Famous Family Poems

Famous Family Poems

Feel the Power of Family through These Classic Poems

To be part of a family is to be in a relationship. There is an opportunity for a closeness and trust that cannot occur outside family. With this possibility for closeness is the possibility of hatred and estrangement. It is not easy to maintain positive relationships with those that we are naturally closest to. There are tensions that exist between family members that are not present in other relationships. Being in close proximity means that you know a person's great attributes as well as their faults. Maintaining family relationships are a tremendous challenge.

30 Poems about Family by Famous Poets

  1. 1. Mother To Son

    Famous Poem


    Langston Hughes was a prominent writer during the Harlem Renaissance. In this poem, a mother uses the metaphor of life being like a staircase to give advice to her son. While there are difficult times, you must keep moving like you would while walking up a staircase.

    Well, son, I'll tell you:
    Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
    It's had tacks in it,
    And splinters,
    And boards torn up,
    And places with no carpet on the floor-
    Bare.
    But all the time
    I'se been a-climbin' on,
    And reachin' landin's,
    And turnin' corners,
    And sometimes goin' in the dark
    Where there ain't been no light.
    So, boy, don't you turn back.
    Don't you set down on the steps.
    'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
    Don't you fall now-
    For I'se still goin', honey,
    I'se still climbin',
    And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

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  3. 2. The Children's Hour

    Famous Poem


    The Children's Hour was first published in 1860 in The Atlantic Monthly. The 3 children in the poem are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's own daughters.
    In the early 1900's this poem was frequently taught in schools to young children. It is about the father child relationship and the enduring love of a father for his children.

    Between the dark and the daylight,
      When the night is beginning to lower,
    Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
    That is known as the Children's Hour.

    I hear in the chamber above me
      The patter of little feet,
    The sound of a door that is opened,
      And voices soft and sweet.

    From my study I see in the lamplight,
      Descending the broad hall stair,
    Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
      And Edith with golden hair.

    A whisper, and then a silence:
      Yet I know by their merry eyes
    They are plotting and planning together
      To take me by surprise.

    A sudden rush from the stairway,
      A sudden raid from the hall!
    By three doors left unguarded
      They enter my castle wall!

    They climb up into my turret
      O'er the arms and back of my chair;
    If I try to escape, they surround me;
      They seem to be everywhere.

    They almost devour me with kisses,
      Their arms about me entwine,
    Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
      In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

    Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
      Because you have scaled the wall,
    Such an old mustache as I am
      Is not a match for you all!

    I have you fast in my fortress,
      And will not let you depart,
    But put you down into the dungeon
      In the round-tower of my heart.

    And there will I keep you forever,
      Yes, forever and a day,
    Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
      And moulder in dust away!

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  5. 3. The Little Boy And The Old Man

    Famous Poem


    Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) is a poet known for his wonderful and funny poems for children. But, many of his poems contain nuggets of wisdom for adults as well. In this poignant poem, the poet illustrates the indignities of growing old. The "little old man" has reverted back to a "little boy" and his own children now treat him as a little boy.

    Said the little boy, sometimes I drop my spoon.
    Said the little old man, I do that too.
    The little boy whispered, I wet my pants.
    I do too, laughed the old man.
    Said the little boy, I often cry.
    The old man nodded. So do I.
    But worst of all, said the boy,
    it seems grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.
    And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
    I know what you mean, said the little old man.

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  6. 4. Life's Scars

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    A poem full of wisdom about relationships. How ironic is it that the people we love, the most important people in our lives, are the ones we often treat the worst. While the guests who come into our lives temporarily, we always treat politely and with a smile. Shouldn't it be the opposite?

    They say the world is round, and yet
    I often think it square,
    So many little hurts we get
    From corners here and there.
    But one great truth in life I've found,
    While journeying to the West-
    The only folks who really wound
    Are those we love the best.

    The man you thoroughly despise
    Can rouse your wrath, 'tis true;
    Annoyance in your heart will rise
    At things mere strangers do;
    But those are only passing ills;
    This rule all lives will prove;
    The rankling wound which aches and thrills
    Is dealt by hands we love.

    The choicest garb, the sweetest grace,
    Are oft to strangers shown;
    The careless mien, the frowning face,
    Are given to our own.
    We flatter those we scarcely know,
    We please the fleeting guest,
    And deal full many a thoughtless blow
    To those who love us best.

