Word Choice, Word Order, and Tone: An Analysis of “(Untitled)” by Peter Meinke

“(Untitled)” by Peter Meinke

This is a poem to my son Peter
whom I have hurt a thousand times
whose large and vulnerable eyes
have glazed in pain at my ragings
thin wrist and fingers hung
boneless in despair, pale freckled back
bent in defeat, pillow soaked
by my failure to understand.
I have scarred through weakness
and impatience your frail confidence forever
because when I needed to strike
you were there to be hurt and because
I thought you knew
you were beautiful and fair
your bright eyes and hair
but now I see that no one knows that
about himself, but must be told
and retold until it takes hold
because I think anything can be killed
after a while, especially beauty
so I write this for life, for love, for
you, my oldest son Peter, age 10,
going on 11.

In Peter Meinke’s untitled poem, the author’s guilt-ridden tone is evident.  He points out time and time again how much he hurt his son Peter, stating it directly in the second line of the poem by flat-out saying, “Whom I have hurt a thousand times.”  Meinke, the apparent aggressor, takes responsibility for his actions, further enforcing the attitude his tone suggests, like in these lines:
“I have scarred through weakness
and impatience your frail confidence forever
because when I needed to strike
you were there to be hurt…”
Meinke’s “I” statements accept the blame and show clear remorse for what he did to his son.  In the last couple lines of the poem, Meinke is convinced that he killed his son’s “beauty,” which would be a painful thing for any father to need to admit.

That isn’t the only element that conveyed his remorse, though.  His word choice when describing Peter is filled with love, always pointing out the child’s beauty and fragility, and using so many “I” statements(as was pointed out above), which is how the best apologies are written.  Meinke takes all the blame for what happened to Peter and what he (Meinke) did to him (Peter).  On the technical side of this poem, Meinke uses informal diction to get his point across, probably because his target audience is probably his “oldest son, Peter, age 10, going on 11.”  Anything more complicated than informal diction, like formal or middle diction, for example, may not have gotten the point across as well to a child of that age group.  Not only that, but his choice of diction also helps to showcase his sincerity in the apology; he doesn’t dress it up or make it complicated, he just says what needs to be said in the simplest of terms.  It’s also interesting how much like a wounded animal he makes his son out to be.  His word choice in the description of Peter paint the boy to be both a wounded animal and almost angelic in appearance.  “Large and vulnerable eyes,” “thin wrists and finger hung in despair,” and “pale freckled back bent in defeat” are all phrases that describe a victim, which is exactly what Peter is.  Toward the end, Meinke gives his son a more angelic appearance by saying:
“You were beautiful and fair
your bright eyes and hair”
This  is a description that almost paints a heavenly being in your mind or even just a happy child filled with life.  It’s interesting that the author followed that description with a reiteration of his ugly actions toward his son, but this time through his inaction as a father to reinforcing the idea of self-worth:
“But now I see that no one knows that
About himself, but must be told
And retold until it takes hold”

Overall, I think Meinke’s use of word choice and tone made his purpose of the poem clear: to accept responsibility for the pain he inflicted and to show his sincere remorse for his actions against his eldest son.

2 thoughts on “Word Choice, Word Order, and Tone: An Analysis of “(Untitled)” by Peter Meinke

  1. Mr. Robinson says:

    Strong work, Christine. What do you make of the reference to “Peter” at the end of the poem? Is that meant to be the poet himself? What implications might that have on our understanding of the poem?

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  2. I think that you did a great job perfectly describing this poem and breaking down the different aspects that Peter Meinke used. I think that “guilt-ridden” was a perfect choice for a tone word and it summed up exactly how Meinke felt towards his son. The author’s word choice created a sort of contradiction in the description of his son, which showed how innocent the sun was while at the same time showing how awful the father had been to him. I completely agree with your opinion of the author’s purpose.

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