The Hermit Poet

June 21, 2009

The Figure of the Father

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:22 am

If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that my father shows up in a number of poems and the book moves from an exploration of exile and home into something of an elegy for my father and others who have passed on.  I think the figure of the father is an important one to many of us.  Many of my favorite poems revolve around the father.  The father as foil.  As counterpart.  As template.  As warning.  As authority.  As loss.  Fathers are often fixed points, what we measure ourselves against, the poles to which we find ourselves tethered to and which we strain to break free.  Sometimes the father is an anchor.  Sometimes the father is a mirage.  A ghost.  A myth we tell ourselves.  The father is many things at once.  For me, often my father was home.

Here’s the last poem from my book, The Lost Country of Sight:

I Dream My Father on the Shore

What I am learning to give you is my death.
– Wendell Berry

Outside, beneath the light of late October’s candled sky
the weave of ash and maple burns.  We stand silent on the graveled shore.
My father lifts his father’s ashes from its urn, a strangely heavy thing ,
he seems to say, his arms swaying , then casting out into the long dark
as if to throw a line, while we wait for some sound, a wave,
whatever marks the distance between a father and a son.

And when night comes, it comes without a tread, without a word.
The stars, flickering in their endless retreat, more distant and sure
than before, do nothing while the shadows continue to fill the trees
with their cast-off clothes.  The harvest is long past, the apples
have fallen to the orchard floors.  Even my father turning to go
is almost lost to the reeds already in his path, his figure no more
than a pattern of light — a memory of a road that winds
through the darkness to our waiting ride home.

My favorite father poems include:

  • “My Father With Cigarette Twelve Years Before the Nazis Could Break His Heart” – Philip Levine
  • “His Father, Singing” – Leslie Norris
  • more to come as I think of them

What are your favorite poems about fathers?

5 Responses to “The Figure of the Father”

  1. lek borja Says:

    Hello Neil!

    Please join us in keeping poetry more alive than ever before, and contribute to our site, ..Thank you!

    -Lek Borja

  2. Brian Keaney Says:

    Digging by Seamus Heaney

  3. Keith S. Wilson Says:

    Especially recently, a very large portion of my poetry has dealt with my father.

    That said, one of my favorite father poems is Hanging Albatros, by Frank X. Walker.

  4. Liza McAlister Williams Says:

    There is the lovely Raymond Carver poem “Photograph of my Father in his Twenty-first Year.” And e.e.cummings’ “My Father Moved Through Dooms of Love.” And a D.H. Lawrence poem I can’t quite put my finger on.
    Here is a list of great father poems from the second edition of “Literature: A Pocket Anthology” (Penguin Academics) edited by R.S. Gwynn:
    Seamus Heaney “Digging” (mentioned above)
    Theodore Roethke “My Papa’s Waltz”
    Dylan Thomas “Do Not Go Gentle…”
    Robert Hayden “Those Winter Sundays”
    Louis Simpson “My Father in the Night Commanding No”
    Marianne Moore “Silence”
    Sylvia Plath “Daddy”
    Morri Creech “Broken Glass”
    Mark Jarman “After Disappointment”
    B.H.Fairchild “Body and Soul”
    Vassar Miller “Subterfuge” (about a father-daughter relationship). More poems about fathers and daughters in the anthology:
    Wm. Wordsworth “It Is a Beauteous Evening”
    Weldon Kees “For My Daughter”
    Dabney Stuart “Discovering My Daughter”

  5. Justin Says:

    Off the top of my head, I do not have a favorite father poem, but my favorite mother poem is “From Childhood” by Rilke.

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