My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Stanley Kunitz's poem The Portrait


  1. abbie says:

    The portrait was a good poem. I enjoyed it. The firsst thing that came to mind was Edger Allan Poe. I thing that Kunitz has a great ability to write poetry

  2. brock teigue says:

    your story reminded me of my great grandma. She died three years ago. I’m doing a projectat school and i’m writing about her. if you have any suggestions go on my email

  3. Linda Fulton Fritchlee says:

    As the author penns a biographical sketch of his identity, he paints his own portrait. He clearly capsulizes an irreversible event that has obsessed him from the womb. He and his mother are stranded and tormented by their past, unable to heal because of unforgiveness, holding them both captive. The premeditated event of his father’s suicide left an oozing wound of rejection for him and shamed his mother before he took life’s first breath. The burning slap hurled on his face by his mother was intended for his father, validating his rejection simply because he, the son, exists as a living memorial of the love she had long ago encrypted on her heart when she softly captured his father’s essence on paper. His mother had made a decision on that traumatic spring day that she would never be caught unaware again…she was left with the violation of her lifelong dreams and an embedded shame she could not or would not release, yet alone discuss. She was unable to separate her grief and guilt from shame and dishonor? By her willful and unrelenting inability to forgive his father, she kept him alive by holding him accountable in her calloused heart that now overshadowed the portrait she once held. But, she was caught unaware again by her son’s discovery in the attic. Her silent, but controlled rage accomplished the finality of the death of her unrequieted love. The breath of life now breathed in by her son was his mother’s lifelong bitterness that paints his own portrait as he picks up the shredded and only evidence of his father’s life. He appears trapped as he rehearses his static life, unable to claim the yet untasted freedom of his birth.

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