Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Day Zimmer Lost Religion” looks back, half humorously, at a time when the persona decided to test God by missing Mass. His teachers have surely told him that he is obligated to attend Mass, and the fact that he is missing it intentionally may even raise this to the level of a mortal sin, one that is committed with one’s full knowledge and volition. The child’s teachers may also have warned him against testing God since the desire to control God by forcing Him to take a particular action is also usually considered sinful. Significantly, the child tests God with the expectation that God will immediately punish his wrongdoing, probably in the same very personal way that his teachers might give him corporal punishment. He imagines God first as a boxer and then as a playground bully, the result of his vision of God as the omnipresent threat looming over the playground. In fact, his understanding of God seems confined to a picture of Him as judge. Even his memories of his days as an altar boy seem negative. His role in the service was to “mumble” the Latin responses, and he describes the bell he rang (the bell that marks the holiest point in the Mass, the point when Christ is actually present in the bread and wine) as “obscure.”

The poem has an additional level, however, that establishes the irony at its heart. When the threatening God fails to deliver Zimmer’s punishment, the child assumes that God feels that he has met his match: “of...

(The entire section is 440 words.)