    Love does not grow on every tree,
    Nor true hearts yearly bloom.
    Alas for those who only see
    This cut across a tomb!
    But, soon or late, the fact grows plain
    To all through sorrow's test:
    The only folks who give us pain
    Are those we love the best.

    Life's Scars By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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  7. 5. The Stick-Together Families

    Famous Poem


    There's nothing quite as valuable as family for those lucky enough to have one. That is the theme of this poem, The Stick-Together Families, published in 1917 in the book Just Folks by Edgar A. Guest from Detroit, Michigan. Guest (1881 -1959) wrote a poem a day, seven days a week for thirty years as a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He was known as the People's Poet for his poems championing the traditional values of the typical American family of the first half of the 20th century.

    The stick-together families are happier by far
    Than the brothers and the sisters who take separate highways are.
    The gladdest people living are the wholesome folks who make
    A circle at the fireside that no power but death can break.
    And the finest of conventions ever held beneath the sun
    Are the little family gatherings when the busy day is done.

    There are rich folk, there are poor folk, who imagine they are wise,
    And they're very quick to shatter all the little family ties.
    Each goes searching after pleasure in his own selected way,
    Each with strangers likes to wander, and with strangers likes to play.
    But it's bitterness they harvest, and it's empty joy they find,
    For the children that are wisest are the stick-together kind.

    There are some who seem to fancy that for gladness they must roam,
    That for smiles that are the brightest they must wander far from home.
    That the strange friend is the true friend, and they travel far astray
    they waste their lives in striving for a joy that's far away,
    But the gladdest sort of people, when the busy day is done,
    Are the brothers and the sisters who together share their fun.

    It's the stick-together family that wins the joys of earth,
    That hears the sweetest music and that finds the finest mirth;
    It's the old home roof that shelters all the charm that life can give;
    There you find the gladdest play-ground, there the happiest spot to live.
    And, O weary, wandering brother, if contentment you would win,
    Come you back unto the fireside and be comrade with your kin.

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  8. 6. In The Waiting Room

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    "In the Waiting Room" by Elizabeth Bishop delves into a young girl's moment of self-discovery during an unexpected and mundane experience. Through vivid imagery and introspection, the poem explores the themes of identity and the sudden realization of one's place in the world. The waiting room, initially filled with strangers, becomes a place where the speaker grapples with her own identity and mortality. The poem's detailed descriptions of the National Geographic magazine and its unsettling images symbolize the loss of innocence and the dawning awareness of human suffering. The shift from a sense of detachment to personal identification with the aunt's pain marks a crucial moment of growth and self-understanding. This poem navigates the complex journey from childhood innocence to the beginning of self-awareness and empathy.

    In Worcester, Massachusetts,
    I went with Aunt Consuelo
    to keep her dentist's appointment
    and sat and waited for her
    in the dentist's waiting room.
    It was winter. It got dark
    early. The waiting room
    was full of grown-up people,
    arctics and overcoats,
    lamps and magazines.
    My aunt was inside
    what seemed like a long time
    and while I waited I read
    the National Geographic
    (I could read) and carefully
    studied the photographs:
    the inside of a volcano,
    black, and full of ashes;
    then it was spilling over
    in rivulets of fire.
    Osa and Martin Johnson
    dressed in riding breeches,
    laced boots, and pith helmets.
    A dead man slung on a pole
    --"Long Pig," the caption said.
    Babies with pointed heads
    wound round and round with string;
    black, naked women with necks
    wound round and round with wire
    like the necks of light bulbs.
    Their breasts were horrifying.
    I read it right straight through.
    I was too shy to stop.
    And then I looked at the cover:
    the yellow margins, the date.
    Suddenly, from inside,
    came an oh! of pain
    --Aunt Consuelo's voice--
    not very loud or long.
    I wasn't at all surprised;
    even then I knew she was
    a foolish, timid woman.
    I might have been embarrassed,
    but wasn't. What took me
    completely by surprise
    was that it was me:
    my voice, in my mouth.
    Without thinking at all
    I was my foolish aunt,
    I--we--were falling, falling,
    our eyes glued to the cover
    of the National Geographic,
    February, 1918.

