This poem focuses on this ubiquitous ‘weed’ as a means of examining wider issues about parenting and the conflicts involved. For the poem gives testimony to a father’s attempt to punish the nettles that have hurt his small son. This hurt is temporarily assuaged by the father’s very ‘public’ exhibition of a brutal demolition of the nettles after they seem to have vindictively and purposefully stung his son who has little comprehension of what has occurred. Significantly the father is giving his son a ‘spectacle’ to watch which is illustrative of his fatherly love and power. Ironically this power is revealed as short-lived. This ‘war’ declared on the nettles is mirrored in the metaphorical language deployed by the poet to describe the conflict between the human world and the nettles. This use of extended metaphor is suggestive of life’s assembled difficulties and the way in which a parent’s abilities to protect there are severely limited despite their efforts to control the world.
This is a thoughtful, reflective poem in which the poet perhaps draws on his own war experiences in order to describe the more local horror of his son’s suffering. In the poem there is a very strong masculine viewpoint. Presumably the mother is physically comforting the child whilst the more directly ‘active’ father attacks the nettles. The futility of the act does not lessen the affection it reveals. However perhaps the poem is also aware of the differences between male and female actions around suffering. Are males finally more limited or less nurturing in any intimately expressive way according to this poem. the poet’s choice of reaction seems limited in its effects nature and the cycle of life have their own powers of inevitability and indifference.