Poems about Fathers (and Sons)

Today, the Academy of American Poets distributed the e. e. cummings poem “my father moved through dooms of love” as its poem-a-day daily e-mail.

Here are the opening stanzas of this poem, which becomes more comprehensible, I think, as we ourselves age, as our fathers pass away, and as they are available to us only through the prisms of our own remembering:


my father moved through dooms of love

through sames of am through haves of give,

singing each morning out of each night

my father moved through depths of height


this motionless forgetful where

turned at his glance to shining here;

that if (so timid air is firm)

under his eyes would stir and squirm


newly as from unburied which

floats the first who, his april touch

drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates

woke dreamers to their ghostly roots


and should some why completely weep

my father’s fingers brought her sleep:

vainly no smallest voice might cry

for he could feel the mountains grow.


The rest of cummings’ poem can be found at: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/my-father-moved-through-dooms-love.


As much as I like cummings’ poem, my favorite poem about a son’s recollections of his father is Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz.” It is Roethke’s recollection of his father’s coming home inebriated and dancing him around the kitchen.

Here are the first two stanzas:


The whiskey on your breath

Could make a small boy dizzy;

But I hung on like death:

Such waltzing was not easy.


We romped until the pans

Slid from the kitchen shelf;

My mother’s countenance

Could not unfrown itself.


The rest of the poem is available at the website of the Poetry Foundation: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172103.

In addition, an audio recording of the poem is available at the Academy of American Poets site: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/my-papas-waltz-audio-only.


A more haunting poem about his relationship with his father is Roethke’s “The Lost Son,” the title poem of the 1948 collection that brought Roethke’s work to national attention.

Here are the opening stanzas of the first section of the poem, titled “The Flight”:


At Woodlawn I heard the dead cry:
I was lulled by the slamming of iron,
A slow drip over stones,
Toads brooding wells.
All the leaves stuck out their tongues;
I shook the softening chalk of my bones,
Snail, snail, glister me forward,
Bird, soft-sigh me home,
Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time.

Fished in an old wound,
The soft pond of repose;
Nothing nibbled my line,
Not even the minnows came.

Sat in an empty house
Watching shadows crawl,
There was one fly.

Voice, come out of the silence.
Say something.

Appear in the form of a spider
Or a moth beating the curtain.

Tell me:
Which is the way I take;
Out of what door do I go,
Where and to whom?

Dark hollows said, lee to the wind,
The moon said, back of an eel,
The salt said, look by the sea,
Your tears are not enough praise,
You will find no comfort here,
In the kingdom of bang and blab.


The complete poem is available online at: http://www.lorenwebster.net/In_a_Dark_Time/2003/12/03/roethkes-the-lost-son/.

In addition to the Wikipedia article on Roethke, there is a good, concise, critical biography available at the website of the Poetry Foundation: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/theodore-roethke.



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