Michael Ondaatje, “Letters & Other Worlds”

  1. The title of this poem establishes its theme: the essential separation between the two worlds that the narrator’s father lived in – the world of his writings and the world of his unhappy daily life. (The word “letters” here is probably used to mean written materials.) What kind of world was the world of his writings?
  2. Ondaatje says that the father “hid that he had been where we were going.” What do you think he means by this? What was the relationship between father and son?
  3. “His early life was a terrifying comedy.” To whom was it terrifying? Himself? His wife? His family? To whom was it a comedy?
  4. What characteristic is suggested by the metaphor “He would rush into tunnels magnetized/by the white eye of trains”?
  5. What was the father’s occupation? Ondaatje suggests two incidents that were instrumental in bringing about Home Rule in Ceylon. How serious is he?
  6. What is the narrator’s attitude to his father. Does he condemn him? Is he sympathetic? Analytical?
  7. Can you explain what it was in the character and mentality of the father that led to his tragic life and death?