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"September, the First Day of School" by Howard Nemerov

September 04, 2019 3 Comments

Back to School and the First Day of School

September is upon us and households are aflutter with excitement as the first day of school approaches. We try to squeeze in a few more days at the pool or beach as summer lingers on. We take the kids out for a late dinner, go for ice cream afterwards and what's another half hour at twilight at the park or playground.

But we know that we will have to start recalibrating our minds and bodies to the early morning rush and the demands of homework, sports, music lessons, etc.. Our circadian rhythm is way off and we wonder if we should start to reset our clocks now to get the kids ready.

The kids are so excited to meet their new teachers, see their new classrooms, cubbies and desks and see friends, old and new. We welcome the routine, structure and sense of community that schools  provide and we look forward to engaging with teachers and parents again.

I recently took my kids to a bookstore to browse and as my kids were tearing it up, literally, in the kids section, I stopped to enjoy a poetry anthology. It included this poem about how we all feel on the first day of school. One of my kids is entering first grade, so this is particularly meaningful for me.  My favorite line is "I know my hope, but do not know its form."

I share the poem with you here:

"September, the First Day of School" by Howard Nemerov


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.


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, inseperably, 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.

3 Responses


August 30, 2018

This poem teaches a lesson that patience and perseverance in the face of difficulties makes the final success


February 14, 2017

paraphrase this poem please one by one sentence… please


August 29, 2016


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