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Posted on June 15th, 2012, by

Reading the poem Running on Empty, written by one of the most outstanding contemporary poets Robert Phillips, I can hardly convey all that powerful and strong effect that it produces on the reader. There is no doubt that the author of this poem must be really gifted person because despite the fact that the problem he raises in his work has been well known for poets and writers since ancient ages, it is still quite important and, to some extend, unsolved.

Frankly speaking, I doubt very much that it would have ever been solved because problems of fathers and sons, parents and children, the problem of generation gaps are eternal and common for different countries, different peoples and different ages.

Thus, it’s evident that Robert Phillips managed to look at a very old problem from modern viewpoint. Reading Running on Empty and recalling classical writers of previous ages and epochs I see that they were all concerned on one and the same problem and the recited words of W. Shakespeare can easily prove my opinion.

I am sure that the father of the boy who is the main character of the R. Phillip’s poem should be really wise in order not to lose his own son.

But, analyzing the poem, it occurred to my mind that the father is not wise enough because his son seems to be left alone without his father’s support and understanding. The poem Running on Empty is a sad story of a young personality who makes his first steps in life, who tests himself, his forces and abilities, being left alone without parental care and love. As for the stylistical characterization of the poem I can say that this work is a wonderful example of the blank verse so popular in English since Middle Ages and Renaissance. The poem is very rich on different stylistic devices and artistic details, such as metaphors, simile, characterization as well as it has a lot of symbolic details. As for the structure of the poem I would divide it into six principal sections that will be described in details in the following parts of my work.

First of all, the poem Running on Empty begins with the lines which introduce the family situation and relations between the father and the son. We can see that the boy tends to move somewhere in his father’s Chevrolet cross-country and that they definitely have some problems. It became quite clear from the following words: given me reluctantly. It means that the father has doubts about his son. Moreover, the father treats his son very rudely, he doesn’t talk to him as to equal by saying: Always keep the tank half full, boy, half full, ya hear? The tone the father saying these words, demonstrates that he gives orders, he commands his son. In general, it is quite symbolic that the tank is half full. It means that the character wants to experience freedom but the experience is limited.

Naturally, the child tries to express his protest to the father’s tyrant and he acts as he wants despite the father’s restrictions and it is a very symbolic moment because here the son emphasizes his desire to be a personality who loves and needs parental help, understanding and advices but not cold attitude and indifference. He doesn’t want to obey and he rebels. He takes the car and drives cross-country and here we see the fuel gauge dipping, dipping toward Empty. I am sure that the author deliberately uses the capitalization in order to underline the emptiness not only of the tank but of the child’s soul and the desperate situation in which the teenager finds himself.

In the next section the author through the metaphor describes the internal world of the boy’s feelings and emotions.

He is overwhelmed with emotions which are compared to the earth rolling surface. The boy drives mile after mile, faster and faster that shows to the reader how much the character needs speed, thrilling feelings. That is why we can definitely say that he is tired of his everyday life and its routine. He wants to risk, may be he wants to try himself in tough circumstances and to achieve this aim he is ready to break all laws: laws of nature (against all laws, defying chemistry) and laws of traditional family life.

I am impressed by R. Phillip’s deep understanding of human’s psychology and inner world of a person. It is especially noteworthy because it is so difficult to understand the teenager’s soul.

Finally, returning to the analysis of the poem I want to speak about the last two lines. In all probability, it is the most important and eloquent lines of this work because in such short phrases the author conveyed so much information that not everybody could express in the whole book’s chapter. No doubt it is the key moment of the poem. We see that the final is ambiguous: At dawn the car and I both refilled. But, Father, I am running on empty still.

So, on the one hand, the teenager is refilled and, on the other hand, he is running on empty still. I think that here we have a situation when the poem’s ending is not clear and it produces a very special effect on the reader because we can only presuppose what will happen after that. But what I can say for sure it is the fact that these lines look like the last cry for help, the last attempt to make it possible to rejoin and make closer the father and the son. The boy hopes that father will understand him, that he loves him and will care about him. And despite the lack of clear denouement I think that the finish is perfect, especially due to the language and stylistic devices used here. For example, the author compares the boy to the car, they are both refilled. So, I believe that such ending gives ground for expectations about the future of relations between the father and the son.

I can’t finish my analysis without adding a few more words about the language of the poem that is also great and expressive. The author uses metaphors (the boy and the car), simile (the wind and the Furies), epithets (white night), and others.

Taking into account all above mentioned, I can say that Running on Empty by Robert Phillips is a real masterpiece of the modern poetry that deals with very serious and everlasting problems of fathers and sons. It is also important because nowadays in our society there are so many people who feel like that boy abandoned and who need love and support. Our life is so stressful that not everybody could bear all difficulties and problems that occur to us.

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