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.
For Robert Lowell
This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,
rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.
Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars—
planets, that is—the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,
or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,
receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.
Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair
of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.
The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,
and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!—a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.
Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!
From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission.
By the stream I dream in calm delight, and watch as in a glass,
How the clouds like crowds of snowy-hued and white-robed maidens pass,
And the water into ripples breaks and sparkles as it spreads,
Like a host of armored knights with silver helmets on their heads.
And I deem the stream an emblem fit of human life may go,
For I find a mind may sparkle much and yet but shallows show,
And a soul may glow with myriad lights and wondrous mysteries,
When it only lies a dormant thing and mirrors what it sees.
This poem is in the public domain.
Gear adrift I say—a phrasal anchor in me & here at the summit no one I know knows what it means. I stay neat & ask What did I imagine better before work before that last time breaking One Tuesday I volunteered & never again The drumbeat softens & I still decline to admit how cowardly & shipwrecked I feel so many miles from the equator How fast can I choose differently a presence I pretend In the darkest sweater I own I'm almost cold
Copyright © 2018 by Khadijah Queen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
At last understanding
that everything my friend had been saying
for the thirty-three months since he knew
were words of the dog tag, words of, whatever else,
the milled and stamped-into metal of what stays behind.
Blackcap Mountain. Blue scorpion venom. Persimmon pudding.
He spoke them.
He could not say love enough times.
It clinked against itself, it clinked against its little chain.
Copyright © 2018 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But 'twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
'Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven't any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Dad I’m writing you 10 years later & 2,000 miles Away from Our silence My mouth a cave That had collapsed I’m writing While you You wear the Hospital gown & count failures Such as the body’s Inability to rise I see your fingers Fumbling in the Pillbox as if Earthquakes are in Your hands I think it’s time For us to abandon Our cruelties For us to speak So s o f t We’re barely Human.
Copyright © 2018 by Christopher Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
You know how it pretends to have a broken wing to lure predators away from its nest, how it staggers just out of reach . . . if, at this moment, you’re feeling metaphorical, nest can be the whatever inside us that we think needs protection, the whatever that is small & hasn’t yet found its way. Like us it has lived so long on scraps, on what others have left behind, it thinks it could live on air, on words, forever almost, it thinks it would be better to let the predator kill it than to turn its back on that child again, forgetting that one lives inside the other.
Copyright © 2018 by Nick Flynn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
A man can’t die where there is no earth because there will be no place to bury him. His body is the sky and understands the language of birds. His body says the earth is made of everything that has fallen from Heaven while no one was looking. He promises to defy gravity and then return home. A man can’t reach for the sky and not feel he is falling. It goes on forever and the birds talk about the awesomeness of flight while the oxen labor in the fields, while the cows eat grass and dream of slaughter. A man can’t talk about flight because one day, there will be no sky, just the body covered in earth. And now the sky is empty of birds. And now the earth is covered in flowers.
Copyright © 2017 by W. Todd Kaneko. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by Traci Brimhall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The trees bend down along the stream,
Where anchored swings my tiny boat.
The day is one to drowse and dream
And list the thrush’s throttling note.
When music from his bosom bleeds
Among the river’s rustling reeds.
No ripple stirs the placid pool,
When my adventurous line is cast,
A truce to sport, while clear and cool,
The mirrored clouds slide softly past.
The sky gives back a blue divine,
And all the world’s wide wealth is mine.
A pickerel leaps, a bow of light,
The minnows shine from side to side.
The first faint breeze comes up the tide—
I pause with half uplifted oar,
While night drifts down to claim the shore.
This poem is in the public domain.
Darkness wounds the barley,
etching it with denser clouds. A herd sends its
envoy out to nose the garbage at
road’s edge before creeping into the expanse.
And the rest follow with cheap hunger—
ten at once through the swaying curtain, heads
tipped, disappearing in the dim.
