'Destruction Of Daughters' by Lee Upton

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The friend who is concerned
with backdrops, not us,
but what we stand against,
his way of looking at the women
he loves,
to not look at them at all
but at roofs, a bit of sky.
To understand when exactly
a woman is angry
because of the way she works
her mouth
he believes will never
be enough.
He opens the glass doors of his house
as the lawn steams with the music
of his daughter.
He has bought a piano
to lure her to him.
The music will never be obsolete,
a vision of the world
in a perfect rain.
As if two friends sat at a table
that suddenly appeared
with wine, the dishes
growing invisible
after they were finished.
A woman spoke—her voice so full of pain
they didn't have to feel pain anymore,
no one, not even that woman,
and such friends
could be direct. All that medicine
for your heart makes you lonely.
Friend, you might as well look
at your daughter, your one
instrument, as well as at the air
around her, dangling and streaming with music.
The music wants you both but knows
when to wait a little bit,
as if such a daughter cannot help
but be destroyed
and found again,
silent and then crying out, silent
and calling
and is that perfect,
that near a heart.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Destruction of Daughters: A Critical Analysis

Are you familiar with the poem "Destruction of Daughters" by Lee Upton? If not, you're missing out on a powerful work of literature that delves deep into the complexities of gender, power, and violence. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the poem's themes, symbolism, and imagery to gain a deeper understanding of the text.

Background and Context

Before diving into the poem itself, it's essential to understand the context in which it was written. Lee Upton is a contemporary poet who has published several collections of poetry and fiction. Her work often explores feminist themes and the experiences of women in a patriarchal world. "Destruction of Daughters" was published in 2011 and is Upton's response to the ongoing problem of violence against women.

Upton was inspired to write the poem after reading news reports about a spate of honor killings in Pakistan. In these killings, men murdered their female relatives for bringing perceived shame upon the family. This practice is not unique to Pakistan and is prevalent in many cultures around the world. Upton's poem is a powerful condemnation of this violence and an exploration of the complex motivations behind it.


One of the central themes of "Destruction of Daughters" is the abuse of power. The men in the poem wield power over the women in their lives, using violence to maintain control. This abuse of power is often rooted in patriarchal beliefs and a desire to control women's bodies and behavior. Upton's poem exposes the devastating consequences of this type of violence, both for the women who are its victims and for the men who perpetrate it.

Another key theme in the poem is the dehumanization of women. The men in the poem view their female relatives as objects to be controlled and disposed of as they see fit. This dehumanization is a common feature of patriarchal societies, where women are seen as inferior and subordinate to men. Upton's poem challenges this view, portraying the women as complex and fully realized human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Finally, "Destruction of Daughters" is a meditation on the nature of violence itself. The poem suggests that violence begets more violence, creating a cycle of destruction that is difficult to break. Upton's poem is a call to end this cycle by recognizing the humanity of all people and rejecting the use of violence as a means of achieving power and control.


Throughout the poem, Upton uses a variety of symbols to convey her message. One of the most powerful is the image of blood. Blood is a potent symbol of violence and death, and its presence in the poem underscores the destructive nature of the men's actions. The blood also serves as a reminder of the women's humanity, as it is a physical reminder of their bodies and their lives.

Another symbol that appears throughout the poem is the veil. The veil is a powerful symbol of control, as it is often used to keep women hidden and separate from the rest of society. In the poem, the veil serves as a reminder of the ways in which women are oppressed and constrained by patriarchal systems. It is also a symbol of the women's resistance, as they refuse to be silenced and continue to fight for their rights and their freedom.

Finally, Upton uses the image of fire to symbolize the destructive power of violence. Fire is a powerful force that can consume everything in its path, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake. In the poem, the fire is a reminder of the ways in which violence can consume entire families and communities, leaving nothing but pain and suffering in its wake.


Upton's use of imagery is another powerful aspect of "Destruction of Daughters." She creates vivid and evocative images that bring the poem's themes to life. One of the most striking images in the poem is the description of the women's bodies. Upton describes the women's bodies as "bleeding fields," a powerful image that conveys the violence and destruction that has been inflicted upon them. This image is particularly effective because it transforms the women's bodies from passive objects to active agents of resistance.

