Peter Meinke, who identifies himself as a “neighborhood poet” rather than a “Southern” or “country” poet, tends to characterize his work on a personal basis. He insists that his practice explores human everyday lives, families, and discusses questions that young and old alike are likely to pose. Born in New York, the poet served in the army as a young man in Germany, where he continued his studies. His work is well-known in America, and he is the recipient of several honors, as well as the St. Petersburg laureate. His wife, Jeanne Meinke has been a supporter of his works as his illustrator.
In Advice to My Son, the poet can be seen as a father figure in society passing on essential knowledge to the younger generation. In this poem, the dramatic situation revolves around a young man’s journey into the world for the first time. The father, who is the narrator, hopes that his son finds a way, and applies wisdom, over knowledge, to living. He explains the brevity of life, or its length and fulfilling nature that not everyone grows to enjoy albeit which men must prepare for. His life is also the dramatic event as he has come to the realisation of the most important elements of it through which another man may live easily. The father encourages his son to appreciate everything in life after understanding its place. For nectar, he says, has no use where food is available even though it is useful in the desert for survival (Meinke). In this manner, he teaches the son to be appreciative of everything for its intended purpose.
The poet’s tone is a serious one. It is that of an experienced person providing ropes for someone he cares about. However, the tone has a touch of love and concern and a disregard for affliction and over-thinking tendencies (Leech). The poem’s audiences are the poet’s son along with other younger men in society. Nevertheless, it also has takeaways for young ladies in the first lines. The plot of the poem is the words of an elderly father who appreciates how far life has brought him. He hopes that his son also gets to his age and uses the advice he offers. Indeed he says that the days, ‘go fast and young men lose their lives in unimaginable ways’ (Meinke 806). In saying these words, he discourages pride and arrogance that comes with youthfulness and that has led to the demise of many who would never have ended up dead. The poem was published in 1976 in America at a time when the poet lived in St. Petersburg Florida (Leech). Its form is closest to a villanelle as it has a firm introduction, ‘the trick is to live your days as if any of them could be your last’ (Meinke 805). It intensifies with deeper illustrations of comparison between the purpose of nectar in different contexts and how roles change with the same. At one point, nectar is completely pointless as food for the insects when compared to spinach and tomatoes and yet nectar is the only thing that could keep a human being alive where the other food stuff are unavailable.
The rhetoric in this poem is akin to that of the biblical King Solomon, who questioned life’s importance yet chose to live it to the best of his ability. The father makes it clear that there is a trick which is to firstly attempt to be alive in the long term and be grateful if that happens. To him, life is short and requires utilisation to the fullest. Even for the man that lives long, life is meaningless if it is not enjoyed. He encourages wisdom in not only acknowledging that life is bigger than its phases but also to the advantage of each of these phases. To his son, he recommends marriage to a beautiful girl albeit one whose mother he meets and to serve his bread with wine (Meinke). In suggesting so, he implies that life should be appreciated and enjoyed at all times.
Peter Meinke makes use of simple vocabulary in Advise to My Son, it is also very straight to the point and short to maintain relevance to its message. It utilises symbolism giving beauty a comparison to nectar. In this manner, the poet implies that beauty has a role in life even though this part must be matched with a depth for it to sustain a man through his life. To advise the young man to marry a beautiful girl after meeting her mother is also symbolic of what lies beneath the beauty. Furthermore, it encourages him to marry a pretty girl albeit one with some depth to her (Leech). The poet’s words are ordered to begin from a simple yet direct point to the deeper exploration of the same. It is possible that this aspect symbolises life itself through the simplistic appearance of the youthful phase into the more complex ages when life possibly unfolds its mystery to reveal what it is all about and why certain situations happened the way they did. The father’s advice to his son always to serve wine, implies that he should always be jovial and enjoy life.
Meinke, Peter. “Advice to My Son.” Literature Reading Fiction and Poetry. Edited by Robert Diyanni. McGraw-Hill, 2007. 805-806
Leech, Geoffrey N. A linguistic guide to English poetry. Routledge, 2014.