    I said to myself: three days
    and you'll be seven years old.
    I was saying it to stop
    the sensation of falling off
    the round, turning world.
    into cold, blue-black space.
    But I felt: you are an I,
    you are an Elizabeth,
    you are one of them.
    Why should you be one, too?
    I scarcely dared to look
    to see what it was I was.
    I gave a sidelong glance
    --I couldn't look any higher--
    at shadowy gray knees,
    trousers and skirts and boots
    and different pairs of hands
    lying under the lamps.
    I knew that nothing stranger
    had ever happened, that nothing
    stranger could ever happen.

    Why should I be my aunt,
    or me, or anyone?
    What similarities--
    boots, hands, the family voice
    I felt in my throat, or even
    the National Geographic
    and those awful hanging breasts--
    held us all together
    or made us all just one?
    How--I didn't know any
    word for it--how "unlikely". . .
    How had I come to be here,
    like them, and overhear
    a cry of pain that could have
    got loud and worse but hadn't?

    The waiting room was bright
    and too hot. It was sliding
    beneath a big black wave,
    another, and another.

    Then I was back in it.
    The War was on. Outside,
    in Worcester, Massachusetts,
    were night and slush and cold,
    and it was still the fifth
    of February, 1918.

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  9. 7. Beautiful Hands

    • By Ellen M.H. Gates

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    Ellen Maria Huntington Gates (1835 - 1920) was a poet and hymn writer. Her hymn "Your Mission" became known as "President Lincoln's favorite hymn" after he requested it be sung twice at an event during the American Civil War. Ellen lived in New York City until her death in 1920. "Beautiful Hands" by Ellen M.H. Gates is a poignant poem that recognizes the beauty and significance of aged and weathered hands. It reflects on the tireless work, sacrifices, and love that these hands have shown throughout life. While acknowledging the eventual passing of time, the poem offers a hopeful glimpse of an afterlife where the speaker envisions being reunited with their mother's hands.

    Such beautiful, beautiful hands!
        They're neither white nor small;
    And you, I know, would scarcely think
        That they are fair at all.
    I've looked on hands whose form and hue
        A sculptor's dream might be;
    Yet are those aged, wrinkled hands
        More beautiful to me.

    Such beautiful, beautiful hands!
        Though heart were weary and sad,
    Those patient hands kept toiling on,
        That the children might be glad.
    I always weep, as, looking back
        To childhood's distant day,
    I think how those hands rested not
        When mine were at their play.

    Such beautiful, beautiful hands!
        They're growing feeble now,
    For time and pain have left their mark
        On hands and heart and brow.
    Alas! alas! the nearing time,
        And the sad, sad day to me,
    When 'neath the daisies, out of sight,
        These hands will folded be.

    But oh! beyond this shadow land,
        Where all is bright and fair,
    I know full well these dear old hands
        Will palms of victory bear;
    Where crystal streams through endless years
        Flow over golden sands,
    And where the old grow young again,
        I'll clasp my mother's hands.

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  10. 8. Mother, A Cradle To Hold Me

    Famous Poem

    When we are small, our mothers are everything to us. Her arms were made to cradle us and provide for all our needs. At first, we don’t want to be separated from her. As time passes, a mother helps us become more independent. Even in our teenage years, we still love our mother even though we don’t show it well, and we finally come to realize the wisdom she has. This is a great Mother’s Day poem that thanks her for her guidance and unconditional love. No matter our stage of life, whether an infant, young child, teenager, or adult, our mother’s love for us is unconditional.

    It is true
    I was created in you.
    It is also true
    That you were created for me.
    I owned your voice.
    It was shaped and tuned to soothe me.
    Your arms were molded
    Into a cradle to hold me, to rock me.
    The scent of your body was the air
    Perfumed for me to breathe.

    Mother,
    During those early, dearest days
    I did not dream that you had
    A large life which included me,
    For I had a life
    Which was only you.

    Time passed steadily and drew us apart.
    I was unwilling.
    I feared if I let you go
    You would leave me eternally.
    You smiled at my fears, saying
    I could not stay in your lap forever.

    That one day you would have to stand
    And where would I be?
    You smiled again.
    I did not.
    Without warning you left me,
    But you returned immediately.
    You left again and returned,
    I admit, quickly,
    But relief did not rest with me easily.
    You left again, but again returned.
    You left again, but again returned.
    Each time you reentered my world
    You brought assurance.
    Slowly I gained confidence.

