Poem Review --Variation on Guilt by Rita Dove


Poem Review

Variation on Guilt by Rita Dove                                                                    


When most people figure out their first child is on their way, they are overjoyed with the prospect of being a parent. Indeed, the birth of a child is one of the most blissful experiences of one's life. Receiving love and congratulations from friends and family, most parents throw big social gatherings to celebrate the great blessing of having a baby.  However, when Thomas becomes a father, he is tormented by the great responsibilities that lie ahead of him that restricts him from the opportunities he can pursue. In “Variation on Guilt,” by Rita Dove, Dove connects the disparate kinds of guilt that boiled up inside of Thomas with other soon-to-be fathers as he is waiting outside for his baby.

Thomas is a “perfect bystander,” sitting alone in the hospital room, waiting for his child, and being completely helpless to his wife. While other husbands are nervously anticipating their babies, Thomas feels victimized. He is “high / and dry with a scream caught / in his throat,” with a strong temptation to scream and escape his situation. On the other hand, when Thomas’s focus shifts to the “row of faces coddled / in anxious pride,” the soon-to-be fathers who are just dying to see their babies, he feels preposterous. This stark contrast between the emotions of Thomas and other fathers helps Dove unpack the guilt Thomas is going through. When Thomas’s wife finally births their baby, Dove establishes an image of Thomas “deal(ing) the cigars, / spit(ing) out the bitter tip in tears,” displaying an image of having no joy or motivation to parent a baby. Through these strong emotions, Dove effectively conveys the guilt that Thomas experiences as he patiently waits outside along with other husbands.

While waiting in the hospital room, Thomas glances at the nurse as the "doors fly apart", realizing that his baby is born. Instead of looking up to the nurse with gratitude, Thomas looks upon the nurse with scorn and discontent. Dove depicts the nurse's facial expression as "that smirk, that strut of a mountebank," thinking that the evil nurse is deriding him when the nurse is simply smiling at him with joy at the birth of his daughter. Nurses, who take care of people's health and prevent patients from being sick, are commonly interpreted as attentive, caring, and friendly. On the other hand, mountebanks are deceivers who commit fraudulent acts that contrast with nurses. Thomas’s crude portrayal of the nurse as a mountebank reflects upon his mood and his mindset, showing his disinclination of having a daughter. To add on, Thomas is “weak with rage" as he "deals the cigars / spits out the bitter tip in tears.” With the use of this vivid imagery, Dove blatantly reveals Thomas’s anguish about having a daughter instead of a son. Thomas, unlike many other parents, doesn’t have the energy and will to raise his child. As Thomas realizes what he’s feeling is not the same as others, Thomas feels guilt.

In “Variation on Guilt,” Dove unfolds Thomas’s feelings, concluding the poem with “Thomas deals the cigars, / spits out the bitter tip in tears,” vividly illustrating the void and the guilt boiling through his mind. The last image of a man spitting out a bitter tip directly connects Thomas’s anguish to the concept of overthinking, suggesting that he is going through various types of guilt. Through the fuming guilt, Dove foreshadows Thomas’s hopeless domesticity. Thomas, left with his wife and an infant, will now carry this scarlet letter from the hospital for the rest of his life//is an unfortunate future for a young father who just birthed a young, precious baby.


Jaelyn Kang


Jaelyn Kang originally from South Korea and is currently a student at Westminster School. She enjoys doing community service, playing soccer, and listening to music. 

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post