Rob Piazza earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University. He teaches literature and composition at colleges and universities throughout New England. His poems have appeared in Mystic Blue Review, Halcyon Days, Society of Classical Poets, Haiku Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Founder's Favourites, The Lyric, October Hill Magazine, Neologism Poetry Journal, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and Young Ravens Literary Review.
He serves as Poet Laureate of Litchfield, Connecticut.
You can find more information about Rob by visiting his Poets & Writers page.
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
The poem I chose for this project is called "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" by William Butler Yeats, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
It speaks to the moment the world's going through right now with the war in Ukraine. Of course, Yeats wrote this poem during World War 1 in reference to the death of the son of Lady Gregory, with whom Yeats founded the Irish Theatre. Yeats published this poem almost exactly 100 years ago, yet it speaks to our time today.
Father's Day Recommendations
Father's Day Poem Recommendations
by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
This is my top-favorite Father's day poem of all times because it expresses gratitude for the unsung daily "offices" or duties that a father performs for his family. Robert Hayden was an African-American poet from Detroit who grew-up in difficult circumstances during the early 20th-Century.
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by EE Cummings
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.
Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin
joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice
keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father’s dream
his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.
Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain
septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is
proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark
his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.
My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)
then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold
giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear, to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am
though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath
and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all
EE Cummings, famous poet of the avant-garde, admired his father, a professor at Harvard University. His father helped rescue him when he was wrongfully imprisoned by the French Army during World War 1 where Cummings was volunteering in the Ambulance Corps. Because of coded messages that he jokingly inserted into his letters home, EE Cummings was mistakenly arrested for treason and suspected espionage!
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by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
This is one of the very few poems that shows a father caring for his infant son. Coleridge is one of the great Romantic poets who, with his friend and colleague William Wordsworth, revolutionized British poetry with Lyrical Ballades in 1798. Breaking free from 18th-Century conventions of rhyme, Coleridge writes this poem in blank verse, which more closely mirrors natural speech. Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter.
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by James L. Dickey
I have just come down from my father.
Higher and higher he lies
Above me in a blue light
Shed by a tinted window.
I drop through six white floors
And then step out onto pavement.
Still feeling my father ascend,
I start to cross the firm street,
My shoulder blades shining with all
The glass the huge building can raise.
Now I must turn round and face it,
And know his one pane from the others.
Each window possesses the sun
As though it burned there on a wick.
I wave, like a man catching fire.
All the deep-dyed windowpanes flash,
And, behind them, all the white rooms
They turn to the color of Heaven.
Ceremoniously, gravely, and weakly,
Dozens of pale hands are waving
Back, from inside their flames.
Yet one pure pane among these
Is the bright, erased blankness of nothing.
I know that my father is there,
In the shape of his death still living.
The traffic increases around me
Like a madness called down on my head.
The horns blast at me like shotguns,
And drivers lean out, driven crazy—
But now my propped-up father
Lifts his arm out of stillness at last.
The light from the window strikes me
And I turn as blue as a soul,
As the moment when I was born.
I am not afraid for my father—
Look! He is grinning; he is not
Afraid for my life, either,
As the wild engines stand at my knees
Shredding their gears and roaring,
And I hold each car in its place
For miles, inciting its horn
To blow down the walls of the world
That the dying may float without fear
In the bold blue gaze of my father.
Slowly I move to the sidewalk
With my pin-tingling hand half dead
At the end of my bloodless arm.
I carry it off in amazement,
High, still higher, still waving,
My recognized face fully mortal,
Yet not; not at all, in the pale,
Drained, otherworldly, stricken,
Created hue of stained glass.
I have just come down from my father.
Most people probably know James Dickey as the author of Deliverance, a novel that depicts a tragic canoe trip in the Deep South. Dickey collaborated with filmmakers to turn his novel into an award-winning film starring Burt Russell. The film shocked audiences with its graphic depiction of sexual violence, yet it won several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. Nevertheless, Dickey considered himself a poet much more than a novelist, and he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States in 1966. In this poem, Dickey says goodbye to his father, perhaps for the last time, as he leaves him in the hospital. The poem is simultaneously sad and spiritual, a real paradox.
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by Gjertrud Schnackenberg
My father at the dictionary-stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand
His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word “Carnation.” Then he bends
So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard
A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
“The obligation due to every thing
That’s smaller than the universe.” I bring
My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle’s eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly
Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study’s gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb
To read what’s buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor
Trying to stitch “Beloved” X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle’s point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text
I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as “Christ’s flowers,” knowing I
Can give no explanation but “Because.”
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does
Where following each X I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, “A pink variety of Clove,
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh.”
As if the bud’s essential oils brush
Christ’s fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh
Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it’s me,
He turns the page to “Clove” and reads aloud:
“The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud.”
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,
He reads, “From French, for clou, meaning a nail.”
He gazes, motionless. “Meaning a nail.”
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,
I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth “Beloved,” but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,
The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I’ve sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,
I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, “Daddy daddy”—
My father’s hand touches the injury
As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ’s when I was four.
Gjertrud Schackenberg is an American poet who currently lives in Boston. In this poem she conflates her natural father with "God the Father" in interesting and original ways. Similar to Dante in his Divine Comedy, she writes this poem in rhyming tercets, perhaps reflective of the Trinity of "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
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by Li-Young Lee
When the wind
turns and asks, in my father’s voice,
Have you prayed?
I know three things. One:
I’m never finished answering to the dead.
Two: A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father’s voice,
his mother’s voice . . .
Or maybe he’s seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?
When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father’s voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father’s love
is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what’s left over
is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.
And patience? That’s to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.
And wisdom? That’s my father’s face in sleep.
When the wind
asks, Have you prayed?
I know it’s only me
a flower is one station between
earth’s wish and earth’s rapture, and blood
was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It’s just me
in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?
Strange. A troubled father. A happy son.
The wind with a voice. And me talking to no one.
Li-Young Lee is an Asian-American poet living in Chicago. His grandfather was the first President of The Republic of China, but attempted to name himself Emperor. Lee's father was the personal physician to Mao Zedong. When he was a boy, Lee's family had to flee Communist China because of severe persecution and eventually settled in the United States where Lee's father became a Presbyterian minister. In this poem, Lee imagines that his father, now deceased, is speaking to him from the grave.
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