    You thought you know me,
    But I did know you,
    You thought you were watching me,
    But I did hold you securely in my sight,
    Recording every moment,
    Memorizing your smiles, tracing your frowns.
    In your absence
    I rehearsed you,
    The way you had of singing
    On a breeze,
    While a sob lay
    At the root of your song.

    The way you posed your head
    So that the light could caress your face
    When you put your fingers on my hand
    And your hand on my arm,
    I was blessed with a sense of health,
    Of strength and very good fortune.

    You were always
    the heart of happiness to me,
    Bringing nougats of glee,
    Sweets of open laughter.

    During the years when you knew nothing
    And I knew everything, I loved you still.
    Condescendingly of course,
    From my high perch
    Of teenage wisdom.
    I grew older and
    Was stunned to find
    How much knowledge you had gleaned.
    And so quickly.

    Mother, I have learned enough now
    To know I have learned nearly nothing.
    On this day
    When mothers are being honored,
    Let me thank you
    That my selfishness, ignorance, and mockery
    Did not bring you to
    Discard me like a broken doll
    Which had lost its favor.
    I thank you that
    You still find something in me
    To cherish, to admire and to love.

    I thank you, Mother.
    I love you.

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  11. 9. Home

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    Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959) was born in England and moved with his family to America at age 10. He started working for the Detroit Free Press while still a teenager and went on to became a columnist for the newspaper, where for 30 years he published a new poem each day. This poem is also published in his book, It takes A Heap o' Livin' (1916). He was appointed Poet Laureate of Michigan in 1952. The purposeful grammar and spelling mistakes in the poem imply that the simple profound wisdom contained within are common knowledge to all.

    It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
    A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
    Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
    An' hunger fer 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
    It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
    How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
    It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
    Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything.

    Home ain't a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
    Afore it's home there's got t' be a heap o' livin' in it;
    Within the walls there's got t' be some babies born, and then
    Right there ye've got t' bring 'em up t' women good, an' men;
    And gradjerly as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn't part
    With anything they ever used — they've grown into yer heart:
    The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore
    Ye hoard; an' if ye could ye'd keep the thumb-marks on the door.

    Ye've got t' weep t' make it home, ye've got t' sit an' sigh
    An' watch beside a loved one's bed, an' know that Death is nigh;
    An' in the stillness o' the night t' see Death's angel come,
    An' close the eyes o' her that smiled, an' leave her sweet voice dumb.
    Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an' when yer tears are dried,
    Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an' sanctified;
    An' tuggin' at ye always are the pleasant memories
    o' her that was an' is no more—ye can't escape from these.

    Ye've got t' sing an' dance fer years, ye've got t' romp an' play,
    An' learn t' love the things ye have by usin' 'em each day;
    Even the roses 'round the porch must blossom year by year
    Afore they 'come a part o' ye, suggestin' someone dear
    Who used t' love 'em long ago, an' trained 'em jes t' run
    The way they do, so's they would get the early mornin' sun;
    Ye've got t' love each brick an' stone from cellar up t' dome:
    It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home.

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  12. 10. Only A Dad

    Famous Poem

    Edgar Guest (1881-1959) was a prolific poet who wrote many encouraging messages about everyday life. This poem captures the essence of a man who loves his family so much to sacrifice for them day in and day out. While he doesn't have much, he works hard for his family and shows self-control and determination when things don't go his way. This poem uses rhyming couplets and the repetition of “only a dad” to create a well-structured piece.

    Only a dad, with a tired face,
    Coming home from the daily race,
    Bringing little of gold or fame,
    To show how well he has played the game,
    But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
    To see him come, and to hear his voice.

    Only a dad, with a brood of four,
    One of ten million men or more.
    Plodding along in the daily strife,
    Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
    With never a whimper of pain or hate,
    For the sake of those who at home await.

    Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
    Merely one of the surging crowd
    Toiling, striving from day to day,
    Facing whatever may come his way,
    Silent, whenever the harsh condemn,
    And bearing it all for the love of them.

    Only a dad, but he gives his all
    To smooth the way for his children small,
    Doing, with courage stern and grim,
    The deeds that his father did for him.
    This is the line that for him I pen,
    Only a dad, but the best of men.

