In "The Secret Heart" by Robert P. Tristram Coffin, explain the feelings of the boy for his father.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A secret heart—the embodiment of  a lovely memory that a son holds in his heart for his father.   

So often, dads are portrayed as unemotional and uninvolved with their children.  Although times are changing, men have been taught not to display their emotions.  A man must be strong and teach his son to be strong as well.  The memory of President Obama showing deeply felt emotions about the death of the young children in Newtown proves the point that it is okay for a man to shed tears for the love of a child. To display those feelings before the world is also the sign of a strong man.

Coffin was inspired by his father who loved stories and music.  His father was constantly singing as Robert grew up. Coffin began writing when he was a small child.  Studying as a Rhodes scholar, Coffin was given awards for his poetry, which was proclaimed as some of the best in the twentieth century. 

In “The Secret Heart,” Robert Tristram Coffin denotes a special memory of a son concerning his dad.  In fact, this is the poet and his dad depicted in the poem.  The tone of the poem is filled with love and amazement. The setting is in the early part of the twentieth century in the boy’s bedroom. 


The poem reminiscences about the son’s favorite memory of his father. A little boy is almost asleep late one night. His father comes into the boy’s bedroom to check on him. The father strikes a match to see his son, and the noise rouses the little boy.  As the father cups the light to keep the sparks from falling on the boy, his hands resemble the shape of a heart.  From that symbolic heart, the son can feel his father’s love.  

To the boy, the heart he sees represents his father’s heart inside which gives off such a glow of love. The glow reflects up on his father’s face which holds the countenance of a tender love of a father for his son. When the match went out, the heart could no longer be seen.  However, the son would always know how much his father, whom the boy admired so much that he thought that he held up the sun, loved him.


The poem is written in particular style.  It has a simple scheme of rhyming couplets throughout. 

The poem’s most lovely depiction is the metaphor of the hands of the father representing his heart full of love for the boy.  From the heart shaped hands comes the title “The Secret Heart.”  The father and son probably never spoke of the scene.  The father’s hands and the lovely memory became the boy’s secret. The poet makes the reader see in his mind and heart this expressive image.

The description of the heart is one of the most beautiful images of love in poetry:

His two hands were curved apart

In the semblance of a heart…

A bare heart on his hidden one,

A heart that gave out such a glow

The visual imagery of the poem is so encompassing that the love of the father goes beyond the poem. It surrounds the man who remembers this one special memory. It takes him back to the time when he lay in bed and saw his father’s heart pouring out his love to his boy.

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