What is the definition of a great poem? In other words, what makes a poem successful? To my mind, “How to Watch Your Brother Die” is a great example of a successful poem. In this poem, Michael Lassell tells a touchy story about how the death of a homosexual brother has influenced the main hero’s attitude to him, to his brother’s male lover and even to the life in general. The poem is not very long, it consists of approximately hundred lines, but it evokes rich emotions, has vivid characters and interesting plot. Different language details and strategies, especially the indirect descriptions, allusions used by the author make this poem admirable, touching and quite successful among the vast majority of the readers.
Firstly, the reader pays attention to the form of writing. Lassell addresses the reader using the pronoun “you” almost in every sentence. The structure of the poem and its sentences make one feel as if being a friend of the man, who tells a story. This man gives advice about what to do and how to behave on the example of own sad story. Therefore, the poem makes the reader feel close to the main hero and feel the similar emotions very successfully.
At the beginning of this poem, Lassell used some details instead of general advice not to be nervous in difficult situations. He tells the reader to be calm and not to panic “when the call comes” (Lassell, 1969). In such way, Lassell indirectly makes the readers understand that something unpleasant or bad will happen. From this very first sentence, the author makes the reader not only worry about what will happen further, but feel him/herself a participant of the events. The author used foreshadowing to start the poem with this sentence. When the readers read this first line, they start wondering what has happened as it is widely known by each person nowadays that there are situations when the phone call can be very important, and one waits impatiently for it if suspects that there is some bad news. Using such details, which are common for the people’s everyday life, the author makes the reader feel closer to the main hero. Lassell just went straight to the heart of the matter. Namely, he started to tell the story from the first line. This kind of foreshadowing makes the poem “How to Watch Your Brother Die” very attractive for the reader.
After the first line, Lassell kept representing the events in a very vivid way. He tells the reader “not to be shocked” and he compares the brother to a cadaver (Lassell, 1969). In such way, he creates a vivid image of all depressiveness of the situation. Lassell used figurative language in order to describe the dying brother as a dead body. To my mind, this figure of speech is quite creepy. Nevertheless, it is very appropriate because the brother is dying. This allusion creates the visual representation of what the hero sees and helps to feel the state of the hero. Though the reader knows that the brother is still alive, the sentence tells indirectly that he will definitely die in a while or even very soon. In addition, this is a short sentence that starts with a verb. Imperative sentences always make readers feel more about the plots and emotions of the poems.
Lassell focused his attention on the description of the eyes and represented them very well. Everyone knows that the eyes of a person are the mirror of the soul. The description of how the eyes of the brother’s lover see the eyes of his beloved man “as they stare into space” describes the closeness of the two male souls and becomes a proof of their mutual deep affection (Lassell, 1969). In order to describe the eye contact between the dying brother and his male lover, the author also used figurative language, which depicted their expression in the eyes as staring into space. This scene in the poem is very important and very strong. Lassell used figurative language to express the deep love between those two gay men. Furthermore, Lassell has created the deeply emotional atmosphere through this sentence. It makes the readers feel sad and pitiful because it is widely known that space is very empty. This is an allusion that tells how lonely his lover will be after the brother’s death.
Lassell has perfectly described not only the main heroes, but also some other characters. The doctor, to whom they listen, has “a steel face on” (Lassell, 1969). Just like in the sentences above, the author also used figurative language here. He described the doctor’s face with the word “steel”. It is a very interesting description, because Lassel did not describe directly how sick the dying brother was. He described his condition through the doctor’s serious face. Of course, the word “steel” is better than the word “serious”. Therefore, the indirect description used by Lassell is quite effective.
The quoting of the conversation between the characters makes this poem strongly emotional. The phrase of the lover, in which he stated that he never felt “good enough looking to deserve your brother” expresses his deep feeling towards his beloved man and makes not only the main hero, but also the reader feel sympathy for this character (Lassell, 1969). When the dying brother’s male lover heard the compliment about his good looking, he said that the brother deserved better guys. However, the author let the reader understand this love indirectly. He makes the readers analyze the replicas of the hero to comprehend that this male lover loved the brother very much. It does not matter if the male lover really thought that he did not deserve the brother. The point is his deep love to him. Readers can feel strong emotion here by this sentence.
Lassell described many actions of the characters. “Say nothing”, “take his hand like a brother’s” were the things that the main hero did during the scene when comforting the male lover of his brother (Lassell, 1969). They talked heart to heart, the lover even has kissed him goodbye. The main hero has even offered to call him in case the brother’s lover will need anything. Although the sentence starts with the phrase “say nothing” it makes the readers feel the sadness in silence. The further actions show that the two males have become close to each other. There is also an allusion in the phrase “like brother’s” (Lassell, 1969). This simile suggests that the relations between the brothers are the symbol of forgiveness and tolerance. The fact that no man has kissed the author since his father died makes the reader understand the kiss as the symbol of warm relations, which have appeared after the sad event (Lassell, 1969).
The author has shown his own opinion in this poem. The phrase “Forgive him out loud” suggests people to accept the non-traditional sexual orientation of the dying brother at least in the end of his life. Whether one agrees with the forgiveness or not, it is impossible to stay indifferent to this short sentence. The choice of the word “loud” plays an important role here. Whether it makes one feel sad, angry, disappointed or inspired, anyway, the point of view is clear and “loud”. Lassel wrote his own opinion, which makes the readers to think and reflect. Maybe some readers do not agree with the idea that it is necessary to forgive and accept the dying brother as he is, but, to my mind, they will still understand it later after having read this poem till the end. This sentence brings peace and helps to understand that it is important to remember about love and forgiveness all the time, not only when the close person dies.
In a word, Michael Lassell used a lot of wonderful textual strategies and great sentence structures. He focused on details in the language, and he also focused on describing the scenes about actions and emotions. As it is noticed in the title, the great details make this poem very successful. All these great details help the author to express the importance of forgiveness and tolerance for gay lovers. The author proves that critical judgment of the relations can make one suffer. It is important to understand the close people earlier than losing them; otherwise, it can be painful to bear the burden of guilt. The deep love between people without any prejudice exists. Their eyes, their words and behavior show it. The indirect description of the events, which brings the readers to the reflections, shows the sadness of the story and effectively touches the readers and their emotions.