—for Patrick Rosal

Before, ache never seemed long like a tunnel
under the city flaring off another tunnel
the subway rumbled against, or the dark

jutting out of daylight’s reach up on 187th
when I know some part is inhabited and
that habitation looks out at me. I know

every uninhabited place lodges a thing looking
out. I have grown into a life, become middle
aged, deepened into the hidden inside, like

the day into its other half, or a memory
of a woman’s silence after she didn’t
want to be kissed, and I wonder when rot

began, and I wonder what other ideas the cabbie
had when he turned into the truck’s path.
Sometimes silence is emptier than some oaths

I have made. Hours change habits and late seeps
into early and rain, in another part of this
country, suddenly, heavily falls, flattens seams,

frays and splits them like I did away from a lover once
in a city where both of us were foreign, and she
the only person who recognized me for a thousand miles,

the only one who knew where I was. And
then not. This ache is empty like that.

Copyright © 2015 by Curtis Bauer. “Self Portrait in Dark Interior” originally appeared in Southern Indiana Review. Used with permission of the author.

The day is done, and the darkness
   Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
   From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
   Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
   That my soul cannot resist:
  
A feeling of sadness and longing,
   That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
   As the mist resembles the rain.
  
Come, read to me some poem,
   Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
   And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
   Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
   Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
   Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
   And to-night I long for rest.
  
Read from some humbler poet,
   Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
   Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
   And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
   Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
   The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
   That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
   The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
   The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
   And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
   And as silently steal away.

This poem is in the public domain.

I have not felt a thing for weeks.
But getting up and going to work on time
I did what needed to be done, then rushed home.
And even the main streets, those ancient charmers,
Failed to amuse me, and the fight between
The upstairs couple was nothing but loud noise.
None of it touched me, except as an irritation,
And though I knew I could stop
And enjoy if I wanted to
The karate excitement and the crowd
That often gathers in front of funeral homes,
I denied myself these dependable pleasures,
The tricks of anti-depression
That had taken me so long to learn,
By now worn smooth with use, like bowling alleys in my soul.
And certain records that one can't hear without
Breaking into a smile, I refused to listen to
In order to find out what it would be like
To be cleansed of enthusiasm,
And to learn to honor my emptiness,
My indifference, myself at zero degrees.

More than any desire to indulge the numbness I wanted to be free of the bullying urge to feel, Or to care, or to sympathize. I have always dreaded admitting I was unfeeling From the time my father called me ‘a cold fish,' And I thought he might be right, at nine years old And ever since I have run around convincing everyone What a passionate, sympathetic person I am.

I would have said no poetry can come From a lack of enthusiasm; yet how much of my life, Of anyone's life, is spent in neutral gear? The economics of emotions demand it. Those rare intensities of love and anguish Are cheapened when you swamp them with souped-up ebulliences, A professional liveliness that wears so thin. There must be a poetry for that other state When I am feeling precisely nothing, there must Be an interesting way to write about it. There are continents of numbness to discover If I could have the patience or the courage.

But supposing numbness were only a disguised disappointment? A veil for anger? Then it would have no right to attention In and of itself, and one would always have to push on, Push on, to the real source of the trouble— Which means, back to melodrama. Is the neutral state a cover for unhappiness, Or do I make myself impatient and unhappy To avoid my basic nature, which is passive and low-key? And if I knew the answer, Would it make any difference in my life? At bottom I feel something stubborn as ice fields, Like sorrow or endurance, propelling me.

From At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate. Used by permission of Marsh Hawk Press.

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   "Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
   Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Finds us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
   Learn to labor and to wait.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

I heard the trailing garments of the Night
     Sweep through her marble halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
     From the celestial walls!

I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
     Stoop o'er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
     As of the one I love.

I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
     The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
     Like some old poet's rhymes.

From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
     My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there,—
     From those deep cisterns flows.

O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
     What man has borne before!
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care
     And they complain no more.

Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
     Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
     The best-beloved Night!

This poem is in the public domain.

[I] retrace by moonlight the roads where I used to play in the sun.
                                                 — Marcel Proust


At night, when I go out to the field
to listen to the birds sleep, the stars
hover like old umpires over the diamond,
and I think back upon the convergences
of bats and balls, of cowhide and the whacked
thumping of cork into its oiled pockets,
and I realize again that our lives pass
like the phased signals of that old coach,
the moon, passing over the pitcher's mound,
like the slowed stride of an aging shortstop
as he lopes over the infield or the stilled echo
of crowds in a wintered stadium. I see again
how all the old heroes have passed on to their
ranches and dealerships, that each new season
ushers in its crop of the promised and promising,
the highly touted and the sudden phenoms of the
unexpected, as if the hailed dispensation of gifts
had realigned itself into a new constellation,
as if the old passages of decrepitude and promise
had been altered into a new seeming. I remember
how once, sliding into second during a steal,
I watched the sun rest like a diadem against the
head of some spectator, and thought to myself
in the neat preutterance of all true feeling,
how even our thieveries, well-done, are blessed
with a certain luminousness, how a man rising
from a pilfered sanctity might still upright himself
and return, like Odysseus, to some plenitude
of feast and fidelity. It is why, even then, I loved
baseball: the fierce legitimacy of the neatly stolen,
the calm and illicit recklessness of the coaches
with their wet palms and arcane tongues of mimicry
and motion. It is why, even now, I steal away
from my wife's warm arms to watch the moon sail
like a well-hit fly over the stadium, then hump
my back high over the pitcher's mound and throw
that old curve of memory toward the plate
where I run for a swing at it—the moon
and the stars approving my middle-aged bravado,
that boy still rising from his theft to find the light.

From Days We Would Rather Know, published by The Viking Press. Copyright © 1984 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.

No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.

Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.

We'll say unbelievable things 
to each other in the early morning— 
  
our blue coming up from our roots, 
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs. 
  
All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles 
and ghosts of men, and spirits 
behind those birds of flame. 
  
I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes, 
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through. 
  
It is a short walkway— 
into another bedroom. 
  
Consider the handle. Consider the key. 
  
I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks. 
  
How I thought I saw them in the creek 
across from my street. 
  
I once watched for them, holding a bundle 
of rattlesnake grass in my hand, 
shaking like a weak-leaf girl. 
  
She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says, 
  
Sharks bite fewer people each year than 
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records. 
  
Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks. 
  
Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying, 
  
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
  
I write all the things I need on the bottom 
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let's walk together. 
  
The sun behind me is like a fire. 
Tiny flames in the river's ripples. 
  
I say something to God, but he's not a living thing, 
so I say it to the river, I say, 
  
I want to walk through this doorway 
But without all those ghosts on the edge, 
I want them to stay here. 
I want them to go on without me. 
  
I want them to burn in the water.

