Poem Sampler

Poems for Fathers Day

Poems about enduring bond between father and child.
By The Editors

We’ve selected poems about fatherhood that speak of fathers with love, admiration, and praise, and some speak with resentment, sorrow, or regret. The relationship between fathers and their children changes over time, and these poems capture some of the feelings between a father and his child.

1. The Gift by Li-young Lee
The poet remembers the tenderness his father used when he removed a painful sliver from the poet’s hand. When the poet must remove a splinter from his wife’s thumb this memory evokes the confidence and love the poet associates with his father. Using the event to mirror the childhood memory, he realizes his father taught him to see beyond peril and fear: “I did what a child does / when he’s given something to keep. / I kissed my father.”

2. Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
In this famous poem, the poet chronicles the ordinary, unacknowledged acts of a father. Speaking indifferently to his own father, fearing the chronic angers of that house, the poet also recalls his father warmed the winter rooms, and polished the poet’s good shoes as well. About fatherhood and its complicated feelings, the poet laments: “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?”

3. Childhood Ideogram by Larry Levis
Every life is touched by places and people, and even when that life ends its texture remains. In this poem the poet remembers the place and events around his father’s death in a tone that simultaneously marvels, struggles, and witnesses the passage of time.

4. Youth by James Wright
The poet’s father’s private, reliable presence is “as quiet as the evening” but the poet knows his father, too, will “be getting dark soon.”

5. Dressing My Daughters by Mark Jarman
The poet as father inexpertly dresses his daughters in their Sunday clothes. “They know how to pull / Arms in, a reflex of getting dressed, / And also, a child’s faith.” The poet remembers his childhood play gunfights from which he rose unhurt alongside the childhood ritual of dressing in uncomfortable Sunday clothes in order to “shine—in gratitude.” But it is different at day’s end, as the father—and of girls—when his daughters “lie down, half-dead, / To be undone, they won’t help me. / They cry, ‘It’s not my fault.’”

6. Wine by David Wojahn
The poet sees himself in the cycle of time (“stopping abruptly, / beginning again and again / in search of the right note”): the new becomes old, the son becomes the father, “like wine poured back into the bottle.”

7. In Dreams by Kim Addonizio
The poet says she no longer mourns her dead father or has dreams of him that trouble her sleep. Instead, in her dreams she wanders through crooked houses and chases an uncatchable scrap of paper. It’s the pursuit—her metaphor—that leaves her with a sense of loss “wondering who / or what I had to mourn besides / my father, whom I no longer mourn, / father buried in the earth beneath grass, / beneath flowers I trample as I run.”

Originally Published: August 23rd, 2006
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  1. January 1, 2009
     Carolyn Cirnitski

    Do you have the poem, "On the days I am not my father" by Scott Owens, Ragtime Publications? I heard it read by G. Keillor on NPR and loved it. Do you have it in your archives? Let me know! Thanks, Carolyn C.

  2. August 4, 2009

    In response to the above comment...
    check out this site for the poem: