The Day Zimmer Lost Religion Analysis

Paul Zimmer

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Day Zimmer Lost Religion” is composed of three seven-line stanzas of blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). The poem’s tone is strongly colloquial as the adult speaker, or persona, recounts the events of a particular day in his childhood when he tested God by missing Mass “on purpose.” The phrase “on purpose” focuses the poem on the idea of the test. The child Zimmer assumes that God will punish such behavior immediately, and when no such thing happens, the child concludes that God has evidently recognized that Zimmer is too mature to be frightened by his threats. That day becomes the day named in the title: “The Day Zimmer Lost Religion.” Like many poems by Paul Zimmer, the persona of this poem shares the author’s name, but it would be a mistake to assume that the two are exactly the same. The Zimmer of this poem, like that of the many other Zimmer poems, is a character created to relate and react to this set of events.

In the first of the stanzas, the persona looks into his past to remember how he expected God to punish him for missing Mass. His fantasies focus on some painful experiences of childhood. He first expects that Christ will show up like a flyweight boxer to pummel him for his failure to attend Mass. The boxing scene is extended as he remembers imagining the devil “roaring” in the stands to cheer his painful humiliation. The second stanza looks back further (“a long cold way”) into the speaker’s early...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The world of this poem is the world of the Catholic schoolboy, and the imagery of the poem grows out of the details of the boy’s life in that world. It is a world of grubby little boys who admire boxers and who sometimes do their own share of unofficial fighting in the school yard (particularly if they must defend themselves against the school bully) regardless of what the priests may say to warn them against bad behavior. The boxing and the reference to the “dirty wind that blew/ The sootacross the school yard” suggests that it is an urban school.

Boxing establishes the first set of images for the poem as the child Zimmer waits for Christ to “climb down ” from the crucifix on which the child usually sees him and to appear as a “wiry flyweight” boxer. Zimmer expects Christ to “club” him in his “blasphemous gut” and his “irreverent teeth” as if they had been sent into the boxing ring together. This imaginary fight even has a spectator: the devil himself. Like a spectator at a boxing match, he sits in reserved seats, roaring with delight at the rebellious Zimmer’s punishment. The fighting imagery is extended in the last stanza in which Christ is no longer pictured as a boxer but as the playground bully who will appear in order to “pound” Zimmer until his “irreligious tongue” hangs out.

The language of religion also informs the poem, since the child Zimmer’s offense is against God (as well as against his...

(The entire section is 545 words.)