From Sharks in the Rivers by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2010 by Ada Limón. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

 Upon their arrival in America, more than twelve million immigrants were processed through the Ellis Island Immigration Center. Those who had traveled in second or third class were immediately given a thirty-second health inspection to determine if they were fit to enter their new country. A chalk checkmark on their clothing signaled a health problem and meant a stay in the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, where they either recovered or, if deemed incurable, were kept until they could be sent back home. Even if just one family member was sick, that person’s entire family was turned away.

Hide the awkward jolt of jawline, the fluttering eye, that wide
brazen slash of boat-burned skin. Count each breath in order
to pacify the bloodless roiling just beneath the rib, to squelch
the mushrooming boom of tumor. Give fever another name.
I open my mouth, just to moan, but instead cluttered nouns,
so unAmerican, spew from my throat and become steam
in the room. That heat ripples through the meandering queue
of souls and someone who was once my uncle grows dizzy
with not looking at me. I am asked to temporarily unbutton
the clawing children from my heavy skirt, to pull the rough
linen blouse over my head and through my thick salted hair.
A last shelter thuds hard, pools around my feet on the floor.

I traveled with a whole chattering country’s restless mass
weakening my shoulders. But I offer it as both yesterday
and muscle. I come to you America, scrubbed almost clean,
but infected with memory and the bellow of broiling spices
in a long-ago kitchen. I come with a sickness insistent upon
root in my body, a sickness that may just be a frantic twist
from one life’s air to another. I ask for nothing but a home
with windows of circled arms, for a warm that overwhelms
the tangled sounds that say my name. I ask for the beaten
woman with her torch uplifted to find me here and loose
my new face of venom and virus. I have practiced standing
unleashed and clean. I have practiced the words I know.

So I pray this new country receive me, stark naked now,
forearms chapped raw, although I am ill in underneath ways.
I know that I am freakish, wildly fragrant, curious land. I stink
of seawater and the oversea moonwash I conjured to restart
and restart my migrant heart. All I can be is here, stretched
between solace and surrender, terrified of the dusty mark
that identifies me as poison in every one of the wrong ways.
I could perish here on the edge of everything. Or the chalk
mark could be a wing on my breastbone, unleashing me
in the direction of light. Someone will help me find my clothes
and brush the salt from my hair. I am marked perfect, and
I hear the word heal in a voice I thought I brought from home.

Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Smith. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

i knew you before you had a mother,
when you were newtlike, swimming,
a horrible brain in water.
i knew you when your connections
belonged only to yourself,
when you had no history
to hook on to,
barnacle,
when you had no sustenance of metal
when you had no boat to travel
when you stayed in the same
place, treading the question;
i knew you when you were all
eyes and a cocktail,
blank as the sky of a mind,
a root, neither ground nor placental;
not yet
red with the cut nor astonished
by pain, one terrible eye
open in the center of your head
to night, turning, and the stars
blinked like a cat. we swam
in the last trickle of champagne
before we knew breastmilk—we
shared the night of the closet,
the parasitic
closing on our thumbprint,
we were smudged in a yellow book.

son, we were oak without
mouth, uncut, we were
brave before memory.

From Poems from the Women's Movement, Honor Moore, ed., Library of America. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.

The Soul has Bandaged moments –
When too appalled to stir –
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her –

Salute her, with long fingers –
Caress her freezing hair –
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover – hovered – o’er –
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme – so – fair ­–

The soul has moments of escape –
When bursting all the doors –
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings opon the Hours,

As do the Bee – delirious borne –
Long Dungeoned from his Rose –
Touch Liberty – then know no more,
But Noon, and Paradise –

The Soul’s retaken moments –
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the song,

The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –

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. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1965 by Mary L. Hampson.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call "Despair" –  
There's Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they're mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own – 

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.

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

This poem is in the public domain.

Life has loveliness to sell,
   All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
   Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
   Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
   Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
   Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
   Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstacy
Give all you have been, or could be.

This poem is in the public domain.

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

c. 1862

This poem is in the public domain.

We never know how high we are
  Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
  Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
  Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
  For fear to be a King—

This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2013. This poem is in the public domain.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

This poem is in the public domain.

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a heart in port –
Done with the compass –
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
In thee!

This poem is in the public domain.

If I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

It will not hurt me when I am old,
     A running tide where moonlight burned
          Will not sting me like silver snakes;
The years will make me sad and cold,
          It is the happy heart that breaks.

The heart asks more than life can give,
     When that is learned, then all is learned;
          The waves break fold on jewelled fold,
But beauty itself is fugitive,
          It will not hurt me when I am old.

This poem is in the public domain.

The door was opened and I saw you there
And for the first time heard you speak my name.
Then like the sun your sweetness overcame
My shy and shadowy mood; I was aware
That joy was hidden in your happy hair,
And that for you love held no hint of shame;
My eyes caught light from yours, within whose flame
Humor and passion have an equal share.

How many times since then have I not seen
Your great eyes widen when you talk of love,
And darken slowly with a fair desire;
How many times since then your soul has been
Clear to my gaze as curving skies above,
Wearing like them a raiment made of fire.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

I saw a star slide down the sky, 
Blinding the north as it went by,
Too burning and too quick to hold,
Too lovely to be bought or sold,
Good only to make wishes on
And then forever to be gone.
What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,
That my songs do not show me at all?
For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,
I am an answer, they are only a call.

But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,
Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,
For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent, 
It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.

This poem is in the public domain.

A diamond of a morning
     Waked me an hour too soon;
Dawn had taken in the stars
     And left the faint white moon.
 
O white moon, you are lonely,
     It is the same with me,
But we have the world to roam over,
     Only the lonely are free.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

This poem is in the public domain.

There is no magic any more,
      We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
      Nor I for you.

You were the wind and I the sea—
      There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
      Beside the shore.

But though the pool is safe from storm
      And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
      For all its peace.

This poem is in the public domain.

They came to tell your faults to me,
They named them over one by one;
I laughed aloud when they were done,
I knew them all so well before,—
Oh, they were blind, too blind to see
Your faults had made me love you more.

This poem is in the public domain.

When I go back to earth
And all my joyous body
Puts off the red and white
That once had been so proud,

If men should pass above
With false and feeble pity,
My dust will find a voice
To answer them aloud:
“Be still, I am content,

Take back your poor compassion,
Joy was a flame in me
Too steady to destroy;
Lithe as a bending reed
Loving the storm that sways her—

I found more joy in sorrow
Than you could find in joy.”

This poem is in the public domain. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2014.

There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.

This poem is in the public domain.

What can I give you, my lord, my lover,
You who have given the world to me,
Showed me the light and the joy that cover
The wild sweet earth and restless sea?

