Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   

Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   

It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

Her regime expires when
the moon meets the sun
on the horizon we can’t see
because the sycamore trees

next door block our view.
Our world droops in anticipation.
We would like to exchange
the unkind for the kind but

we can’t find the strength
to oust the inevitable. Instead
we joke about politics and watch
our neighbors arm themselves.

From Promise (Louisiana State University Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Sally Van Doren. Used with the permission of Louisiana State University Press.

It would be easy to forgive,
If I could but remember;
If I could hear, lost love of mine,
The music of your cruelties,
Shaking to sound the silent skies,
Could voice with them their song divine,
Red with pain’s leaping ember:
It would be easy to forgive,
If I could but remember.

It would be easy to forget,
If I could find lost Sorrow;
If I could kiss her plaintive face,
And break with her her bitter bread,
Could share again her woeful bed,
And know with tears her pale embrace.
Make yesterday, to-morrow:
It would be easy to forget,
If I could find lost Sorrow.

 

This poem is in the public domain.

I had a little Sorrow,
   Born of a little Sin,
I found a room all damp with gloom
   And shut us all within;
And, "Little Sorrow, weep," said I,
   "And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
And I upon the floor will lie
   And think how bad I've been!"

Alas for pious planning—
   It mattered not a whit!
As far as gloom went in that room,
   The lamp might have been lit!
My Little Sorrow would not weep,
   My little Sin would go to sleep—
To save my soul I could not keep
   My graceless mind on it!

So up I got in anger,
   And took a book I had,
And put a ribbon on my hair
   To please a passing lad,
And, "One thing there's no getting by—
   I've been a wicked girl," said I;
"But if I can't be sorry, why,
   I might as well be glad!"

This poem was originally published in A Few Figs from Thistles (1920). This poem is in the public domain.

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

This poem is in the public domain.

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,   
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;   
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,   
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it Art?"   
   
Wherefore he called to his wife and fled to fashion his work anew— 
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;   
And he left his lore to the use of his sons—and that was a glorious gain   
When the Devil chuckled: "Is it Art?" in the ear of the branded Cain.   
   
They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,   
Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: "It's striking, but is it Art?" 
The stone was dropped by the quarry-side, and the idle derrick swung,   
While each man talked of the aims of art, and each in an alien tongue.   
   
They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west,
Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest—   
Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start,  
And the Devil bubbled below the keel: "It's human, but is it Art?"   
   
The tale is old as the Eden Tree—as new as the new-cut tooth—   
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;   
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,   
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art?"  
   
We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,   
We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yolk of an addled egg,   
We know that the tail must wag the dog, as the horse is drawn by the cart;   
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: "It's clever, but is it Art?"   
   
When the flicker of London's sun falls faint on the club-room's green and gold,  
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mold—   
They scratch with their pens in the mold of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start   
When the Devil mutters behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it art?"   
   
Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the four great rivers flow,   
And the wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago, 
And if we could come when the sentry slept, and softly scurry through,   
By the favor of God we might know as much—as our father Adam knew.

This poem is in the public domain.

We’ve been told space
is like two dark lips colliding

like science fiction
it outlines a small cosmos

where fear hides in a glow
where negative space

becomes a place for wishing
a constellation of hazy tunes

of faint sharp vowels
a glossary of meteors

a telescope to god
a cold bright white

maybe distance damages us
maybe Jupiter

will suddenly surprise us
with a notion of holiness

but instead an old planet
takes over all the space

and we are reminded
of the traces of fire

in our gaze
defining our infidelities

Copyright © 2015 by Nathalie Handal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

"A Nation's Strength" first appeared in Our Little Kings and Queens at Home and at School (Louis Benham & Co., 1891). This poem is in the public domain.

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons – 
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes – 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – 
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are – 

None may teach it – Any – 
'Tis the Seal Despair – 
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air – 

When it comes, the Landscape listens – 
Shadows – hold their breath – 
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death – 

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves 
And Immortality.

We slowly droveHe knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recessin the Ring
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain
We passed the Setting Sun

Or ratherHe passed us
The Dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my Gown
My Tippetonly Tulle

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground
The Roof was scarcely visible
The Cornicein the Ground

Since then’tis Centuriesand yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

The Soul unto itself
Is an imperial friend  – 
Or the most agonizing Spy  – 
An Enemy  –  could send  – 

Secure against its own  – 
No treason it can fear  – 
Itself  –  its Sovereign  –  of itself
The Soul should stand in Awe  – 

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down—
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Sirocos—crawl—
Nor Fire—for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool—

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine—

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And 'twas like Midnight, some—

When everything that ticked—has stopped—
And Space stares all around—
Or Grisly frosts—first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground—

But, most, like Chaos—Stopless—cool—
Without a Chance, or Spar—
Or even a Report of Land—
To justify—Despair.