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  13. 11. A Smile To Remember

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    In "A Smile to Remember" by Charles Bukowski, the poet explores the complex dynamics of a dysfunctional family. The juxtaposition between the cheerful facade and the underlying pain is vividly portrayed. The goldfish in the bowl symbolize the fragile happiness that the mother tries to cultivate amidst the abusive relationship with the father. The poem highlights the contrast between the mother's persistent smile, urging happiness, and the harsh reality of domestic violence. The death of the goldfish serves as a metaphorical representation of the family's brokenness, while the act of throwing them to the cat further underscores the cruelty within the household. The final image of the mother's smile, tinged with sadness, leaves a lasting impression of the profound emotional struggle and the inability to find genuine happiness in such a troubled environment.

    we had goldfish and they circled around and around
    in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
    covering the picture window and
    my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
    to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
    and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
    can
    but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
    raging inside his 6—foot—two frame because he couldn’t
    understand what was attacking him from within.

    my mother, poor fish,
    wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
    week, telling me to be happy: 'Henry, smile!
    why don’t you ever smile?'

    and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
    saddest smile I ever saw

    one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
    they floated on the water, on their sides, their
    eyes still open,
    and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
    there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
    smiled

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  14. 12. On Aging

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    Aging can be a tricky topic, one that’s difficult for people to navigate. Famous poet Maya Angelou (1928-2014) shares her thoughts on this topic. Although the speaker knows her body doesn’t work quite like it used to, she doesn’t want to be treated differently. Even though her body has changed, she is still the same person she used to be, and she doesn’t allow aging to bring her down. She still has value and the ability to live a full life. Maya Angelou was a very influential person, and her writing exudes confidence and authenticity.

    When you see me sitting quietly,
    Like a sack left on the shelf,
    Don’t think I need your chattering.
    I’m listening to myself.
    Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
    Hold! Stop your sympathy!
    Understanding if you got it,
    Otherwise I’ll do without it!
    When my bones are stiff and aching,
    And my feet won’t climb the stair,
    I will only ask one favor:
    Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
    When you see me walking, stumbling,
    Don’t study and get it wrong.
    ‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
    And every goodbye ain’t gone.
    I’m the same person I was back then,
    A little less hair, a little less chin,
    A lot less lungs and much less wind.
    But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

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  15. 13. The Responsibility Of Fatherhood

    Famous Poem

    Becoming a parent changes many things about your priorities and your outlook on life. In this famous poem, Edgar Guest (1881-1959) shares how life was before children and what changed once he became a father. The speaker realizes that he needs to be a better person because there’s a little one who will look up to everything he does, whether it’s good or bad. Edgar Guest wrote many poems on the topic of family. This poem is made up of octaves (eight line stanzas) that follow the rhyme scheme ABABCDCD.

    BEFORE you came, my little lad,
      I used to think that I was good,
    Some vicious habits, too, I had,
      But wouldn't change them if I could.
    I held my head up high and said:
      'I'm all that I have need to be,
    It matters not what path I tread,'
      But that was ere you came to me.

    I treated lightly sacred things,
      And went my way in search of fun,
    Upon myself I kept no strings,
      And gave no heed to folly done.
    I gave myself up to the fight
      For worldly wealth and earthly fame,
    And sought advantage, wrong or right,
      But that was long before you came.

    But now you sit across from me,
      Your big brown eyes are opened wide,
    And every deed I do you see,
      And, O, I dare hot step aside.
    I've shaken loose from habits bad,
      And what is wrong I've come to dread,
    Because I know, my little lad,
      That you will follow where I tread.

    I want those eyes to glow with pride,
      In me I want those eyes to see
    The while we wander side by side
      The sort of man I'd have you be.
    And so I'm striving to be good
      With all my might, that you may know
    When this great world is understood,
      What pleasures are worth while below.

    I see life in a different light
      From what I did before you came,
    Then anything that pleased seemed right;
      But you are here to bear my name,
    And you are looking up to me
      With those big eyes from day to day,
    And I'm determined not to be
      The means of leading you astray.