All that I have are gifts of your giving—
If I gave them again, you would find them old,
And your soul would weary of always living
Before the mirror my life would hold.

What shall I give you, my lord, my lover?
The gift that breaks the heart in me:
I bid you awake at dawn and discover
I have gone my way and left you free.

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.

is it a good thing to find
two empty pages between the day 
before yesterday & yesterday 
when trying to make room
for the blue opera afternoon 
of today a sunday like any sunday
in may?
            there is no one could tell 
or judge though my own
obsession with the in between 
should dictate the answer
& thus let me rejoice at being able 
to insert today between the
day before yesterday & yesterday 
as if it were the yeast of night 
allowed these spaces to open
(do not say holes to grow)
in the spongy tissue of this
my papery time-space discon- 
tinuum—
            leaven of earth leaven of writing 
of running writing to earth
in these in betweenesses that now 
please as much as the opera in ear 
that asks que dieu vous le rende dans
l’autre monde but the desire is to stay right 
here in this world this in between even as 
the sound changes the radio sings son 
vada o resti intanto non partirai
di qua

            exactly my feeling sheltered on these 
pages now filled and pushing up against 
yesterday

Copyright © 2014 by Pierre Joris. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2014. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

If tonight the moon should arrive like a lost guide
crossing the fields with a bitter lantern in her hand,

her irides blind, her dresses wild, lie down and listen to her
find you; lie down and listen to the body become

the promise of no other, the sleeper in the garden
in its own arms, the exile in its own autumnal house.

You have woken. But no one has woken. You are changed,
but the light of change is bitter, the changing

is the threshold into winter. Traveler, rememberer, sleeper,
tonight, as you slumber where the dead are, if the moon’s hands

should discover you through fire, lie down
and listen to her hold you, the moon who has been away

so long now, the lost moon with her silver lips
and whisper, her body half in winter,

half in wool. Look at her, look at her, that drifter. 
And if no one, if nothing comes to know you, if no song

comes to prove it isn’t over, tell yourself, in the moon’s
arms, she is no one; tell yourself, as you lose

love, it is after, that you alone are the bearer
in that changed place, you alone who have woken, and have

opened, you alone who can so love
what you are now and the vanishing that carries it away.

Copyright @ 2014 by Joseph Fasano. Used with permission of the author.

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal,
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside
to outside, light into dark, dark into
light, cold into warm, known into
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise
or music. We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was.

Copyright © 2015 by Marge Piercy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.

 

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me,
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago, 
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.

I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,
None has understood you, but I understand you, 
None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself
None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you,
None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent to subordinate you,
I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.
   
Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-figure of all,
From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light,
But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of gold-color'd light,
From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams, effulgently flowing forever.

O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself all your life,
Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,
What you have done returns already in mockeries, 
Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in mockeries, what is their return?)

The mockeries are not you,
Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,
I pursue you where none else has pursued you,
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me,
The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these balk others they do not balk me,
The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed, premature death, all these I part aside

There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you,
There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you,
No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,
No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you.

As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully to you,
I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing the songs of the glory of you.

Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard! 
These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you, 
These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they,
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them,
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain, passion, dissolution.

The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency,
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest, whatever you are promulges itself,
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing is scanted,
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.

This poem is in the public domain.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

This poem is in the public domain.

When you're up against a trouble, 
    Meet it squarely, face to face; 
Lift your chin and set your shoulders, 
    Plant your feet and take a brace. 
When it's vain to try to dodge it, 
    Do the best that you can do; 
You may fail, but you may conquer, 
    See it through! 

Black may be the clouds about you 
    And your future may seem grim, 
But don't let your nerve desert you; 
    Keep yourself in fighting trim. 
If the worst is bound to happen, 
    Spite of all that you can do, 
Running from it will not save you, 
    See it through! 

Even hope may seem but futile, 
    When with troubles you're beset, 
But remember you are facing 
    Just what other men have met. 
You may fail, but fall still fighting; 
    Don't give up, whate'er you do; 
Eyes front, head high to the finish. 
    See it through!

This poem is in the public domain.

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
     But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
     Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
     On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
     At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
     And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
     Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
     There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
     The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
     Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
     That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

This poem is in the public domain.

Gettin' together to smile an' rejoice, 
An' eatin' an' laughin' with folks of your choice; 
An' kissin' the girls an' declarin' that they 
Are growin' more beautiful day after day; 
Chattin' an' braggin' a bit with the men, 
Buildin' the old family circle again; 
Livin' the wholesome an' old-fashioned cheer, 
Just for awhile at the end of the year. 


Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door 
And under the old roof we gather once more 
Just as we did when the youngsters were small; 
Mother's a little bit grayer, that's all. 
Father's a little bit older, but still 
Ready to romp an' to laugh with a will. 
Here we are back at the table again 
Tellin' our stories as women an' men. 


Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer; 
Oh, but we're grateful an' glad to be there. 
Home from the east land an' home from the west, 
Home with the folks that are dearest an' best. 
Out of the sham of the cities afar 
We've come for a time to be just what we are. 
Here we can talk of ourselves an' be frank, 
Forgettin' position an' station an' rank. 


Give me the end of the year an' its fun 
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done; 
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest, 
Let me sit down with the ones I love best, 
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song, 
See the old faces unblemished by wrong, 
See the old table with all of its chairs 
An' I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers.

This poem is in the public domain.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

From The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000). Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2014.

translated from the Spanish by Mary Crow

My most beautiful hiding places,
places that best fit my soul’s deepest colors,
are made of all that others forgot.

They are solitary sites hollowed out in the grass’s caress,
in a shadow of wings, in a passing song;
regions whose limits swirl with the ghostly carriages
that transport the mist in the dawn,
and in whose skies names are sketched, ancient words of love,
vows burning like constellations of drunken fireflies.

Sometimes earthly villages pass, hoarse trains make camp,
a couple piles marvelous oranges at the edge of the sea,
a single relic is spread through all space.
My places would look like broken mirages,
clippings of photographs torn from an album to orient nostalgia,
but they have roots deeper than this sinking ground,
these fleeing doors, these vanishing walls.

They are enchanted islands where only I can be the magician.

And who else, if not I, is climbing the stairs towards those attics in the clouds
where the light, aflame, used to hum in the siesta’s honey,
who else will open again the big chest where the remains of an unhappy story lie,
sacrificed a thousand times only to fantasy, only to foam,
and try on the rags again
like those costumes of invincible heroes,
circle of fire that inflamed time’s scorpion?

Who cleans the windowpane with her breath and stirs the fire of the afternoon
in those rooms where the table was an altar of idolatry,
each chair, a landscape folded up after every trip,
and the bed, a stormy short cut to the other shore of dreams,
rooms deep as nets hung from the sky,
like endless embraces I slid down till I brushed the feathers of death,
until I overturned the laws of knowledge and the fall of man?

