The Red Hat

Rachel Hadas

‘The Red Hat’ by Rachel Hadas provides a poignant scene that captures the bittersweet experience of raising a child.

Rachel Hadas

Nationality: American

Rachel Hadas is an American poet, influenced by Greek classics.

Her poetry beautifully weaves together classical mythology and everyday life

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: As a child grows up, parents contend with their diminishing primacy in their lives

Speaker: A parent

Emotions Evoked: Confidence, Fear, Freedom

Poetic Form: Narrative

Time Period: 20th Century

Rachel Hadas communicates all the complicated mess of emotions that go through a parent's mind as their child begins to experiment with independence.

‘The Red Hat’ narrates a moving moment of change in the relationship and routines of a child and their parents. One that poet Rachel Hadas uses to highlight how the latter must eventually contend with the very independence that they have tried to foster and encourage in their offspring.

Even something as simple as allowing them to walk to school on their own has ramifications onnot just the child but the parents as well. The poem cleverly uses their parallel journeys to symbolize the way. Eventually, they diverge as part of the process of growing up. It is a poem about contending with such necessary milestones and views them from the perspective of a parent.


‘The Red Hat’ by Rachel Hadas is a poem about two parents reluctantly trying to cope with their child’s newly gifted independence.

“Now our son / officially walks to school alone,” the speaker declares in the opening lines. But that is only a half-truth as they concede it is more accurate to say “semi-alone.” That is because both parents still choose to follow their son for at least part of his journey. Though they still give him a sense of independence by walking along the opposite side of the street and not making direct eye contact.

Eventually, along an area known as “Straus Park,” their paths diverge from one another. The speaker describes the intense sense of longing that overwhelms them, their “love and fear” stretching outwards in vain to follow their son the rest of the way to school. The speaker ends the stanza reflecting on the marked differences between today and two weeks ago, contrasting the son’s past reluctance with his newfound boldness.

The second stanza continues the parental retrospection as the speaker confesses the differences this change has catalyzed within their own morning routine. Their mornings are somewhat longer now because of this new routine, but there is also an elusive feeling that now fills them after watching their son go. One that makes them feel “empty, unanchored, [and] perilously light.”

Structure and Form

‘The Red Hat’ is composed of two stanzas; the first is made up of sixteen lines and the second of six. There is no definite meter, but the poem does have an ‘ABAB’ alternating rhyme scheme.

Literary Devices

‘The Red Hat’ uses a number of literary devices. For example, there are instances of visual imagery like: “He walks up on the east side of West End, / we on the west side. Glances can extend / (and do) across the street; not eye contact.” (5-7) “holding a hand, he’d dawdle, dreamy, slow, / he now is hustled forward” (14-15).

There are also examples of metaphors, for example: “Already ties are feeling and not fact.” (8) “The watcher’s heart / stretches, elastic in its love and fear, / toward him as we see him disappear,” (10-12) “the pull / of something far more powerful than school.” (15-16)

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

It started before Christmas. Now our son
officially walks to school alone.
Semi-alone, it’s accurate to say:
I or his father track him on his way.
striding briskly. Where two weeks ago,
holding a hand, he’d dawdle, dreamy, slow,
he now is hustled forward by the pull
of something far more powerful than school.

‘The Red Hat’ begins with the speaker explaining that their son has begun to walk alone to school. Yet they are not truly alone, as both parents still accompany the boy from a distance. “I or his father track him on his way” (4), they confess before describing their route and the way they try to maintain some semblance of independence for their son.

For one, they walk up the opposite side of the street, exchanging only glances though “not eye contact” (7). The speaker holding up this little dance of furtive peeks — between a child testing their newly minted freedom and a parent still trying to let go — as a sign of their ties already becoming “feeling and not fact” (8).

As they approach the point where their “parallel paths part” (9), the child heads out alone as the parents stop. Hadas creates a potent image of longing as the speaker describes the way their heart “stretches, elastic in its love and fear” (11) to follow the boy now “striding briskly” (13). Here the poet juxtaposes the parent’s reluctance to let go with the child’s ever-diminishing hesitancy. The speaker recalls just two weeks prior how, he’d hold their hand and “dawdle, dreamy, slow” (14).

But now that has all changed, and the speaker prophetically admits that their son is being enticed by “something far more powerful than school” (16). In other words, the child is now intrigued by the curiosity of exploring the world outside the watchful but protective eyes of their parents, a natural and pivotal part of growing up.

Stanza Two

The mornings we turn back to are no more
than forty minutes longer than before,
empty, unanchored, perilously light
since the red hat vanished from our sight.

‘The Red Hat’ ends by shifting the focus away from the child who has now departed to complete their solo journey to school and toward the parents left alone with their thoughts. The speaker mentions that their mornings haven’t been tangibly altered much by the routine, with the exception of being “no more / than forty minutes longer than before” (17-18). But there is now a perceptible though hard-to-define sense that things are different now than before.

Without their son, they feel “flimsy, strange, / wavering in the eddies of this change” (19-20). The poem’s diction and imagery characterize the surreal feelings of parents coping with their children’s first dive into facing the world alone. The speaker describes this elusive impression more concretely in the final lines as being “empty, unanchored, perilously light” (21); further emphasizing the poet’s attempts at capturing the way a child’s journey growth can unmoor a parent’s sense of identity and purpose.


