This poem is an elegy for someone who is not yet dead, namely, the poet's father. In the first two lines, Hudgins voices for many readers that secret dread of hearing that a parent has died. The poem anticipates mourning for his father, but because he is "not dead," another kind of elegy is also at work. Death will be one sort of distance eventually separating father from son; meanwhile, there are vast distances between them in life. His father, "in the sureness of his faith," is "ready . . . to see fresh worlds." The son is clearly not so sure and is instead "convinced / his ship's gone down." The poem is thus a kind of double elegy. It mourns both what is and what is not to be.

"Elegy for My Father, Who Is Not Dead" witnesses what numerous other poems and memoirs tell of Hudgins's relationship with both his father and his faith. When Hudgins speaks elsewhere of his father, it is with a complex mixture of fear, admiration, exasperation, awe, and sadness. An essay published in The Washington Post reconstructs a childhood that "belonged in some fundamental way to my father and the U.S. Air Force, not me." In his uniform, Hudgins's father "radiated authority, presence, a forceful place in the world"; in a suit, "he looked strangely diminished." But for all its "authority," the uniform also became a symbol of the essential distance from his sons, none of whom Hudgins believes would have "flourished" in the military, "least of all me," he says. The pattern of "not following" his father is traced along yet another painful path in this quirky "elegy." This son has followed neither his father's path in life nor his contemplated route to death. The disjunctions between father and son, to borrow the book's title, appear "never-ending."

This poem is also characteristic of Hudgins's preoccupation with matters of religious faith. Biblical language, imagery, and characters appear frequently in Hudgins's writing, both poems and prose. But his expression of religious matters is hardly pious and never sentimental. On the contrary, his work has been called "grotesque," "violent," and "bawdry." The "stained glass" of his religious sensibility is more likely to be stained with compost, clay, and tobacco than with the usual jewel colors and pious figures of church windows. "Elegy for My Father" confesses his doubt that the hereafter is an adventure cruise and that the ultimate good-bye should be a cheery affair.

Like many Hudgins poems, this one locates death at the center of its verbal energy. But it is also characteristic of his style: short lines, accessible language, indelicate tone. It makes little difference whether one has a religious sensibility or shares Hudgins's southern or military upbringing; there is little distance, ultimately, between Hudgins and his readers. It is easy to recognize ourselves somehow in his poems' painful family scenes, humorous predicaments, and accounts of "sins" both contemplated and carried out. In the words of his first title, Hudgins emerges neither as "saint" nor "stranger" in the light of his earthy, accessible poems.

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This section contains 573 words
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