Who goes into the parks with the golden breath of each Christmas
and washes the foliage with a little gray rag that was the handkerchief for waving goodbye,
and reweaves the garlands with a thread of tears,
repeating a fantastic ritual among smashed wine glasses and guests lost in thought,
while she savors the twelve green grapes of redemption—
one for each month, one for each year, one for each century of empty indulgence—
a taste acid but not as sharp as the bread of forgetfulness?

Because who but I changes the water for all the memories?
Who inserts the present like a slash into the dreams of the past?
Who switches my ancient lamps for new ones?

My most beautiful hiding places are solitary sites where no one goes,
and where there are shadows that only come to life when I am the magician.


 

Mis refugios más bellos,
los lugares que se adaptan mejor a los colores últimos de mi alma,
están hechos de todo lo que los otros olvidaron.

Son sitios solitarios excavados en la caricia de la hierba,
en una sombra de alas; en una canción que pasa;
regiones cuyos límites giran con los carruajes fantasmales
que transportan la niebla en el amanecer
y en cuyos cielos se dibujan nombres, viejas frases de amor,
juramentos ardientes como constelaciones de luciérnagas ebrias.

Algunas veces pasan poblaciones terrosas, acampan roncos trenes,
una pareja junta naranjas prodigiosas en el borde del mar,
una sola reliquia se propaga por toda la extensión.
Parecerían espejismos rotos,
recortes de fotografías arrancados de un álbum para orientar a la nostalgia,
pero tienen raíces más profundas que este suelo que se hunde,
estas puertas que huyen, estas paredes que se borran.

Son islas encantadas en las que sólo yo puedo ser la hechicera.

¿Y quién si no, sube las escaleras hacia aquellos desvanes entre nubes
donde la luz zumbaba enardecida en la miel de la siesta,
vuelve a abrir el arcón donde yacen los restos de una historia inclemente,
mil veces inmolada nada más que a delirios, nada más que a espumas,
y se prueba de nuevo los pedazos
como aquellos disfraces de las protagonistas invencibles,
el círculo de fuego con el que encandilaba al escorpión del tiempo?

¿Quién limpia con su aliento los cristales y remueve la lumbre del atardecer
en aquellas habitaciones donde la mesa era un altar de idolatría,
cada silla, un paisaje replegado después de cada viaje,
y el lecho, un tormentoso atajo hacia la otra orilla de los sueños;
aposentos profundos como redes suspendidas del cielo,
como los abrazos sin fin donde me deslizaba hasta rozar las plumas de la muerte,
hasta invertir las leyes del conocimiento y la caída?

¿Quién se interna en los parques con el soplo dorado de cada Navidad
y lava los follajes con un trapito gris que fue el pañuelo de las despedidas,
y entrelaza de nuevo los guirnaldas con un hilo de lágrimas,
repitiendo un fantástico ritual entre copas trizadas y absortos comensales,
mientras paleada en las doce uvas verdes de la redención—
una por cada mes, una por cada año, una por cada siglo de vacía indulgencia—
un ácido sabor menos mordiente que el del pan del olvido?

¿Por qué quién sino yo les cambia el agua a todos los recuerdos?
¿Quién incrusta el presente como un tajo ante las proyecciones del pasado?
¿Alguien trueca mis lámparas antiguas por sus lámparas nuevas?

Mis refugios más bellos son sitios solitarios a los que nadie va
y en los que sólo hay sombras que se animan cuando soy la hechicera.

Olga Orozco, “Ballad of Forgotten Places / Balada de los lugares olvidados" from Engravings Torn from Insomnia. Copyright © 2002 by The Estate of Olga Orozco. Translation copyright © 2002 by Mary Crow. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

My heart leaps up when I behold 
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; 
So is it now I am a man; 
So be it when I shall grow old, 
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

To-day we make the poet's words our own, 
And utter them in plaintive undertone; 
Nor to the living only be they said, 
But to the other living called the dead, 
Whose dear, paternal images appear 
Not wrapped in gloom, but robed in sunshine here; 
Whose simple lives, complete and without flaw, 
Were part and parcel of great Nature's law; 
Who said not to their Lord, as if afraid, 
"Here is thy talent in a napkin laid," 
But labored in their sphere, as men who live 
In the delight that work alone can give. 
Peace be to them; eternal peace and rest, 
And the fulfilment of the great behest: 
"Ye have been faithful over a few things, 
Over ten cities shall ye reign as kings."

From Morituri Salutamus: Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Class of 1825 in Bowdoin College; 1875.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

And not just those disciples
whom he loved, and not just
his mother; for all creation

was his mother, if he shared
his cells with worms and ferns
and whales, silt and spiderweb,

with the very walls of his crypt.
Of all creation, only he slept,
the rest awake and rapt with grief

when love’s captain leapt
onto the cross, into an abyss
the weather hadn’t dreamt.

Hero mine the beloved,
cried snowflakes, cried the moons
of unknown planets, cried the thorns

in his garland, the nails bashed
through his bones, the spikes of dry grass
on the hillside, dotted with water

and with blood—real tears,
and not a trick of rain-light
blinked and blurred onto a tree

so that the tree seems wound
in gold. It was not wound
in gold or rain but in a rapture

of salt, the wood splintering
as he splintered when he wept
over Lazarus, over Jerusalem,

until his sorrow became his action,
his grief his victory—
until his tears became a rupture

in nature, all creation
discipled to his suffering
on the gilded gallows-tree,

the wood which broke beneath the weight
of love, though it had no ears to hear
him cry out, and no eyes to see.

Excerpted from Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press. 

1914–18

The Babe was laid in the Manger
     Between the gentle kine—
All safe from cold and danger—

     “But it was not so with mine,
                        (With mine! With mine!)
“Is it well with the child, is it well?”
     The waiting mother prayed.
“For I know not how he fell,
     And I know not where he is laid.”

A Star stood forth in Heaven;
     The Watchers ran to see
The Sign of the Promise given—

     “But there comes no sign to me.
                        (To me! To me!)
My child died in the dark.
     Is it well with the child, is it well?
There was none to tend him or mark,
      And I know not how he fell.”

The Cross was raised on high;
     The Mother grieved beside—

“But the Mother saw Him die
     And took Him when He died.
                        (He died! He died!)
“Seemly and undefiled
     His burial-place was made—
Is it well, is it well with the child?
     For I know not where he is laid.”

On the dawning of Easter Day
     Comes Mary Magdalene;
But the Stone was rolled away,
     And the Body was not within—
                       
(Within! Within!)
“Ah, who will answer my word?”
     The broken mother prayed.
“They have taken away my Lord,
     And I know not where He is Laid.”

