Here are the first two stanzas of the poem “Father to Son” by Elizabeth Jennings.

I do not understand this child
Though we have lived together now
In the same house for years. I know
Nothing of him, so try to build
Up a relationship from how
He was when small. Yet have I killed

The seed I spent or sown it where
The land is his and none of mine?

We speak like strangers, there's no sign
Of understanding in the air.
This child is built to my design
Yet what he loves I cannot share.

Can someone please explain me the part highlighted in bold, that is, the last line in the first stanza and the first two lines in the second stanza?

1 Answer 1


The lines in bold are a metaphor in which the speaker compares himself to a farmer who has sown seed but failed to reap a harvest. He asks himself whether this is because he killed the plants, or because he sowed them on land belong to his son, who has given him no share of the harvest. “Spend” has multiple meanings that could be appropriate in this context: to give away; to expend or employ; to use up or exhaust; to suffer the loss of; to waste or squander.

We can interpret the seed and harvest in this metaphor in several ways that are consistent with the surrounding lines: perhaps the father has tried to instil his values in his son, who has rebelled; or the father has tried to pass on his knowledge, skills, career, hobbies, etc. to his son, who has taken up other vocations and enthusiasms; or the father has tried to love his son, who has not reciprocated.

The use of “seed” in the metaphor was probably suggested by the sense of the word meaning “offspring, progeny”.

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