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.)