(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The six sections of the title poem of Letters from a Father record the slow growth into health and peace of an elderly couple, presumably the speaker’s parents, as they find increasing pleasure in a bird feeder the speaker has given them. The voice throughout most of the poem is that of the father. Throughout, the stanzas are composed of rhymed quatrains.

In the first section, the speaker offers a long list of his pains—an ulcerated tooth, pressure sores from a leg brace, a bad prostate gland, and a bad heart. He feels ready to die. His old wife is in even worse shape: She falls down and forgets her medicines; her ankles are swollen, and her bowels are bad. This letter concludes with the old man chastising his daughter for wasting good money on a bird feeder; better to poison the birds and be rid of their diseases and mess, he says.

The next section notes that the daughter has brought her parents a bird feeder of their own—a waste of money, the old man says, as they will surely live no more than a few weeks. Still, he confesses that they are enjoying it. In this section, the old man’s physical complaints are still vivid—deafness, a bad heart, and belching—and he has added complaints about the birds. They are not even good for food, like the ones the father used to hunt years ago.

The third section creates a sort of transition; its tone is far more positive than that of the first two. The old man is evidently...

(The entire section is 593 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Burns, Michael, ed. Discovery and Reminiscence: Essays on the Poetry of Mona Van Duyn. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.

Hall, Judith. “Strangers May Run: The Nation’s First Woman Poet Laureate.” The Antioch Review 52, no. 1 (Winter, 1994): 141.

Prunty, Wyatt.“Fallen from the Symboled World”: Precedents for the New Formalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.