Poem: Father’s Day

June 13, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROBERT PINSKY: A lot of the fathers and mothers that I know are writers or artists. Compared to our contemporaries who work in offices or at plants, we sometimes have the luxury of seeing our children at different times of day.

There may even be times when from a child’s viewpoint, it may seem we never really work.

In other ways, the poet or painter is always at work, always liable to drift off or become distracted or suddenly leave for the studio or study away from family life. Poets have no weekends or days off, in that sense. They’ve been known to slink off, scowling and muttering to themselves at the oddest moments. Or they nearly slink off- then decide to stay with the kids and family after all.

In the 11th century, the Chinese poet, Su Tung-p’o wrote a charming, poignant poem about his family and the way they seduce him back into the actual life of a moment. Here, for Father’s Day, from the year 1075, is Su Tung-p’o’s poem entitled “Children” in Burton Watson’s translation:


Children don’t know what worry means!
Stand up to go and they hang on my clothes.
I’m about to scold them
but my wife eggs them on in their silliness:
“The children are silly but you’re much worse!
What good does all this worrying do?” 
Stung by her words, I go back to my seat.
She rinses a wine cup to put before me. 
How much better than Liu Ling’s wife,
grumbling at the cost of her husband’s drinking!

“Liu Ling’s wife” alludes to a poem written some 700 years before this happy, domestic moment- the very act of that allusion is like a smiling acknowledgment that the poet has his mind on work, even while giving in to his boisterous family.

I wish us all- whatever our occupations and preoccupations- some joy of that kind today.