The Man Splitting Wood in the Daybreak

By Galway Kinnell 1927–2014 Galway Kinnell
The man splitting wood in the daybreak   
looks strong, as though, if one weakened,   
one could turn to him and he would help.   
Gus Newland was strong. When he split wood   
he struck hard, flashing the bright steel   
through the air so hard the hard maple   
leapt apart, as it’s feared marriages will do   
in countries reluctant to permit divorce,   
and even willow, which, though stacked   
to dry a full year, on being split
actually weeps—totem wood, therefore,   
to the married-until-death—sunders   
with many little lip-wetting gasp-noises.
But Gus is dead. We could turn to our fathers,   
but they help us only by the unperplexed   
looking-back of the numerals cut into headstones.   
Or to our mothers, whose love, so devastated,   
can’t, even in spring, break through the hard earth.   
Our spouses weaken at the same rate we do.   
We have to hold our children up to lean on them.   
Everyone who could help goes or hasn’t arrived.   
What about the man splitting wood in the daybreak,   
who looked strong? That was years ago. That was me.

Galway Kinnell, “The Man Splitting Wood in the Daybreak” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Three Books (2002)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Galway Kinnell 1927–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Separation & Divorce, Youth, Marriage & Companionship, Time & Brevity, Trees & Flowers, Parenthood, Living, Relationships, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Galway  Kinnell

Biography

Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Often focusing on the claims of nature and society on the individual, Kinnell’s poems explore psychological states in precise and sonorous free verse. Critic Morris Dickstein called Kinnell “one of the true master poets of his generation.” Dickstein added, “there are . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Separation & Divorce, Youth, Marriage & Companionship, Time & Brevity, Trees & Flowers, Parenthood, Living, Relationships, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.