Delights and Shadows: explaining poetry to an 8 year old

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

A few nights ago I sat on the edge of my bed reading. You came in and sat beside me, Izzy.

“What are you doing, daddy?”, you said.

“Reading this book,” I replied. I showed you the open page.

“What are you reading?”

I showed you the cover, as if that might be enough explanation.

“Who is it by?” you asked.

“A man named Ted Kooser,” I said.

“Can I read it with you?”

“Of course,” I said, opening the book wide, so that we could both see the words on the page.

“Why don’t you read it out loud for us,” I said.

“No, you read it,” you said.

I read aloud, just me and you. Several pages filled with poems. You giggled and scooted over closer to me to get a better look at the pages.

“I don’t get it,” you said.

“It’s poetry, Izzy. It’s beautiful. Getting it isn’t the point.”

“Isn’t it supposed to ryhme?”

“No, not always. Sometimes it just supposed to be beautiful. Listen to the words. How they sound together.” I wanted you to understand the gift of putting words together. I wanted you to see that an end goal or some result isn’t always the most important thing in life. I wanted you to see that life is sometimes simply in living in the gift of creation.

“What’s it mean?” you said.

I squinted at the page, wrinkled my brow, and smiled at you.

“Sometimes I understand. Sometimes I don’t. It’s okay not to understand.”

“Why do you read it then?”

“Because it’s beautiful.”

You wove your arm through mine as I held the book open. You pulled the cover back to take another look at the name of the book.

Delights and Shadows. What’s that mean?” you asked.

And so now, the opportunity to explain poetry and life to my oldest daughter. The one who showed me what life is 8 years ago. The one who showed me that God loves me, because for me, being told wasn’t enough. It was like understanding poetry. Or more accurately, not understanding it at all, and having someone dissect it for me in a University. “See?” he said.

“Well, poetry is like delights and shadows. Words on a page, really. Sometimes its exciting, good things…flowers, the smell of hot chocolate chip cookies, sunsets, things like that. And sometimes it’s shadows…mysterious, sad. Delights and shadows are how it makes you feel. I think its what Ted Kooser meant. I don’t always like it. Sometimes I do. Make sense?”

“Not really,” you said. And with that, you ran to your room to play or watch TV.


No triathlon training this weekend. I’m done for the season.

I love you,

– Daddy