Death of a Son – Jon Silkin – Analysis

Death of a Son
Something has ceased to come along with me.
Something like a person: something very like one.
And there was no nobility in it
Or anything like that.
Something there was like a one year
Old house, dumb as stone. While the near buildings
Sang like birds and laughed
Understanding the pact
They were to have with silence. But he
Neither sang nor laughed. He did not bless silence
Like bread, with words.
He did not forsake silence.
But rather, like a house in mourning
Kept the eye turned in to watch the silence while
The other houses like birds
Sang around him.
And the breathing silence neither
Moved nor was still.
I have seen stones: I have seen brick
But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood
With flesh of stone
And bricks for blood. A house
Of stones and blood in breathing silence with the other
Birds singing crazy on its chimneys.
But this was silence,
This was something else, this was
Hearing and speaking though he was a house drawn
Into silence, this was
Something religious in his silence,
Something shining in his quiet,
This was different this was altogether something else:
Though he never spoke, this
Was something to do with death.
And then slowly the eye stopped looking
Inward. The silence rose and became still.
The look turned to the outer place and stopped,
With the birds still shrilling around him.
And as if he could speak
He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled like stones,
and he died.
Jon Silkin (1930 - 1997) 

A house is an inanimate object. It only comes to life in association with people, without the human contact you can regard it as ‘dead’. The poem likens the one year old child to be a house; an inanimate object with no life. All the stanzas thread through this fancy –

But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood

The house is silent and the only life is from the birds on the roof. And the birds are singing crazy as if trying to bring life where there is no life only a silence. An incomprehensible silence while the other houses around him sing.

The other houses like birds
Sang around him.

Eventually the silent life of the child becomes still while the birds are in full chatter as though still talking to him as though he can respond to their stirrings. And then the final sad movement in turning over and shedding two huge tears of stone as if apologising for his death.

The something ceased to come along with the father … the something that could never be understood … the something that never quite became a person … the something that had its own religion.

But this something remains forever in this sad personal sharing of his son’s death.

John Silkin is very much known by this poem. He had a prolific literary life. Details on Wikipedia.

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