Advice to My Son by J. Peter Meinke

September 19, 2008

This is a poem that was introduced to me in High School and has to be one of my favorite poems. It is simple, practical, and deep all at once. Read it with a glass of wine.

Advice to My Son by J. Peter Meinke
(b.1932)

The trick is, to live your days
as if each one may be your last
(for they go fast, and young men lose their lives
in strange and unimaginable ways)
but at the same time, plan long range
(for they go slow; if you survive
the shattered windshield and the bursting shell
you will arrive
at our approximation here below
of heaven or hell).

To be specific, between the peony and the rose
plant squash and spinach, turnips and tomatoes;
beauty is nectar
and nectar, in a desert, saves–
but the stomach craves stronger sustaenance
than the honied vine.
Therefore, marry a pretty girl
after seeing her mother;
Show your soul to one man,
work with another;
and always serve bread with your wine.
But son, always serve wine.

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9 Responses to “Advice to My Son by J. Peter Meinke”

  1. honestpoet said

    It is beautiful, isn’t it?

    I learned to write poetry from Peter (as well as how to survive the writing life), and this is one of the poems he shared with us in class. He was my mentor, and we still correspond. You can find his writing at Creative Loafing, a blog of Tampa writers; there’s a link to it in my sidebar.

  2. tiffany said

    dude….give us the literary comentary too

  3. honestpoet said

    I can only wonder if Tiffany is writing a paper and was disappointed not to find her work done for her.

    Poetry, however, when done well, speaks for itself, and commentary is usually superfluous (and often wrong). If it could be said prosaically, the poet would have written an essay.

  4. Brian said

    I first read this poem somewhere in the realm of twentyfive years ago. It rang true to a thirteen year old boy; it speaks volumes to a thirtyeight year old father. The last line still chokes me up.

    I may be dreaming, but I cannot help but wonder: the poem as I recall it was worded slightly differently. Has it been changed or can I not trust my memory? Specifically, I recall the line being “Speak truth to one man, work with another”. I would have sworn that was the line. There are one or two minor variations that may well be the original words, but I’d stake my memory on the line I quoted. Anyone have any thoughts? Am I writing this to an empty room?

    • percececil said

      I am listening, but I don’t remember those variations on the poem. Sorry…

      still a powerful work and makes me think day in and day out “am I living to the fullest?”

      • joe said

        I lost my college book that had this poem in it. It is one of my favorite poems. I was looking for it to read to my kids. I want them to understand the balance that life takes. That message in the poem is so deftly simply put and accessible.

        By the way I also learned the poem with the line “speak truth to one man, work with another.” I prefer that as it does speak to the need to balance. Not all people – friends included – hear the truth well, or for that matter are meant to hear the truths of your soul. Some people we are good friends with, but do not share everything. This is life.

    • taiki said

      In the book POETSPEAK (Collier Books, New York, 1991), the lines are written thus (p. 4):

      Therefore, marry a pretty girl
      after seeing her mother;
      speak truth to one man,
      work with another;
      and always serve bread with your wine.

      But, son,
      always serve wine.

      I’ve always liked this version better–”speak truth” seems to me capable of conveying all the sense of the other phrase, but is also funnier (we should lie to our colleagues…?!) in its implications. This latter combination just seems more fitting to the overall tone of the poem.

      • Brian said

        taiki,
        I apologize for not having replied sooner; truth be told, I never realized there was further discourse on the subject. I eventually found the copy of my 9th grade English textbook (September 1984) and it indeed had the same version of the poem as you cite. I have to admit I also prefer the ‘earlier’ version. if only due to its newness to me. In any event, my cap is doffed and then reset at a jaunty tilt in honor of the poet.

  5. James said

    This is my favorite poem.
    No question

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