Two Hands – Poem Commentary


The poem ‘Two Hands’, written by Jon Stallworty, is a piece of writing with a modern structure and a relatable, yet very personal theme. It deals with a delicate topic, the relationship between father and son, the lack of connection between the two, their differences, and the insecurities that they provoke in the author. The very touching and delicate mood is created by the excellent use of imagery, which greatly appeals to the senses, diction, and the structure, enriched by rhymes, caesuras and a lot of phonetic details, included to emphasize very particular emotions.

The relationship between a father and the son,

The story depicted in the poem, portrays the relationship between a father and the son, in an evening atmosphere, the difference concerning their jobs, the different life styles, the way of using their hands, and subsequently the inexplicit revelation of the son’s insecurities . The poem is quite modern, which can be deduced from the structure and the way the verses interconnect, even though, from the content of the poem itself, it is not clear in what times it was written.

This particular structure, filled enjambements, and ten syllables long verses, it’s not a very regular one, but it creates a very slow and melancholic atmosphere, which portrays the insecurity of the speaker and the distance from his father. The poem was probably written, mainly for a personal purpose, as a relief perhaps. However, it is really relatable, despite its specificity. In fact, the speaker it is the author itself, as it is possible to see from the end of the 12th verse: “ All today remembering the one (…)”, and throughout the first person narration.

This kind of narration enables us to have a more profound look to the emotions connected with the frustrating and almost sad situation, the words and way the speaker conveys the meaning has a stronger impact on the reader, than if it were in third person.

The audience and age ranged

The audience and age ranged which this poem is most directed to, is very broad, from the moment, when a person, as an individual, chooses what to do with his life, and what goals he aims to accomplish, and the doubts that have to be faced. The title of the poem, does not give too much information about the content of the following verses. The first impression is, that it will be about either the unity or the difference between two hands, that each of us posseses, so perhaps, the double faced nature of someone’s personality or the potential of working in harmony with the two hands to create something. Another way that it could be understood, would also two hands, of two lovers that hold each other, about two people, therefore, a poem about love and relationship. The actual meaning of the title of the poem, is quite different, still connected with love, and to a certain extent the last suggestion (of the lovers holding hands) is not completely wrong. The two hands symbolize the difference between a father and a son, which use their hands, or more precisely, their left hand, to do two completely different jobs; one cures people, and the other one writes. The title does not prepare the reader in a very particular way, to set a state of mind or atmosphere, before reading the poem, except for being ready for a potentially occurring duality. The poem, is however quite explicit, already from the first verse, where we immediately understand that it is going to be about the speaker and his father.

The structure of the poem

The structure of the poem is not conventional, and definitely modern. There are rhymes present in the poem, and the end of the verses, however it is not very precise to call it a rhyme pattern. Namely, the pattern for the first half of the poem, could be said to be ABBA, however already after the first sequence, (verses 5-8), there are some intentional fallacies in the scheme. The BB rhymes are not actual rhymes. When the poem is read, they might sound as if they were rhyming, but they actually do not. After that, we find four verses which do not rhyme at all, and following them we see another similar situation, as we had in verses 5-8. Then again, the last for verses at the end do not rhyme, except for two middle verses which do. It is quite a peculiar rhyming patter choice, but it is not casual at all. There are only 4 legitimate rhymes in all of the 20 verses. The first four verses, all rhyming, are the introduction of the poem to the reader, they flow nicely, despite the two enjambments, which slow it down. As no problematic is introduced yet, and we only get to know the character of the father, the speed and rhythm of the verses, are still quite regular and not very complex. As soon as the speaker starts introducing, what we detect as being the problem, the rhymes and rhythm changes completely.

There is no actual rhyming scheme, only two AA rhymes. We detect the tension, and frustration when he says “ I curse tonight at the other end of the house(…) (6-9). Where we identify his issue with self-doubt and insecurity, as well as the role that the image of the two hands has. The following verses, also don’t have regular rhymes, the author wants to achieve an irregular and almost spastic feeling/rhythm, to reflect his disappointment, and lack of fulfillment that he has, due to comparing the purpose of his work to his father’s. Mostly in verses 12-17 we can see the source of his instability: “ I have watched the other save no one, serve no one, (…) you may have your chance to stich a life for fingers that have stitched new life for many.” He feels insecure about what he is doing, as he knows that he could be able to help people as his father has done. In the last 3 verses there is also an interesting use of rhymes. The verses 18 and 19 rhyme, and after reading all of the previous verses which are so irregular, the sudden rhyme really comes out, and hits the reader, who’s attention is suddenly drastically drawn back. The content of the two verses is not so important, that it needs to be highlighted, but it is the position of the verses that matters. The poem has no stanzas, it is made of 20 verses, all very connected, due to the many enjambments, so when the end of the poem is almost reached, as in a music composition, the last verses, are slowed down, to draw attention to the them, to conclude the reading of the poem more slowly, and paying more attention to the last verse. The effect is achieved even more with end stops at each of the last 3 verses.

