Poem-a-Day Friday: “The World as Will and Representation”

I’m still working my way through Robert Hass’ Time and Materials so you get another Hass poem this week. (Next week I’ll give you something new, I promise.)

This book is beautiful. There are several poems I could have chosen (some that are probably an easier subject matter). However, I picked this one because, of all that I read of his this week, it stunned me most and continues to haunt me. I’d love to know that you think about it in the Comments…

The World as Will and Representation
by Robert Hass

When I was a child my father every morning–
Some mornings, for a time, when I was ten or so,
My father gave my mother a drug called antabuse.
It makes you sick if you drink alcohol.
They were little yellow pills. He ground them
In a glass, dissolved them in water, handed her
The glass and watched her closely while she drank.
It was the late nineteen-forties, a time,
A social world, in which the men got up
And went to work, leaving the women with the children.
His wink at me was a nineteen-forties wink.
He watched her closely so she couldn’t “pull
A fast one” or “put anything over” on a pair
As shrewd as the two of us. I hear those phrases
In old movies and my mind begins to drift.
The reason he ground the medications fine
Was that the pills could be hidden under the tongue
And spit out later. The reason that this ritual
Occurred so early in the morning–I was told,
And knew it to be true–was that she could,
If she wanted, induce herself to vomit,
So she had to be watched until her system had
Absorbed the drug. Hard to render, in these lines,
The rhythm of the act. He ground two of them
To powder in a glass, filled it with water,
Handed it to her, and watched her drink.
In my memory, he’s wearing a suit, gray,
Herringbone, a white shirt she had ironed.
Some mornings, as in the comics we read
When Dagwood went off early to placate
Mr. Dithers, leaving Blondie with crusts
Of toast and yellow rivulets of egg yolk
To be cleared before she went shopping–
On what the comic called a shopping spree–
With Trixie, the next-door neighbor, my father
Would catch an early bus and leave the task
Of vigilance to me. “Keep an eye on Mama, pardner.”
You know the passage in the Aeneid? The man
Who leaves the burning city with his father
On his shoulders, holding his young son’s hand,
Means to do well among the flaming arras
And the falling columns while the blind prophet,
Arms upraised, howls from the inner chamber,
“Great Troy is fallen. Great Troy is no more.”
Slumped in a bathrobe, penitent and biddable,
My mother at the kitchen table gagged and drank,
Drank and gagged. We get our first moral idea
About the world–about justice and power,
Gender and the order of things–from somewhere.



Filed under Poetry

7 responses to “Poem-a-Day Friday: “The World as Will and Representation”

  1. Stunning. The last few lines left me breathless.

  2. Sarah

    Everything I was doing/thinking/listeningto went silent while I read this poem. It is definitely haunting. The words seem straightforward- and yet are not at all.

  3. Haley

    Wow. Haunting is definitely the right word.

  4. I think I find this poem even more haunting because of the huge number of images of normalcy – the eggs, the suit, the easy slang. They act like a veil over the meaning but that somehow only makes a stronger impression of the pain and disfunction…

  5. Wow. The whole poem is amazing but the last lines are, indeed, haunting…

  6. Lovely poem. I agree that the conversational tone increases its effect. It’s almost light, dancing, so casual about such a serious subject matter. It invites me to examine my early memories, make sense of why they made an impression, and now I want to be a student of the time in which I grew up, to understand how it shaped me. And then to look at what my children observe, what these memories will mean to them. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I want to say haunting…but already said… I want to say stunning…already said….amazing, already said!!

    What’s left, other than the impression left on my heart that there are so many children today, right this moment, living in that situation…(I am a social worker for children-my mind always goes there, even in the face of poetic poetry)

    Thanks for sharing that one….

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