Reflecting On Heredity
You Can't Escape It
I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance -- that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die
The poem Heredity by the English poet Thomas Hardy can be read in two different, yet similar lights. If you read the poem in one way, you are made to assume that the poet has a deep love of his heritage. Yet, if you read it a different way, you could easily believe he longs to distance himself from the people he was raised with. Let’s look more closely.
I’ve have always read the first line “I am the family face” as the speaker calling himself “the family face.” It occurs to me though that someone could read it as the actual face speaking. Regardless, this face isn’t going anywhere. While the actual face will one day decay, the traits will live on in the younger generation of his family, “Projecting trait and trace Through time to times anon.” There is no end to this face. It is “The eternal thing in man, That heeds no call to die.”
For someone who has never struggled to accept the actions of either side of their family, this poem fills them with pride and comfort. They know that one day they will die just like their grandparents and others of the older generation have. However, when they look in the mirror, they can see their grandfather’s cheek bones. The way their lips form words is very similar to the way their recently deceased aunt did. If they take the time to really look at their face, they will see their entire family looking back at them. When they look at their child, they see many of the same traits. This is all very reassuring to them. Were they to die today, they would pass on peacefully knowing that they would never truly be lost.
On the other hand, for someone who is unable to see the good in one side of their family, possessing such a face is very damaging. They hate it when people compare them to someone from the “bad side.” Though they love their parent, they even become defensive when someone notes similar characteristics to them. Were it possible, they’d remove all of the traits that are common to that side and replace them with all of the other parent’s traits. Yet, even with plastic surgery, those traits never truly disappear. Their child, innocent as he or she would be, would only come out looking like them. There is no way to escape the family face.
We are raised to have pride in our family. When we are deemed old enough to learn the secrets (no matter how dark or silly they may be) each side has been keeping from young ears, our world turns upside down. Believing your whole life that things were one way when they were really another causes you to question what else the world has been keeping from you. I believe this is the point when we all grow up and start making decisions for ourselves. You know that when you have children you may pass on the genetic makeup of the “family face,” but you promise yourself that you won’t pass on the “family face” of misinformation, doubt and the rest of the evils. Yet, like in the case of your parents, the “family face” carries on. You just can’t runaway from that thing.
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