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  16. 14. Home And The Office

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    Edgar Guest (1881-1959) shares valuable advice about enjoying time at home with your family, no matter the burdens that have been placed on your shoulders at work during the day. Home should be a place to let it all go and soak up the memories with those you love. Edgar Guest was known for writing poems about everyday life that had an encouraging message.

    Home is the place where the laughter should ring,
      And man should be found at his best.
    Let the cares of the day be as great as they may,
      The night has been fashioned for rest.
    So leave at the door when the toiling is o'er
      All the burdens of worktime behind,
    And just be a dad to your girl or your lad--
      A dad of the rollicking kind.

    The office is made for the tasks you must face;
      It is built for the work you must do;
    You may sit there and sigh as your cares pile up high,
      And no one may criticize you;
    You may worry and fret as you think of your debt,
      You may grumble when plans go astray,
    But when it comes night, and you shut your desk tight,
      Don't carry the burdens away.

    Keep daytime for toil and the nighttime for play,
      Work as hard as you choose in the town,
    But when the day ends, and the darkness descends,
      Just forget that you're wearing a frown--
    Go home with a smile! Oh, you'll find it worth while;
      Go home light of heart and of mind;
    Go home and be glad that you're loved as a dad,
      A dad of the fun-loving kind.

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  17. 15. Midnight In The Pantry

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    The poet, Edgar Guest (1881-1959), creates a comedic tone about searching for a midnight snack. While it’s enjoyable to go out to eat and enjoy the sights and sounds of town, nothing compares to finding something delectable to eat in your own pantry.

    You can boast your round of pleasures, praise the sound of popping corks,
    Where the orchestra is playing to the rattle of the forks,
    And your after-opera dinner you may think superbly fine,
    But that can’t compare, I’m certain, to the joy that’s always mine
    When I reach my little dwelling—source, of all sincere delight—
    And I prowl around the pantry in the waning hours of night.
    When my business, or my pleasure, has detained me until late,
    And it’s midnight, say, or after, when I reach my own estate,
    Though I’m weary with my toiling I don’t hustle up to bed,
    For the inner man is hungry and he’s anxious to be fed,
    Then I feel a thrill of glory from my head down to my feet
    As I prowl around the pantry after something good to eat.
    Oft I hear a call above me: ‘Goodness gracious, come to bed!’
    And I know that I’ve disturbed her by my overeager tread,
    But I’ve found a glass of jelly and some bread and butter, too,
    And a bit of cold fried chicken and I answer: ‘When I’m through!’
    Oh, there’s no cafe that better serves my precious appetite
    Than the pantry in our kitchen when I get home late at night.
    You may boast your shining silver, and the linen and the flowers,
    And the music and the laughter and the lights that hang in showers,
    You may have your cafe table with its brilliant array,
    But it doesn’t charm yours truly when I’m on my homeward way,
    For a greater joy awaits me, as I hunger for a bite—
    Just the joy of pantry-prowling in the middle of the night.

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  18. 16. A Father To His Son

    Famous Poem

    Carl Sandburg lived from 1878-1967. Some of his works have received Pulitzer Prizes, and Sandburg had a middle school named after him. In this poem, a father is thinking about the advice he wishes to impart to his son.

    A father sees his son nearing manhood.
    What shall he tell that son?
    "Life is hard; be steel; be a rock."
    And this might stand him for the storms
    and serve him for humdrum monotony
    and guide him among sudden betrayals
    and tighten him for slack moments.
    "Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy."
    And this too might serve him.
    Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
    The growth of a frail flower in a path up
    has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
    A tough will counts. So does desire.
    So does a rich soft wanting.
    Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
    Tell him too much money has killed men
    and left them dead years before burial:
    the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
    has twisted good enough men
    sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
    Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
    Tell him to be a fool every so often
    and to have no shame over having been a fool
    yet learning something out of every folly
    hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
    thus arriving at intimate understanding
    of a world numbering many fools.
    Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
    and above all tell himself no lies about himself
    whatever the white lies and protective fronts
    he may use against other people.
    Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
    and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
    Tell him to be different from other people
    if it comes natural and easy being different.
    Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
    Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
    Then he may understand Shakespeare
    and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
    Michael Faraday and free imaginations
    Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
    He will be lonely enough
    to have time for the work
    he knows as his own.

