Octave

The octave begins the address to Russell. The speaker says that he had been on the mezzo del cammin. This is taken from Dante’s Inferno, a poem that charts Dante’s journey through Hell. It translates as halfway along the path (of life) which implies that Paterson is reflecting on his middle age. The next line continues this idea and states that the true path was lost to the poet, suggesting that he did not have a purpose in life until the birth of his son.

Paterson describes how his son metaphorically cut in front of him on his journey, conveying Russell’s sudden appearance in his life as well as implying how the father’s priority has shifted as his son takes centre stage. Russell lit the poet’s road ahead as he ran, revealing to him the way forward. The fact he is running also reminds us of the boy’s youth and energy that revives the middle-aged poet. The repeated t sound in the ninth line also creates a sense of the abruptness of the child’s arrival, which gives the poet the definite direction previously lost to him.

The final quatrain returns to Russell’s smile. The poet refers to it as the true gift which paradoxically never leaves the giver – it is a genuine power the boy will always have. The use of the alliteration of r in the following line evokes motion, as if the smile is indeed rolling on to the next line that culminates in the simile: the smile poured through us like a river. A river is life-giving and pure, which is a fitting image to describe Russell’s smile that will never cease. The expression poured through us implies that Russell’s smile flows through the recipient, filling them with joy until they too experience the wealth of happiness. It is therefore viewed as being selfless and innocent.

The final lines of the poem celebrate the speaker’s newfound delight and his awakening in a world with such love and purpose: How fine, I thought, this waking amongst men! The exclamation gives a sense of a climactic moment. He now wants to share his joy with us, the reader. He refers to himself and his son as men as if through Russell’s presence he has been elevated to a greater, more worthy status. The poem ends with the shared smile uniting in a kiss and in so doing the poet pledged himself forever to his son. The word pledged indicates strong commitment, as if Paterson is promising to be a good father. This neatly ends the poem on a note of optimism.