The Star stands forth in Heaven.
     The watchers watch in vain
For Sign of the Promise given
     Of peace on Earth again—

                        (Again! Again!)
“But I know for Whom he fell”—
     The steadfast mother smiled,
“Is it well with the child—is it well?
     It is well—it is well with the child!”

This poem is in the public domain.

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Now thou art risen, and thy day begun.
How shrink the shrouding mists before thy face,
As up thou spring’st to thy diurnal race!
How darkness chases darkness to the west,
As shades of light on light rise radiant from thy crest!
For thee, great source of strength, emblem of might,
In hours of darkest gloom there is no night.
Thou shinest on though clouds hide thee from sight,
And through each break thou sendest down thy light.

O greater Maker of this Thy great sun,
Give me the strength this one day’s race to run,
Fill me with light, fill me with sun-like strength,
Fill me with joy to rob the day its length.
Light from within, light that will outward shine,
Strength to make strong some weaker heart than mine,
Joy to make glad each soul that feels its touch;
Great Father of the sun, I ask this much.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Here I am with all my flaws
seeking form and shelter.

I blanche at the notion
of violence, but it’s coming

after us, closing in like a
superstition I can’t shake.

If I acquiesce to your harsh
future you must promise me

one thing. Where we go we will
find our youth again. Can you

see it there under the yellow linen
tablecloth? I’m depending on it.

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

We sit side by side,
brother and sister, and read
the book of what will be, while a breeze
blows the pages over—
desolate odd, cheerful even,
and otherwise. When we come
to our own story, the happy beginning,
the ending we don’t know yet,
the ten thousand acts
encumbering the days between,
we will read every page of it.
If an ancestor has pressed
a love-flower for us, it will lie hidden
between pages of the slow going,
where only those who adore the story
ever read. When the time comes
to shut the book and set out,
we will take childhood’s laughter
as far as we can into the days to come,
until another laughter sounds back
from the place where our next bodies
will have risen and will be telling
tales of what seemed deadly serious once,
offering to us oldening wayfarers 
the light heart, now made of time
and sorrow, that we started with.

From Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 2017 by The Literary Estate of Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Little Poems in Prose

I. The Exodus. (August 3, 1492.)

1. The Spanish noon is a blaze of azure fire, and the dusty pilgrims crawl like an endless serpent along treeless plains and bleached highroads, through rock-split ravines and castellated, cathedral-shadowed towns.

2. The hoary patriarch, wrinkled as an almond shell, bows painfully upon his staff. The beautiful young mother, ivory-pale, well-nigh swoons beneath her burden; in her large enfolding arms nestles her sleeping babe, round her knees flock her little ones with bruised and bleeding feet. “Mother, shall we soon be there?”

3. The youth with Christ-like countenance speaks comfortably to father and brother, to maiden and wife. In his breast, his own heart is broken.

4. The halt, the blind, are amid the train. Sturdy pack-horses laboriously drag the tented wagons wherein lie the sick athirst with fever.

5. The panting mules are urged forward with spur and goad; stuffed are the heavy saddlebags with the wreckage of ruined homes.

6. Hark to the tinkling silver bells that adorn the tenderly-carried silken scrolls.

7. In the fierce noon-glare a lad bears a kindled lamp; behind its network of bronze the airs of heaven breathe not upon its faint purple star.

8. Noble and abject, learned and simple, illustrious and obscure, plod side by side, all brothers now, all merged in one routed army of misfortune.

9. Woe to the straggler who falls by the wayside! no friend shall close his eyes.

10. They leave behind, the grape, the olive, and the fig; the vines they planted, the corn they sowed, the garden-cities of Andalusia and Aragon, Estremadura and La Mancha, of Granada and Castile; the altar, the hearth, and the grave of their fathers.

11. The townsman spits at their garments, the shepherd quits his flock, the peasant his plow, to pelt with curses and stones; the villager sets on their trail his yelping cur.

12. Oh the weary march, oh the uptorn roots of home, oh the blankness of the receding goal!

13. Listen to their lamentation: They that ate dainty food are desolate in the streets; they that were reared in scarlet embrace dunghills. They flee away and wander about. Men say among the nations, they shall no more sojourn there; our end is near, our days are full, our doom is come.

14. Whither shall they turn? for the West hath cast them out, and the East refuseth to receive.

15. O bird of the air, whisper to the despairing exiles, that to-day, to-day, from the many-masted, gayly-bannered port of Palos, sails the world-unveiling Genoese, to unlock the golden gates of sunset and bequeath a Continent to Freedom!

II. Treasures.

1. Through cycles of darkness the diamond sleeps in its coal-black prison.

2. Purely incrusted in its scaly casket, the breath-tarnished pearl slumbers in mud and ooze.

3. Buried in the bowels of earth, rugged and obscure, lies the ingot of gold.

4. Long hast thou been buried, O Israel, in the bowels of earth; long hast thou slumbered beneath the overwhelming waves; long hast thou slept in the rayless house of darkness.

5. Rejoice and sing, for only thus couldst thou rightly guard the golden knowledge, Truth, the delicate pearl and the adamantine jewel of the Law.

III. The Sower.

1. Over a boundless plain went a man, carrying seed.

2. His face was blackened by sun and rugged from tempest, scarred and distorted by pain. Naked to the loins, his back was ridged with furrows, his breast was plowed with stripes.

3. From his hand dropped the fecund seed.

4. And behold, instantly started from the prepared soil blade, a sheaf, a springing trunk, a myriad-branching, cloud-aspiring tree. Its arms touched the ends of the horizon, the heavens were darkened with its shadow.

5. It bare blossoms of gold and blossoms of blood, fruitage of health and fruitage of poison; birds sang amid its foliage, and a serpent was coiled about its stem.

6. Under its branches a divinely beautiful man, crowned with thorns, was nailed to a cross.

7. And the tree put forth treacherous boughs to strangle the Sower; his flesh was bruised and torn, but cunningly he disentangled the murderous knot and passed to the eastward.

8. Again there dropped from his hand the fecund seed.

9. And behold, instantly started from the prepared soil a blade, a sheaf, a springing trunk, a myriad-branching, cloud-aspiring tree. Crescent shaped like little emerald moons were the leaves; it bare blossoms of silver and blossoms of blood, fruitage of health and fruitage of poison; birds sang amid its foilage and a serpent was coiled about its stem.

10. Under its branches a turbaned mighty-limbed Prophet brandished a drawn sword.

11. And behold, this tree likewise puts forth perfidious arms to strangle the Sower; but cunningly he disentangles the murderous knot and passes on.

12. Lo, his hands are not empty of grain, the strength of his arm is not spent.

13. What germ hast thou saved for the future, O miraculous Husbandman? Tell me, thou Planter of Christhood and Islam; tell me, thou seed-bearing Israel!

