Alice Walker touchingly explores the connection between herself and her father in this poem, as well as her own reflections on the process of ageing. Here, you’ll find an overview of the poem and analysis of its key ideas, to help you study it in more depth or understand it more profoundly. 

This page includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem via the link below.

Poem at Thirty-Nine

“How I miss my father.

I wish he had not been

so tired

when I was


Alice Walker

(Full poem unable to be reproduced due to copyright) 


Stanza 1: The poet says she misses her father and wishes he’d been less tired when she was born – perhaps a metaphor to suggest that he was always working or had no time and energy for her. 

Stanza 2: When she writes money deposit slips and cheques (checks), she thinks about him and how he taught her to manage finances. She saw keeping track of and managing money as a way to escape from her parents’ lifestyle and started saving very early, even in high school. 

Stanza 3: He also taught her to tell the truth, even though sometimes she may have gotten in trouble for it, and sometimes it may have hurt him to know the truth. 

Stanza 4: She remembers him cooking, and how this was an almost spiritual act for him. He enjoyed the process of cooking and the act of sharing food. 

Stanza 5: The poet now thinks about herself, and how she copies her father’s behaviour (as well as his appearance). She cooks in a similar way, using the process of cooking to switch off and enjoy herself, equally she enjoys the process of feeding others. 

Stanza 6: Finally, she realises he would have been proud of the woman that she’s become. Her behaviour is similar to his own, both domestic and creative. 

 Looking for more poems to read? Why not try ‘Hide and Seek’ by Vernon Scannell – Poem Analysis


The speaker in the poem is Walker herself, drawing on her own personal experiences and memories to explore how we connect to family and tradition, and how our own lives are influenced daily by our upbringing. There is a nostalgic tone to the poem as Walker reflects on her relationship with her father happy, but with a tinge of sadness as we realise he is no longer around.


  • Family 
  • Daily activities 
  • Parenting 
  • Ageing / Maturity 
  • Primal rituals 
  • Nourishment (Spiritual and Physical)

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks to complete by yourself

Thanks for reading!

If you find this page helpful, you can also look at our full online Edexcel IGCSE Poetry course here. Use the code “EDEXCEL” to receive a 15% discount

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