This poem is in the public domain.

Color - Caste - Denomination -
These - are Time's Affair -
Death's diviner Classifying
Does not know they are -

As in sleep - all Hue forgotten -
Tenets - put behind -
Death's large - Democratic fingers
Rub away the Brand -

If Circassian - He is careless -
If He put away
Chrysalis of Blonde - or Umber -
Equal Butterfly -

They emerge from His Obscuring -
What Death - knows so well -
Our minuter intuitions -
Deem unplausible

This poem is in the public domain.

With your kind permission, your attention I will claim,
I am only just an Indian, it matters not my name,
But I represent my people, their cause and interest, too;
And in their name and honor, I present myself to you.
They have your sacred promise, your pledge of friendship warm,
That you would always aid them and protect them from all harm,
And in my humble efforts, as I briefly state their case,
Will you pardon my shortcomings, and my errors all erase?

I do not come with grandeur, or boast of any fame,
Rank in politics, society, or wealth I cannot claim,
I never went to college, have no title of LL. D.,
As the Great Spirit made me, is all that you may see.
With the forces that oppose me, I certainly should pause,
If I were not depending on the justice of my cause.
I am only just an Indian, who here represents his band;
With this simple introduction, I extend to you my hand.

This poem is in the public domain.

This time it does not begin with the beaver
Instead only halfway up the mountain
Where the sheep we keep each year come through

Winter enough to answer us, enough
For us to shear, deft before the coming storm,
To take away from the body what it did not know

It grew and then astonished each spring to feel 
The quickening of the lamb, the heft of
Sudden weight crossing one more patch

Of snow. All with an eye out
For the cougar or some such animal
Of which the DNA is no longer

What it might have been, the coyote now
As part dog part wolf   
Already commonplace. We have come to know the truth

As no longer true— the old ways do not work
Against the new. How to reconcile the bear
As she comes down to what we now call ours

And how to prepare for the unforeseen
As we throw each sheep handily on their back
To begin at the belly—fleece to shear,

To wash, and pick, to card, to bale, to weigh,
To the depot where all will be spun, dyed
Into the wool we want, knowing it can be done

Again and again without much death
For the sheep she rises, shakes herself
Back into where she was before: grass, lamb;

Watches until we have pulled away,
As we head back down the mountain—
And in something like ability, or capacity, 

The condition of being human, or female,
Or both, we want to knit this out, into
Dawn light, into a long stream

Of making sense, into where we will go next,
Into skeins of design and colors
Of what blood can mean, pinks

Such as rose or carmine, wanton or nearly red,
Timid or raw, healing or newly born,
Scarlet, blaze, bloom, or shell, or blush,

Like the small fingers of a wakening child,
Each stitch to repeat, purl and dispatch,
To get this done, and into that which

We can call sustainable, so those from behind
Can choose from the many hues; likewise
To walk forward with covered or uncovered heads.

Copyright © 2017 by Sophie Cabot Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

While free from Force the Press remains,
Virtue and Freedom chear our Plains,
And Learning Largesses bestows,
And keeps unlicens’d open House.
We to the Nation’s publick Mart
Our Works of Wit, and Schemes of Art,
And philosophic Goods, this Way,
Like Water carriage, cheap convey.
This Tree which Knowledge so affords,
Inquisitors with flaming Swords
From Lay-Approach with Zeal defend,
Lest their own Paradise should end.

The Press from her fecundous Womb
Brought forth the Arts of Greece and Rome;
Her Offspring, skill’d in Logic War,
Truth’s Banner wav’d in open Air;
The Monster Superstition fled,
And hid in Shades her Gorgon Head;
And lawless Pow’r, the long kept Field,
By Reason quell’d, was forc’d to yield.

This Nurse of Arts, and Freedom’s Fence,
To chain, is Treason against Sense:
And Liberty, thy thousand Tongues
None silence who design no Wrongs;
For those that use the Gag’s Restraint,
First rob, before they stop Complaint.

This poem is in the public domain.

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful 
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   
this man, superb in love and logic, this man   
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone, 
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

"Frederick Douglass." Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden. From Collected Poems of Robert Hayden by Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.