Wrong to think of them as vessels
in which your feelings live, leaping across emptiness.
Light a candle. Entertain pity all evening.
It isn’t the deer’s work to hold you. That isn’t you
growing full in the field. Paint them, your
heaviest brush lavish with creams and blacks,
trembling, timid, before the canvas.
Copyright © 2016 by Paula Bohince. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
He will set his camp beside a cold lake
And when the great fish leap to his lure, shout high
To three crows battling a northern wind.
Now when the barren twilight closes its circle
Will fear the yearning ghosts come for his catch
And watch intently trees move in the dark.
Fear as the last fire cringes and sputters,
Heap the branches, strike the reluctant ashes,
Lie down restless, rise when the dawn grays.
Time runs out as the hook lashes the water
Day after day, and as the days wane
Wait still for the wonder.
Copyright © by the Estate of Hyam Plutzik. All rights reserved.
I feel the breath of the summer night,
The trees, the vines, the flowers are astir
With tender desire.
The white moths flutter about the lamp,
Enamoured with light;
And a thousand creates softly sing
A song to the night!
But I am alone, and how can I sing
Praises to thee?
Come, Night! unveil the beautiful soul
That waiteth for me.
This poem appeared in Poems (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895). It is in the public domain.
Of course there’s a certificate, bleeding
carbon at the creases and impressions,
detailing my metrics and lineage the night
I entered the earthly air in a new hospital
built by the intricate partnership between
Rust Belt governance, capitalism
and Christ, though I lie to people I like,
saying I was born in a garden so near
the sea that my mother—multilingual
and remarkably tall—rinsed me at the fringe
of the tide the morning after labor,
the horizon cloudless and birdless
while the sand whispered spells of protection,
depth, and solemnity upon the pair of us,
and amid this farce my dear listeners
don expressions of distrust or ire
as likely they should, faced with evasive
me, so wearied even before boyhood
by the truth that I’ve forever disallowed
my ears and my mouth any songs not made
from the water, dirt, wind, salt, and fire
of American manipulation.
Copyright © 2017 Marcus Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
I got one part of it. Sell them watermelons and get me another part. Get Bernice to sell that piano and I’ll have the third part.
We who gave, owned nothing,
learned the value of dirt, how
a man or a woman can stand
among the unruly growth,
look far into its limits,
a place of stone and entanglements,
and suddenly understand
the meaning of a name, a deed,
a currency of personhood.
Here, where we have labored
for another man’s gain, if it is fine
to own dirt and stone, it is
fine to have a plot where
a body may be planted to rot.
We who have built only
that which others have owned
learn the ritual of trees,
the rites of fruit picked
and eaten, the pleasures
of ownership. We who
have fled with sword
at our backs know the things
they have stolen from us, and we
will walk naked and filthy
into the open field knowing
only that this piece of dirt,
this expanse of nothing,
is the earnest of our faith
in the idea of tomorrow.
We will sell our bones
for a piece of dirt,
we will build new tribes
and plant new seeds
and bury our bones in our dirt.
From Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2013 by Kwame Dawes. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
The mountains are at their theater again,
each ridge practicing an oration of scale and crest,
and the sails, performing glides across the lake, complain
for being out-shadowed despite their gracious
bows. Thirteen years in this state, what hasn’t occurred?
A cyclone in my spirit led to divorce, four books
gave darkness an echo of control, my slurred
hand finding steadiness by the prop of a page,
and God, my children whom I scarred! Pray they forgive.
My crimes felt mountainous, yet perspective
came with distance, and like those peaks, once keening
beneath biting ice, then felt resurrection in a vestige
of water, unfrozen, cascading and adding to the lake’s
depth, such have I come to gauge my own screaming.
The masts tip so far they appear to capsize, keeling
over where every father is a boat on water. The wakes
carry the memory of battles, and the Adirondacks
hold their measure. I am a tributary of something greater.
Copyright © 2016 by Major Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.