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  19. 17. Father

    Famous Poem

    The speaker sees his father as a mighty man when it comes to endeavors outside the house, but when it comes to getting things fixed at home, it’s better left to someone else. This poem has a humorous tone and uses irony that the father can do tough things and solve the big problems of the world, but he is unable to mend a chair. This poem is made up of octaves (stanzas that consist of eight lines each).

    My father knows the proper way
       The nation should be run;
    He tells us children every day
       Just what should now be done.
    He knows the way to fix the trusts,
       He has a simple plan;
    But if the furnace needs repairs,
       We have to hire a man.

    My father, in a day or two
       Could land big thieves in jail;
    There's nothing that he cannot do,
       He knows no word like "fail."
    "Our confidence" he would restore,
       Of that there is no doubt;
    But if there is a chair to mend,
       We have to send it out.

    All public questions that arise,
       He settles on the spot;
    He waits not till the tumult dies,
       But grabs it while it's hot.
    In matters of finance he can
       Tell Congress what to do;
    But, O, he finds it hard to meet
       His bills as they fall due.

    It almost makes him sick to read
       The things law-makers say;
    Why, father's just the man they need,
       He never goes astray.
    All wars he'd very quickly end,
       As fast as I can write it;
    But when a neighbor starts a fuss,
       'Tis mother has to fight it.

    In conversation father can
       Do many wondrous things;
    He's built upon a wiser plan
       Than presidents or kings.
    He knows the ins and outs of each
       And every deep transaction;
    We look to him for theories,
       But look to ma for action.

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  20. 18. On Children

    Famous Poem

    "On Children" by Kahlil Gibran uses vivid imagery and metaphor. The poem describes the ways in which children enrich the lives of those who raise them, and speaks to the transformative power of parenthood. The lines "You may give them your love but not your thoughts" and "You may house their bodies but not their souls" uses rich imagery to describe the unique and separate nature of the relationship between parents and children. The lines "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth" and "For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you" use metaphors of arrows and crucifixion to describe the love and struggles of parenting. On Children" is a beautifully written and deeply affecting poem that speaks about the enduring bond between parent and child.

    Your children are not your children
    They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself
    They come through you but not from you
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts
    For they have their own thoughts
    You may house their bodies but not their souls
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow

    Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
    You may strive to be like them
    But seek not to make them like you
    For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday

    You are the bows from which your children
    As living arrows are sent forth
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite
    And he bends you with his might

    That his arrows may go swift and far
    Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness
    For even as he loves the arrow that flies
    So he loves also the bow that is stable

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  21. 19. Old Folks Laugh

    Famous Poem

    In "Old Folks Laugh," Maya Angelou explores a freedom that comes with old age. The poem contrasts the constrained and self-conscious behavior of young people with the unbridled laughter in old age. The imagery in the poem is vivid, describing the belly of old folks that jiggle like tambourines when they laugh, and their heads that wobble on brittle necks. The poem suggests that laughter allows the elderly to let go of their past regrets and pain and embrace the joy of the moment. Additionally, the poem implies that old folks have a certain wisdom, having lived through the best and the worst of times.

    They have spent their
    content of simpering,
    holding their lips this
    and that way, winding
    the lines between
    their brows. Old folks
    allow their bellies to jiggle like slow
    tambourines.
    The hollers
    rise up and spill
    over any way they want.
    When old folks laugh, they free the world.
    They turn slowly, slyly knowing
    the best and the worst
    of remembering.
    Saliva glistens in
    the corners of their mouths,
    their heads wobble
    on brittle necks, but
    their laps
    are filled with memories.
    When old folks laugh, they consider the promise
    of dear painless death, and generously
    forgive life for happening
    to them.

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  22. 20. Those Winter Sundays

    • By Robert Hayden

    Famous Poem

    "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden is a poignant exploration of the emotional complexities within a father-child relationship. Through the use of evocative imagery, the poem reveals the speaker's retrospective understanding of the sacrifices made by his father out of love. The stark contrast between the cold mornings and the warmth created by the father's efforts underscores the theme of unspoken love and the son's regret for not appreciating it earlier. This poem delves into the universal theme of the struggle to fully comprehend love's selfless acts and the profound impact they have on one's life.

    Sundays too my father got up early
    and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
    then with cracked hands that ached
    from labor in the weekday weather made
    banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress,
    fearing the chronic angers of that house,

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well.
    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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