This poem consists of six "letters" in verse from an aged, chronically ill father to his daughter. In the first he presents in excruciating detail the sorry state of his body, and also Mother, "who falls and forgets her salve / and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels / are so bad . . . " Things are so bad that he has "made my peace because am just plain done for . . . " At the end he mentions the fact that, though the daughter enjoys her bird feeder, he doesn't see the point; "I'd buy / poison and get rid of their diseases and turds."

In the second letter, written after the daughter visited and gave them a bird feeder, he says that Mother likes to sit and watch the birds. In the next one, he talks about how much the birds eat and fight. As the letters progress, they include less and less about the parents' pain and disability, and more and more convey curiosity and, eventually, enthusiasm for bird watching.

By letter #5 the father ticks off the names of numerous species he has observed, and at the end casually mentions, "I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all." Finally, "It's sure a surprise how well mother is doing, / she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine." He ends by describing his plans for buying birdseed for the next winter. [112 lines]


Start with two lonely people who sit around all day and think about their pains and bowels. Add a daughter who is willing to share something she loves--bird watching. As Father and Mother become engrossed in the lives of the birds that come to their feeder, they have less time to notice their imprisonment in worn-out bodies. In fact, their resurgence of curiosity about, and enthusiasm for, the natural word seems to energize their bodies as well.


Preface by Richard Wilbur

Primary Source

Sixty Years of American Poetry


Henry N. Abrams

Place Published

New York




Robert Penn Warren