The Great Poem Series: Samuel Hazo’s “Seesaws”


Published in the 2004 Atlantic Monthly, Seesaws by Samuel Hazo, symbolizes the difference in conflict between balances and the irony of them. Hazo, founder and director of the International Poetry Forum in Pittsburg and McAnulty Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Duquesne University, has written a countless number of poetry books, such as A Flight to Elsewhere, and Just Once: New and Previous Poems. Along with this he has helped translate many different novels and was elected the first State Poet of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1993 and served until 2003. His poem, “Seesaws”, was featured in the 2005 Best American Poetry, and serves as an example of the simple conflicts between balances in life in a precise and clear way.

This poem stands out to me because of the way in which it is written. When spoken aloud, it flows due to the structure of each sentence. They are each built with the same, simple declarative sentences fused with a comma, allowing for easy comparison. I noticed  when I read it aloud that my voice changed at the same place in every sentence. As I read along with the poem, I found myself reading it in a synced manner. This connects to the title of the poem, “Seesaws”. As I read this poem, I was reminded of a seesaw and how it symbolizes one through its movement and sentence structure. My voice went up  for the first clause and then down as I read the second. This was a very inventive tactic used by Hazo that added even more to the poem by connecting the actual title of the poem with the language and the meaning. 

To go along with the creativeness, I thought the whole aspect with conflicting ideas made this poem even stronger. The first clause of every sentence connected to the second in a way that was ironic and different. Lines like “the deeper the pain, the older the wound”, “the colder the snow, the greener the spring”, make a point in using differences. These opposites complement each other to give a deeper meaning. For example the one about winter and the cold shows that if something is so bad, when it gets better it becomes even greater than what one would have thought because of what they had to go through.  It shows how one needs to appreciate the little things and endure certain challenges.These statements can be broken down to more general, yet thought provoking statements that are commonly thought ideology. 

I really appreciated the adjectives he used throughout the whole piece. These were very strong words that made the poem more dramatic and lively. Words like “viler”, “graver”, and “steeper” gave the poem a more eery feel, despite the effort of the poem towards a more positive outlook. This feeling of the poem made me want more. I wanted there to be more comparisons and connections with things because it made a broad statement that could be broken down further. In each stanza, Hazo had the sentences line up with similar themes. Each of these stanzas contained a certain emotion and feel. For example, the last word of every line in the last stanza was “cape”, “laugh”, “joy”, and “years”. All of these words remind me of something happy and joyous, which is what that particular stanza is depicting and showing. This stanza was about looking on the brighter side and the more positive things in life, while others show a more drastically negative aspect of life.

Another strong aspect to this poem, is how Hazo connected the first line with the last line. The first line, “the bigger the tomb, the smaller the man”, mentioned death with the tomb and the last line talks about death and “the longer the life, the briefer the years”. I thought this was very creative and pulled it all together. The entire poem seemed to be conflicting ideas through one’s life and I think that having the poem end with a line about death was something that made it very strong. Going off on this, my overall favorite aspect of this poem would be that last line itself. This is a line I really agree with and it makes the poem more personable. It gives “longer” a different meaning by saying how if one lives life to the fullest, life will go by fast and the years will be “briefer”. It’s shows how one needs to enjoy life and take it in, because there is always another way one can look at life and everything around it. This is something I truly believe in and agree with. Individuals need to take things in while they can and enjoy everything to the fullest because one may not know how much time they have left.

Overall, this poem was a great way to show how the difference between certain balances can make a strong effective piece fit together and bring a great depth in subject. Hazo himself wrote that even though everything written has an obvious opposite, “there [is] always more there than simple opposition”. This was something that was evident throughout his work. He stated that as he began writing more of this poem, he began to realize how ironic his piece really was and that it was more apparent and how it could be shown through what seemed as a litany of balances. This connected him to the thought that the essence of drama was “the presence therin of a seeming contradiction”. This just shows his mentality towards this poem and how the balances between confliction opposites, can be turned around to make more profound statements.  

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