IV. The Test.

1. Daylong I brooded upon the Passion of Israel.

2. I saw him bound to the wheel, nailed to the cross, cut off by the sword, burned at the stake, tossed into the seas.

3. And always the patient, resolute, martyr face arose in silent rebuke and defiance.

4. A Prophet with four eyes; wide gazed the orbs of the spirit above the sleeping eyelids of the senses.

5. A Poet, who plucked from his bosom the quivering heart and fashioned it into a lyre.

6. A placid-browed Sage, uplifted from earth in celestial meditation.

7. These I saw, with princes and people in their train; the monumental dead and the standard-bearers of the future.

8. And suddenly I heard a burst of mocking laughter, and turning, I beheld the shuffling gait, the ignominious features, the sordid mask of the son of the Ghetto.

V. Currents.

1. Vast oceanic movements, the flux and reflux of immeasurable tides, oversweep our continent.

2. From the far Caucasian steppes, from the squalid Ghettos of Europe,

3. From Odessa and Bucharest, from Kief and Ekaterinoslav,

4. Hark to the cry of the exiles of Babylon, the voice of Rachel mourning for her children, of Israel lamenting for Zion.

5. And lo, like a turbid stream, the long-pent flood bursts the dykes of oppression and rushes hitherward.

6. Unto her ample breast, the generous mother of nations welcomes them.

7. The herdsman of Canaan and the seed of Jerusalem’s royal shepherds renew their youth amid the pastoral plains of Texas and the golden valleys of the Sierras.

VI. The Prophet.

1. Moses ben Maimon lifting his perpetual lamp over the path of the perplexed;

2. Hallevi, the honey-tongued poet, wakening amid the silent ruins of Zion the sleeping lyre of David;

3. Moses, the wise son of Mendel, who made the Ghetto illustrious;

4. Abarbanel, the counselor of kings; Aicharisi, the exquisite singer; Ibn Ezra, the perfect old man; Gabirol, the tragic seer;

5. Heine, the enchanted magician, the heart-broken jester;

6.Yea, and the century-crowned patriarch whose bounty engirdles the globe;—

7. These need no wreath and no trumpet; like perennial asphodel blossoms, their fame, their glory resounds like the brazen-throated cornet.

8. But thou—hast thou faith in the fortune of Israel? Wouldst thou lighten the anguish of Jacob?

9. Then shalt thou take the hand of yonder caftaned wretch with flowing curls and gold-pierced ears;

10. Who crawls blinking forth from the loathsome recesses of the Jewry;

11. Nerveless his fingers, puny his frame; haunted by the bat-like phantoms of superstition is his brain.

12. Thou shalt say to the bigot, “My Brother,” and to the creature of darkness, “My Friend.”

13 . And thy heart shall spend itself in fountains of love upon the ignorant, the coarse, and the abject.

14. Then in the obscurity thou shalt hear a rush of wings, thine eyes shall be bitten with pungent smoke.

15. And close against thy quivering lips shall be pressed the live coal wherewith the Seraphim brand the Prophets.

VII. Chrysalis.

1. Long, long has the Orient Jew spun around his helplessness the cunningly enmeshed web of Talmud and Kabbala.

2. Imprisoned in dark corners of misery and oppression, closely he drew about him the dust-gray filaments, soft as silk and stubborn as steel, until he lay death-stiffened in mummied seclusion.

3. And the world has named him an ugly worm, shunning the blessed daylight.

4. But when the emancipating springtide breathes wholesome, quickening airs, when the Sun of Love shines out with cordial fires, lo, the Soul of Israel bursts her cobweb sheath, and flies forth attired in the winged beauty of immortality.

This poem is in the public domain.

Like the human brain, which organizes
The swirls and shades of the bathroom tiles
Into faces, faces
With expressions
Of exhaustion, of disdain. The
Virgin Mary in the toast of course
But also the penance in the pain, and the way
My mother invented
Plums and tissue paper, while
My father invented the type of
Sudden kindness
That takes you by surprise
When you’ve expected to be chastised
And makes you cry


 

About this poem:
"The poem's impulse is the same as the poem's subject—a grappling, out of hope?—with the idea that there must be some way to integrate into one's life, if necessary, the experience of physical pain. If I can make out faces and objects every morning (if I stare long enough) at the bathroom tile—or so I was thinking—surely there would be a way to make meaning out of this pain?"

Laura Kasischke

Copyright © 2013 by Laura Kasischke. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 27, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

My heart a garden is, a garden walled;
And in the wide white spaces near the gates
Grow tall and showy flowers, sun-loving flowers,
Where they are seen of every passer-by;
Who straightway faring on doth bear the tale
How bright my garden is and filled with sun.

But there are shaded walks far from the gates,
So far the passer-by can never see,
Where violets grow for thoughts of those afar,
And rue for memories of vanished days,
And sweet forget-me-nots to bid me think

With tenderness,—lest I grow utter cold
And hard as women grow who never weep.
And when come times I fear that Love is dead
And Sorrow rules as King the world's white ways,
I go with friends I love among these beds.
Where friend and flower do speak alike to me,
Sometimes with silences, sometimes with words.

'Tis then I thank my God for those high walls
That shut the friends within, the world without,
That passers-by may only see the sun.
That friends I love may share the quiet shade.

This poem is in the public domain.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.  
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.  
Let me pry loose old walls.  
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.  
  
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.  
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.  
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.  
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.

This poem is in the public domain.

      John 20: 11–18

In this marrow season,
trunks tarnished, paused,

I am garden. Am before.
Asleep. Then the changes:

placental, myrrhed. Wet hem
when you appeared.

What did your body ever have
to do with me? In my astonished mouth,

enskulled jawbone guessed,
though as yet I didn’t know you.

You sprung. You now intransitive,
tense with heaven.

Gardener, which of us said do not touch.
Which one of us was undressed?

From Orexia. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Russ Spaar. Reprinted with the permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York), www.perseabooks.com.

True genius, but true woman! dost deny	
Thy woman's nature with a manly scorn	
And break away the gauds and armlets worn	
By weaker women in captivity?	
Ah, vain denial! that revolted cry	        
Is sobbed in by a woman's voice forlorn—	
Thy woman's hair, my sister, all unshorn	
Floats back dishevelled strength in agony	
Disproving thy man's name: and while before	
The world thou burnest in a poet-fire,	        
We see thy woman-heart beat evermore	
Through the large flame. Beat purer, heart, and higher,	
Till God unsex thee on the heavenly shore,	
Where unincarnate spirits purely aspire!

This poem is in the public domain.