What is the theme of ‘The Red Hat?

The poem wrestles with the love and fear that sits at the center of any parent watching their child grow up. It gets at the precarious balancing act of wanting them to exercise their independence but also the inherent worries that arise. Be it over the child’s safety or the existential discomfort inspired by their sudden and ever-growing absence.

Why did Rachel Hadas write ‘The Red Hat?

Hadas might have written this poem from experience as she had a son herself. The poem’s intimate parental point of view makes it a compelling expression of the unspoken but universal fears experienced by those with children.

What is the tone of the poem?

The poem unfolds as this bittersweet expression of pride and worry. As a result, its tone wavers between a soft tenderness that is directed at the son and an earnest melancholy.

Who is the “watcher” mentioned in the poem?

The speaker of the poem is the parent of the son walking alone to school. The decision to refer to themselves in the third person is fueled by the fact that the poem narrates the actions of both parents. Sometimes it is the speaker, and sometimes it is the father, hence the vague “watcher’s heart.” But it also emphasizes the perceived distance between the parents and their son. As if to illustrate the way they are further receding into the background of their child’s life.

Similar Poems

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The Red Hat

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Rachel Hadas (poems)

Rachel Hadas

This poem by Rachel Hadas might not be one of her most renowned pieces but it does reveal the beguiling power of her intimate verse. This is especially true when it comes to poems that are so evidently close to the poet's real life. This particular poem communicates all the bittersweetness of both parenthood and childhood.
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20th Century

Hadas was born in 1948 and has since published a number of poetry collections. This poem highlights the personal nature of her verse and her ability to expand one's intimate thoughts into something universally felt. It also uncovers the poet's talent at locating what is eternal within the ordinary or every day.
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Hadas was an American poet well known for her contemplative and formal verse. This poem especially captures the poet's ability to peer into everyday moments and find something substantial within, therefore uncovering a message about parenthood and childhood that rings true not just in America but across cultures. This poem, alongside many of her writings, are rife with beautiful observations and epiphanies on life.
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Coming of Age

One of the poem's central themes is a coming of age. This is essentially what the speaker is coming to terms with as a parent, as they see their child walking alone to school as the beginning of that milestone. Of course, the speaker understands that this is a necessary part of life, yet that does not stop the bittersweet feelings they have.
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One of the reasons the speaker struggles with their child's independence might have something to do with how they identify themselves with the caretaking of them. As their child grows older and needs to rely on them less, this has an adverse effect on the role they have occupied in their lives up to that point.
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The core theme of the poem revolves around the relationship between the child and their parents. Now that their son is walking to school alone, that relationship has become more tenuous because of their increased independence. Yet, it also is a sign that their relationship is just naturally evolving as the child grows up.
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One of the emotions imparted in the poem is a sense of the child's burgeoning confidence as they get more comfortable with walking to school alone. Since the poem is from the point of view of one of the parents, that feeling is somewhat muted by others. Yet, the poem's portrayal of the child's confidence is still vibrant and shines through in a way that somewhat implies the speaker is proud as a parent.
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Fear is mentioned by the speaker as a consequence of their child's newfound independence. Part of the reason has to do with their lack of control or any semblance of protection offered by them physically being with their child. Though they still try to manage that fear by watching their son on their journey up to a point.
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Freedom is the dominant emotion in the poem alongside the speaker's fear. It is this sense of freedom that overtakes the child and ironically it is the parent of said child that describes it in such perfect terms. The effect is to remind the reader that the speaker (as a parent) understands not just the necessity but the tempting pull that comes with one's first taste of freedom.
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Childhood is one of the crucial topics mentioned in the poem. Hadas, through the speaker, illustrates a nostalgic reminder of what being a kid on the cusp of your first foray into independence feels like. She uses a variety of powerful imagery and figurative language to render the memory bittersweet, as she knows that, once begun, it cannot be reversed.
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Exploration is one of the primary curiosities driving the child of the speaker in the poem. They admit as much in the poem itself, confessing with knowing that it is more than school drawing the boy in. She refers to the feeling of walking a path without parental guidance for the first time: an experience with addictive qualities, to say the least.
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Family is touched on in the form of the boy's parents, who admirably and honestly struggle with the difficulty of giving your child more freedom. Hadas' treatment of the couple is affectionately lucid in its introspection. With the second stanza serving as a powerful attempt to grasp at the ways in which a child growing up can feel like a parent diminishing.
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Walking is obviously a topic by default within this poem. Yet, it provides Hadas the opportunity to physically illustrate the measured paths a parent takes alongside their child through life before parting with them willingly. In this way, it symbolizes the temporal lengths parents will care for their children over, as well as emphasizing how laborious the journey can be.
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This poem can be considered a narrative poem because of both its structure and style. The speaker narrates an event in their life with great detail and care, focusing on the internal as well as the external. In this way, the poem becomes an intimate experience for the reader, who is flooded with the emotions of a parent experiencing their child's fledgling independence.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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