As stated earlier, the almost every line has an enjambment, it is a very simple, yet effective device, which, in this case, is used for different purposes. One is to make the rhythm a bit less regular, and to slow it down a bit, making it more calmer, despite the opposite feelings in the speaker’s mind. Another purpose, more relevant for this specific poem, is to reflect a stream of consciousness that the speaker is experiencing. The poem is extremely personal, and the theme is very important to the author, he is describing something that is really troubling and it is probably taking over big part of his thoughts, hence comes the importance to convey these genuine thoughts to the poem, as directly as possible. Yet another purpose of this device, is that, would the speaker use end stops, instead of enjambments, the rhythm would be slowed down, but it would give the reader the impression of clarity, organization, as if he had everything under control, which is a completely misguided impression.

Consonance which almost always present

Throughout the whole poem, there is a consonance which almost always present, namely, the sound “s”. This aural imagery, reflects the slightly bitter emotion that the author is sensing, due his feeling of inferiority. Also, as the poem is occurring in the evening, and this consonance makes the tone of the poem to be more silent and delicate, and it makes the whole description sound like a secret that the author is hiding from his father, or himself. Concentration on the mood and tone of the poem, it is possible to say, that the mood, is mostly that of frustration and also a bit of sadness. Both of them, as stated previously are achieved through the structure, as well, of course through content. The tone, is quite melancholic, suffocating, however not too heavy. It seems like the speaker is really influenced by his insecurity, and at this moment, he is at a point, where he can either go crazy from his increasing preoccupation and feeling of inferiority or he can decide not to give it too much importance.

There are also some caesuras that occur in the poem; “ hands so alike-spade palms(…)”(verse 11). They are also important to the setting of the rhythm, they also break and give a sense of restlessness, as well as their role of helping the speaker to convey the meaning in a more efficient way, as in the example given. Instead of inserting useless words as “ like” or “they are”, a caesura is in this case more appropriate.

We can also identify an onomatopoeia, in verse 5: “ (…) The phone sobbed itself to sleep”. “sobbed”, acts as one. I find it not to be very efficient or indispensable to the verse, as if we were to substitute it with “crying”, the effect would not be much different. However, it does give us a greater sense of anxiety, which enriches the whole, and increases the value of the future verses.

There are also several repetitions and alliterations used ( verse 2 and 16), they are also of minor importance, but they emphasize the meaning and change, for an instant, the rhythm of the poem, for the same purposes listed above.

Lastly there is also a rhetoric question in verse 12, this does not have a role in connecting the author the audience, as often rhetoric questions are for, but it is another device that serves to portray how involved the speaker is, with his problem, and again creating the sensation that we are following his train of thoughts.

The diction used by Stallworthy is quite simple, there is only one example of jargon, verse 17, when he mentions a notorious medical journal. Despite that, the language is not too complex, which is coherent with the essence of the poem itself. It is the representation of the speaker’s thoughts, and the feelings that he is experienced, are all simple and common ones. Therefore, the simple language used in a skillful manner, really do embody that.

There is also quite some imagery, which richens the piece of writing, involving visual and organic sensations, as well as the already described, auditory imagery.

There are some personifications, which do not appear very explicitly. One of them is in verse 19: “ a spasm shakes the phone at his elbow”. Spasm is used to describe the movement of the phone, but this adjective is most appropriately used when describing people, hence, it could be seen as a personification. In this case, it is used to create a more vivid image, a stronger one, which is closer to our understanding. Examples of metaphors, which really add poetry and romanticism to the description are “ (…) led a scalpel an intricate dance” (verse 4-5), “the phone sobbed itself to sleep” (verse 5), “dance with his pencil” (verse 14-15), “down the Lancet margin” (verse 17,18). Except for adding value to the poem, these metaphors also enable the images to become something of more empirical.


The poem, at a first glance is seemingly quite superficial, we recognize the problem, but we do not grasp the full effect that it can give us, after reading it carefully. Despite its simplicity, due to its very rich and interesting structure, and figurative language, it really provokes strong feelings. This can be noticed the most in the last part, specifically, in the last verse, when, after the slowing of the rhythm, and the preparation for the end, there is a change is dynamic. During the whole poem, it seems as if the author was mesmerized by his thoughts, and everything around him was still, and the environment disturbed by no external influence. In verse, 19 however, this changes, the phone rings, and we are shook by it, so is he, the train of thoughts stops for a moment, and then he concludes the poem by saying “ he will be our again”. With this he means, that the father is going out, he has to fulfill his duty of being a doctor. This last, seemingly simple statement, however, leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling. We can sense an increasing sense of increasing preoccupation, anxiety, but also release of tension that occurs in the speaker’s mind, due to the father leaving to go to the hospital. He knows that being alone in the house, knowing that his father is saving lives, will provoke even more frustration and restlessness in him, but at the same time, he feels relieved from his father’s oppressing presence. These subtle but very present emotions, that the poem incites, are what makes this piece of work, a good poem.

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