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think 
That thou wast in the world a year ago, 
What time I sate alone here in the snow 
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink 
No moment at thy voice ... but, link by link, 
Went counting all my chains, as if that so 
They never could fall off at any blow 
Struck by thy possible hand ... why, thus I drink 
Of life's great cup of wonder! Wonderful, 
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night 
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull 
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white 
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull, 
Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight.

This poem is in the public domain.

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say,
"I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day"—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

This poem is in the public domain.

Say over again, and yet once over again,  
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated  
Should seem "a cuckoo-song," as thou dost treat it,  
Remember, never to the hill or plain,  
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.  
Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted  
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain  
Cry, "Speak once more—thou lovest!" Who can fear  
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll, 
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?  
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll  
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,  
To love me also in silence with thy soul. 

This poem is in the public domain.

I.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

II.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

III.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Written June 12, 1814. This poem is in the public domain.

“O Dreary life!” we cry, “O dreary life!”
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven’s true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle. Ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land: savannah-swards
Unweary sweep: hills watch, unworn; and rife
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees,
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory. O thou God of old!
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these;—
But so much patience, as a blade of grass
Grows by contented through the heat and cold.

This poem is in the public domain.

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awakening, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow,
’Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
But should it be—that dream eternally
Continuing—as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood—should it thus be given,
’Twere folly still to hope for higher Heaven.
For I have revell’d when the sun was bright
I’ the summer sky, in dreams of living light,
And loveliness,—have left my very heart
In climes of mine imagining, apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought—what more could I have seen?
’Twas once—and only once—and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass—some power
Or spell had bound me—’twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit—or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly—or the stars—howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind—let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ [but] in a dream.

I have been happy—and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid colouring of life
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love—and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.

This poem is in the public domain.

There are some qualities—some incorporate things,
   That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
   From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence—sea and shore—
   Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
   Newly with grass o’ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name’s “No More.”
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
   No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
   Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!

This poem is in the public domain.

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight:
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
        All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
        To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem is in the public domain.

They that have power to hurt and will do none
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
    For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
    Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

This poem is in the public domain.

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheerèd and checked even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
    And all in war with Time for love of you,
    As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

This poem is in the public domain.

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
    Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
    Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

This poem is in the public domain.

When we two parted
   In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
   To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
   Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
   Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
   Sunk chill on my brow— 
It felt like the warning
   Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
   And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
   And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
   A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me—
   Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
   Who knew thee too well—
Long, long shall I rue thee,
   Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
   In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
   Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
   After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
   With silence and tears.

This poem is in the public domain.

So, we'll go no more a roving
    So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
    And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
    And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
    And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
    And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
    By the light of the moon.

This poem is in the public domain.

We cannot live, except thus mutually
We alternate, aware or unaware,
The reflex act of life: and when we bear
Our virtue onward most impulsively,
Most full of invocation, and to be
Most instantly compellant, certes, there
We live most life, whoever breathes most air
And counts his dying years by sun and sea.
But when a soul, by choice and conscience, doth
Throw out her full force on another soul,
The conscience and the concentration both make
mere life, Love. For Life in perfect whole
And aim consummated, is Love in sooth,
As nature's magnet-heat rounds pole with pole.

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.

                               I
What shall I do with this absurdity—
O heart, O troubled heart—this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog's tail?
                      Never had I more
Excited, passionate, fantastical
Imagination, nor an ear and eye
That more expected the impossible—
No, not in boyhood when with rod and fly,
Or the humbler worm, I climbed Ben Bulben's back
And had the livelong summer day to spend.
It seems that I must bid the Muse go pack,
Choose Plato and Plotinus for a friend
Until imagination, ear and eye,
Can be content with argument and deal
In abstract things; or be derided by
A sort of battered kettle at the heel.
 

                                II
I pace upon the battlements and stare
On the foundations of a house, or where
Tree, like a sooty finger, starts from earth;
And send imagination forth
Under the day's declining beam, and call
Images and memories
From ruin or from ancient trees,
For I would ask a question of them all.
 
Beyond that ridge lived Mrs. French, and once
When every silver candlestick or sconce
Lit up the dark mahogany and the wine,
A serving-man, that could divine
That most respected lady's every wish,
Ran and with the garden shears
Clipped an insolent farmer's ears
And brought them in a little covered dish.
 
Some few remembered still when I was young
A peasant girl commended by a song,
Who'd lived somewhere upon that rocky place,
And praised the colour of her face,
And had the greater joy in praising her,
Remembering that, if walked she there,
Farmers jostled at the fair
So great a glory did the song confer.
 
And certain men, being maddened by those rhymes,
Or else by toasting her a score of times,
Rose from the table and declared it right
To test their fancy by their sight;
But they mistook the brightness of the moon
For the prosaic light of day—
Music had driven their wits astray—
And one was drowned in the great bog of Cloone.
 
Strange, but the man who made the song was blind;
Yet, now I have considered it, I find
That nothing strange; the tragedy began
With Homer that was a blind man,
And Helen has all living hearts betrayed.
O may the moon and sunlight seem
One inextricable beam,
For if I triumph I must make men mad.
 
And I myself created Hanrahan
And drove him drunk or sober through the dawn
From somewhere in the neighbouring cottages.
Caught by an old man's juggleries
He stumbled, tumbled, fumbled to and fro
And had but broken knees for hire
And horrible splendour of desire;
I thought it all out twenty years ago:
 
Good fellows shuffled cards in an old bawn;
And when that ancient ruffian's turn was on
He so bewitched the cards under his thumb
That all but the one card became
A pack of hounds and not a pack of cards,
And that he changed into a hare.
Hanrahan rose in frenzy there
And followed up those baying creatures towards—
 
O towards I have forgotten what—enough!
I must recall a man that neither love
Nor music nor an enemy's clipped ear
Could, he was so harried, cheer;
A figure that has grown so fabulous
There's not a neighbour left to say
When he finished his dog's day:
An ancient bankrupt master of this house.
 
Before that ruin came, for centuries,
Rough men-at-arms, cross-gartered to the knees
Or shod in iron, climbed the narrow stairs,
And certain men-at-arms there were
Whose images, in the Great Memory stored,
Come with loud cry and panting breast
To break upon a sleeper's rest
While their great wooden dice beat on the board.
 
As I would question all, come all who can;
Come old, necessitous, half-mounted man;
And bring beauty's blind rambling celebrant;
The red man the juggler sent
Through God-forsaken meadows; Mrs. French,
Gifted with so fine an ear;
The man drowned in a bog's mire,
When mocking Muses chose the country wench.
 
Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
Whether in public or in secret rage
As I do now against old age?
But I have found an answer in those eyes
That are impatient to be gone;
Go therefore; but leave Hanrahan,
For I need all his mighty memories.
 
