Dawn Garisch

To My Father, Who Died by Dawn Garisch

Dawn Garisch’s poem ‘To My Father, Who Died’ is about the relationship of the poet’s father with the sea. It depicts the cycle of life and death through the metaphor of the sea.

To My Father, Who Died by Dawn Garisch

‘To My Father, Who Died’ appears in Dawn Garisch’s only poetry collection, Difficult Gifts, published in 2011. This poem features the poet’s love for her father and how she finds him emerging from the depths of the sea even after his death. So, death is not an ending. It is just a step to enter the afterlife. In her father’s case, he is ever-present in the depths whenever she seeks him. His restless eyes guide her to unravel the mysteries lying in the sea.

To My Father, Who Died by Dawn Garisch


‘To My Father, Who Died’ by Dawn Garisch is a thoughtful poem dedicated to the poet’s father that taps on the beauty of the sea.

This piece begins with a speaker sitting along a shore. Suddenly, she finds the soul of her father emerging from the sea, and he tries to visualize the sea again through her eyes. He takes a long look at the wash, unsure of where to cast his eyes. Then, he scans for the depths where he can plunge again as a fish.

In the fourth and fifth stanzas, the speaker talks about her birth, starting from his father’s sperm entering into her mother’s cavern. She makes use of several images related to the sea in order to portray how her father valued her. The last stanza again returns to the spot from where the poem began.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-8

On shimmering beaches you come to me

and sit in the caves of my sockets,


and gulls in flight, unless they relate

to where to cast, where to meditate.

Dawn Garisch’s thoughtful poem is filled with the imagery of the sea. This piece evokes the proximity of the speaker to the sea and how she learned a great deal about it from her father. He is no more, yet his learning still pumps through her veins, reflected in her shimmering eyes like the shimmering sands in nostalgic sunrays.

The speaker sits by the shore and looks at the sea with a heavy heart in order to recapitulate about her dead father. At such times, her father comes to her and looks through her eyes. He takes a long look at the sea where it breathes white ash and is seasoned with fish and salt.

Her father seems to be forgetful about where to look. He waits for the cliffs and the gulls to show him the direction. In this way, Garisch projects her father’s relationship with the sea. It seems he is spiritually connected with nature, especially the sea.

Lines 8-16

Your eyes skim and skip, scanning

the churned water and the lure within


fastened on her blood muscle

some limpet days; then came the third daughter,

In the third stanza, Garisch recapitulates how her father looked at the waves. His eyes skimmed and skipped for finer details. They went for the water, where it churned continuously. This image of water churning in the sea conveys the eternal cycle of life and death. His father’s wish was to plunge there in order to gain eternal bliss.

The line “fish disperse/ like coins scattered, catching light” contains an interesting metaphor. Here, the “fish” is compared to “coins.” It shows how a human dies and merges into the body of the universe.

The next stanza deals specifically with the biological metaphors concerning fertilization in human beings. Garisch describes how her father’s sperm became immersed and scattered inside her mother. Like a pearl, it inserted into her “mother’s cavern,” a metaphor for ovum.

Then the fertilized cell develops into an embryo and gets attached to the walls of the uterus. The poet describes the embryo attached to uterine walls through the image of limpets (a marine mollusk found clinging tightly to rocks). Finally, when the day arrived, the third daughter (the poet) was born.

Lines 17-24

sea child, washed up like diviner’s shells

and other flotsam fragments on your shores,


the surface play and try to understand

what moved you. I only see the view. 

The fifth stanza of ‘To My Father, Who Died’ begins with the term “sea child,” a metaphorical reference to the poet. This word depicts the poet’s proximity to the sea. Like “diviner’s shells,” she came to her father. Besides, the way a child is born is described by the image of flotsam fragments arriving at the shore.

In the next lines, the speaker describes how the receding tides cast fine lines on the shore. Things that were alive are now turned into ash and float in the wind. Likewise, the “receding tides” of life took her father away.

The last stanza returns to the point where the poem began. Here, the poet becomes emotional. She describes how her father entered into the interface where fish emerged. This image deals with her father’s death. Now, she sits there and calmly watches the “surface play” in order to understand what stunned her father. But, she can only see the “view,” not the finer details that made her father plunge into the depths.


Garisch’s ‘To My Father, Who Died’ is a free-verse lyric poem. It consists of six quatrains or stanzas having four lines. There is no specific rhyme scheme or meter. Garisch mostly uses internal rhymings and lucid lines in order to maintain the flow of the text. Apart from that, the poem is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. The speaker is none other than the poet herself. In this poem, she describes her feelings for her deceased father.

Literary Devices

Garisch makes use of the following literary devices in her poem ‘To My Father, Who Died’.

  • Enjambment: It occurs in the first five lines of the poem. By using this device, Garish makes readers quickly go through the lines.
  • Imagery: In this piece, Garish mostly uses visual imagery, for instance, “shimmering beaches,” “sea breathes white and ash,” etc. She also uses organic imagery to express her emotions.
  • Metaphor: The phrase “caves of my sockets” contains a metaphor for eyeballs. This device is also used in other instances.
  • Simile: It occurs in “where fish disperse/ like coins scattered, catching light” and “washed up like diviner’s shells.”
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “long look,” “skim and skip,” “my mother’s,” etc.


What is the poem ‘To My Father, Who Died’?

Dawn Garisch’s ‘To My Father, Who Died’ is about a speaker who misses her father. In this poem, the speaker describes how the sea makes her think about her father. It compels her to find what moved her father to take the final, deep plunge.

What type of poem is ‘To My Father, Who Died’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. The text consists of a total of six quatrains. Besides, there is no regular rhyme or meter.

What is the theme of ‘To My Father, Who Died’?

This piece explores a number of themes that include sea, death, life, and sadness. The main idea of the poem concerns a speaker who misses her father by looking at the sea. She tries to find how the sea influenced her father.

What is the tone and mood of ‘To My Father, Who Died’?

The tone of this poem is sad, thoughtful, and inspired, and the mood follows the same. While reading the text, readers can feel how the poet misses her father. She is in a confused state, trying to find answers. Hence, she meditates upon the sea.

Similar Poems

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Dawn Garisch’s poem ‘To My Father, Who Died’.

You can also read about these poems about fatherhood.

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To My Father, Who Died by Dawn Garisch
Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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