Prayers for Canadian Daughters: Gender Specificity and the Parental Advice Poem

  • Lorraine York McMaster Univeresity


There are a number of recent Canadian poems which offer advice to daughters, and all of them revise the best-known twentieth-century example of this sub-genre: William Butler Yeats's "Prayer for My Daughter" (1921). Most of these are by women poets such as Margaret Atwood, Mary di Michele, and Jan Conn, who write Yeats by turning his patriarchal advice upside-down; their strategy is one of contradiction and correction. The case of Michael Ondaatje's "To a Sad Daughter" complicates this dynamic of corrective challenge, however, since, as a male poet whose subject position is inevitably gendered "male," Ondaatje must struggle with the Yeatsian authority within himself before he can proceed to revise his poetic Father. In this paper, then, the author suggests that the process of revising the advice poem is subtly informed by the gender of the poetic revisor.
Original Research