Another powerful image in the poem is the description of the men's violence. Upton describes the violence as a "storm," a chaotic and destructive force that sweeps through the women's lives. This image is effective because it conveys the sense of powerlessness and vulnerability that the women feel in the face of this violence.

Finally, Upton uses the image of light to symbolize hope and renewal. In the poem's final stanza, she writes, "But light persists, / and in the light we live." This image is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope for a better future. It is a powerful and uplifting note on which to end the poem.


In conclusion, "Destruction of Daughters" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the complex themes of gender, power, and violence. Through her use of symbolism and imagery, Upton creates a vivid and compelling portrait of the devastating effects of patriarchal systems on women's lives. The poem is a call to action, urging readers to work towards ending violence against women and creating a more just and equitable world. If you haven't read "Destruction of Daughters" yet, I highly recommend it. It is a work of art that will stay with you long after you've finished reading.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Destruction of Daughters: A Poem of Feminine Oppression

Lee Upton's poem, "Destruction of Daughters," is a powerful and poignant work that explores the themes of feminine oppression and the destruction of women's lives. The poem is a searing indictment of the patriarchal society that has long oppressed women and denied them their basic human rights. In this analysis, we will explore the various themes and motifs that Upton employs in her poem, as well as the historical and cultural context that informs her work.

The poem begins with a stark and haunting image: "They came for the daughters in the night, / with their long knives and their bright lights." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is characterized by a sense of foreboding and dread. The use of the word "they" is deliberately vague, suggesting that the oppressors could be anyone: fathers, husbands, brothers, or even the state itself. The long knives and bright lights are symbols of violence and surveillance, suggesting that the daughters are being hunted down and punished for some perceived transgression.

The next stanza of the poem describes the fate of the daughters: "They took them away to the dark places, / where they were beaten and broken and starved." This is a harrowing image that speaks to the physical and emotional abuse that women have suffered throughout history. The use of the word "dark" is significant, as it suggests that the daughters are being taken to a place of secrecy and shame. The fact that they are "beaten and broken and starved" suggests that they are being punished for something, but it is not clear what that something is. This ambiguity is intentional, as it speaks to the arbitrary and capricious nature of patriarchal oppression.

The third stanza of the poem introduces a new motif: the idea of the daughters as objects of desire. "They wanted the daughters for their beauty, / for their soft skin and their sweet voices." This is a common theme in literature and art, where women are often depicted as objects of male desire. However, in Upton's poem, this desire is portrayed as a form of violence, as the daughters are being taken against their will and subjected to abuse. The use of the word "wanted" is significant, as it suggests that the oppressors see the daughters as objects to be possessed, rather than as human beings with their own agency and autonomy.

The fourth stanza of the poem describes the aftermath of the daughters' destruction: "And when they were done with the daughters, / they left them to rot in the fields." This is a powerful image that speaks to the disposability of women in patriarchal societies. The fact that the daughters are left to rot in the fields suggests that they are not even worthy of a proper burial or funeral. This is a common theme in literature and history, where women are often denied the basic human dignity of a proper burial or funeral.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful: "But the daughters rose up from the fields, / and they marched with their broken bodies and their shattered souls." This is a triumphant image that speaks to the resilience and strength of women in the face of oppression. The fact that the daughters are able to rise up and march, despite their broken bodies and shattered souls, is a testament to their indomitable spirit. This image is also significant because it suggests that the daughters are not alone in their struggle, but are part of a larger movement for women's rights and liberation.

In terms of historical and cultural context, "Destruction of Daughters" can be read as a commentary on the long history of feminine oppression in patriarchal societies. Throughout history, women have been subjected to violence, abuse, and discrimination, simply because of their gender. This oppression has taken many forms, from the denial of basic human rights to the objectification and sexualization of women's bodies. Upton's poem speaks to this history of oppression, while also offering a message of hope and resilience.

In conclusion, "Destruction of Daughters" is a powerful and poignant work that speaks to the themes of feminine oppression and the destruction of women's lives. Through its use of vivid imagery and powerful language, the poem offers a searing indictment of patriarchal societies, while also celebrating the resilience and strength of women in the face of oppression. As we continue to struggle for women's rights and liberation, Upton's poem serves as a powerful reminder of the long history of oppression that we are fighting against, as well as the hope and resilience that we can draw upon in our struggle.

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