poem index

Poems about Sons

Year

2014

Historically, the son was the heir of the family--and not only of wealth. He was the continuation of a name, a "line," responsible for passing on his father’s stories, his reputation, the family's traditions, and so on. It's no surprise, then, to see that in many poems addressed to sons, the poet begins with a desire to protect an heir, bless him, and wish him well in this important inheritance, this monumental task. This is certainly the case in poems like "On the Beach at Fontana," by James Joyce, or "A Prayer for My Son," by William Butler Yeats, in which the poet, frightened by his own paranoid vision of his son's future, hopes the boy is protected at night by a kind of supernatural bodyguard:

Bid a strong ghost stand at the head
That my Michael may sleep sound,
Nor cry, nor turn in the bed
Till his morning meal come round...
Bid the ghost have sword in fist:
Some there are, for I avow
Such devilish things exist,
Who have planned his murder, for they know
Of some most haughty deed or thought
That waits upon his future days

Other poets seem more concerned with stating a profound pride for their young sons. In "Changing Diapers," Gary Snyder gushes "How intelligent he looks!" In Robert Bly’s "For My Son, Noah, Ten Years Old," the speaker asserts, "So I am proud only of those days that we pass in undivided tenderness, / when you sit drawing, or making books, stapled, with messages to the world."

A son's relationship with his father--sometimes loving, sometimes competative, sometimes distant, and usually charged with emotion--is also fertile ground for poetic investigation. In his poem "A Story," for example, Li-Young Lee looks at a father's fears of losing touch with his son, and the son's indifference:

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don't go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

Similarly, in "Yesterday," a poem not without tenderness, W.S. Merwin writes of an exchange between two friends in which one admits he is not a good son. The friend explains how he seldom visits his father and how when he does, he is eager to leave:

I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

For other poems about sons, consider the following:

Poem 39 from Time by Yehuda Amichai
Poem 69 from Time by Yehuda Amichai
"For My Son, Noah, Ten Years Old" by Robert Bly
"Odysseus to Telemachus" by Joseph Brodsky
"Fishing in Winter" by Ralph Burns
"Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes
"On My First Son" by Ben Jonson
"On the Beach at Fontana" by James Joyce
"After Making Love We Hear Footsteps" by Galway Kinnell
"A Story" by Li-Young Lee
"Yesterday" by W.S. Merwin
"At the Washing of My Son" by David Ray
"Changing Diapers" by Gary Snyder
"With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach" by William Stafford
"Come Up From the Fields Father" by Walt Whitman
"The Turtle" by William Carlos Williams
"A Prayer for My Son" by William Butler Yeats