Old lecher with a love on every wind,
Bring up out of that deep considering mind
All that you have discovered in the grave,
For it is certain that you have
Reckoned up every unforeknown, unseeing
Plunge, lured by a softening eye,
Or by a touch or a sigh,
Into the labyrinth of another's being;
 
Does the imagination dwell the most
Upon a woman won or a woman lost?
If on the lost, admit you turned aside
From a great labyrinth out of pride,
Cowardice, some silly over-subtle thought
Or anything called conscience once;
And that if memory recur, the sun's
Under eclipse and the day blotted out.
 

                                III
It is time that I wrote my will;
I choose upstanding men
That climb the streams until
The fountain leap, and at dawn
Drop their cast at the side
Of dripping stone; I declare
They shall inherit my pride,
The pride of people that were
Bound neither to Cause nor to State,
Neither to slaves that were spat on,
Nor to the tyrants that spat,
The people of Burke and of Grattan
That gave, though free to refuse—
Pride, like that of the morn,
When the headlong light is loose,
Or that of the fabulous horn,
Or that of the sudden shower
When all streams are dry,
Or that of the hour
When the swan must fix his eye
Upon a fading gleam,
Float out upon a long
Last reach of glittering stream
And there sing his last song.
And I declare my faith:
I mock Plotinus' thought
And cry in Plato's teeth,
Death and life were not
Till man made up the whole,
Made lock, stock and barrel
Out of his bitter soul,
Aye, sun and moon and star, all,
And further add to that
That, being dead, we rise,
Dream and so create
Translunar Paradise.
I have prepared my peace
With learned Italian things
And the proud stones of Greece,
Poet's imaginings
And memories of love,
Memories of the words of women,
All those things whereof
Man makes a superhuman
Mirror-resembling dream.
 
As at the loophole there
The daws chatter and scream,
And drop twigs layer upon layer.
When they have mounted up,
The mother bird will rest
On their hollow top,
And so warm her wild nest.
 
I leave both faith and pride
To young upstanding men
Climbing the mountain-side,
That under bursting dawn
They may drop a fly;
Being of that metal made
Till it was broken by
This sedentary trade.
 
Now shall I make my soul,
Compelling it to study
In a learned school
Till the wreck of body,
Slow decay of blood,
Testy delirium
Or dull decrepitude,
Or what worse evil come—
The death of friends, or death
Of every brilliant eye
That made a catch in the breath—
Seem but the clouds of the sky
When the horizon fades,
Or a bird's sleepy cry
Among the deepening shades.

Hamlet speaks to Horatio

Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter'd?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.—Something too much of this.—
There is a play to-night before the king;
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father's death:
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe mine uncle: if his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan's stithy. Give him heedful note;
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgments join
In censure of his seeming.

This poem is in the public domain.

Marullus speaks to two rejoicing Commoners

Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climb'd up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome:
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.

This poem is in the public domain.

Antony speaks over Caesar's body


O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,—
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue—
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

This poem is in the public domain.

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

1
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
                                     Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
cart
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
accelerating
rhythms
But
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
Regularly
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or 
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

2
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
retaliation?
Shall we pick a number? 
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?

I must become a menace to my enemies.

3
And if I 
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
completely
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
                   terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I 
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
                   wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
out.
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight on our lips.
Today no one is shooting.
A girl cuts her hair with imaginary scissors—
the scissors in sunlight, her hair in sunlight.
Another girl steals a pair of shoes from a sleeping soldier, skewered with light.
As soldier wakes and looks at us looking at them
what do they see?
Tonight they shot fifty women at Lerna St.,
I sit down to write and tell you what I know:
a child learns the world by putting it in her mouth,
a girl becomes a woman and a woman, earth.
Body, they blame you for all things and they
seek in the body what does not live in the body.

Copyright © 2018 by Ilya Kaminsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Though you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is the spot:—how mildly does the sun
Shine in between the fading leaves! the air
In the habitual silence of this wood
Is more than silent: and this bed of heath,
Where shall we find so sweet a resting-place?
Come!—let me see thee sink into a dream
Of quiet thoughts,—protracted till thine eye
Be calm as water when the winds are gone
And no one can tell whither.—my sweet friend!
We two have had such happy hours together
That my heart melts in me to think of it.

This poem is in the public domain.

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

This poem is in the public domain.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

Old loveliness, set in the country wind,
Or down some vain town road the careless tread,
Like hush of candles lighted for the dead,
That look of yours, half seeing and half blind.
Still do you strain at door, but we come not,
The little maids, the lads, bone of your bone;
In some sad wise, you keep the dusk alone,
Old loveliness, a many a day forgot.
But no; behind each weather do you pass,
The garnered poignancies of all the springs:
At some girl’s belt in Lent the jonquils start;—
But, oh, their like in your old windy grass!
Then are we quick with tears, rememberings;
Once more, once more, are gathered to your heart!

This poem is in the public domain.

Places among the stars,
Soft gardens near the sun,
Keep your distant beauty;
Shed no beams upon my weak heart.
Since she is here
In a place of blackness,
Not your golden days
Nor your silver nights
Can call me to you.
Since she is here
In a place of blackness,
Here I stay and wait.

This poem is in the public domain.

     S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
     So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
     And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?

          . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

          . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
     That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
     “That is not it at all,
     That is not what I meant, at all.”

          . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Published in 1915. This poem is in the public domain.

Believe in yourself.
Be all that you can.
Look for your fate among the stars.
Imagine you are your best when being yourself
the best way you can.

Believe in yourself. Be all you want to be.
Open your mind, a window to the world,
different ways of thinking, seeing,
but be yourself—it’s the best.

Become your dreams, visions to live by.
No matter what anyone says,
believe you can do it.
Day by day, a little at a time.
Be patient.

Believe you can find a way
to assemble the puzzle called life,
forming pictures that make some kind of sense.
Even when pieces fall scattered to the ground,
disappearing into the finite void,
forever lost, never to be found,
choosing your future from those that are left,
like one piece from some other dimension.

Maybe a corner triangle shape of sky,
or zigzag of ocean floor with seaweed and one school of fish,
or maybe a centerpiece on the table in some fancy dining room,
or patch of window lace curtain next to flowered bouquet,
wind blowing through sunlight, which some artist will paint someday.
Or bouncing feet on the moon,
walking in giant moon leaps, talking moon talk,
deep into research in your flying laboratory.

Be all that you can, but believe in yourself.
Climb the stairway of your imagination, one step after another.
Growing like the leaf, blossoming into a great tree,
complete with squirrels, nests, universe all around.

Be all that you can,
just believe in yourself.

From Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo (Arte Publico Press, 1990). Copyright © 1990 by Sandra María Esteves. Used with the permission of the author.