September, The First Day Of School

Howard Nemerov

I

My child and I hold hands on the way to school,

And when I leave him at the first-grade door

He cries a little but is brave; he does

Let go. My selfish tears remind me how

I cried before that door a life ago.

I may have had a hard time letting go.


Each fall the children must endure together

What every child also endures alone:

Learning the alphabet, the integers,

Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff

So arbitrary, so peremptory,

That worlds invisible and visible


Bow down before it, as in Joseph’s dream

The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down

Before the dreaming of a little boy.

That dream got him such hatred of his brothers

As cost the greater part of life to mend,

And yet great kindness came of it in the end.


II


A school is where they grind the grain of thought,

And grind the children who must mind the thought.

It may be those two grindings are but one,

As from the alphabet come Shakespeare’s Plays,

As from the integers comes Euler’s Law,

As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,


The shrunken lives that have not been set free

By law or by poetic phantasy.

But may they be. My child has disappeared

Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live

To see his coming forth, a life away,

I know my hope, but do not know its form


Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds

Among his teachers have a care of him

More than his father could. How that will look

I do not know, I do not need to know.

Even our tears belong to ritual.

But may great kindness come of it in the end.

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