Come, madam, come, all rest my powers defy, Until I labour, I in labour lie. The foe oft-times having the foe in sight, Is tired with standing though he never fight. Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering, But a far fairer world encompassing. Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear, That th'eyes of busy fools may be stopped there. Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime Tells me from you that now it is bed time. Off with that happy busk, which I envy, That still can be, and still can stand so nigh. Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals, As when from flowery meads th'hills shadow steals. Off with your wiry coronet and show The hairy diadem which on you doth grow: Now off with those shoes: and then safely tread In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed. In such white robes heaven's angels used to be Received by men; thou, Angel, bring'st with thee A heaven like Mahomet's Paradise; and though Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know By this these Angels from an evil sprite: Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright. License my roving hands, and let them go Before, behind, between, above, below. O my America! my new-found-land, My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned, My mine of precious stones, my empery, How blest am I in this discovering thee! To enter in these bonds is to be free; Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be. Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee, As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be, To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use Are as Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views, That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem, His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them: Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made For lay-men, are all women thus arrayed. Themselves are mystic books, which only we (Whom their imputed grace will dignify) Must see revealed. Then, since that I may know, As liberally as to a midwife, show Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence, There is no penance due to innocence: To teach thee, I am naked first; why than, What need'st thou have more covering than a man?
This poem is in the public domain.
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what's underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I'm the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment from its hanger like I'm choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, it'll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
So that each
is its own, now—each a fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water,
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren’t
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only
softens further those parts where flesh
There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random,
here withheld—almost always
as it’s turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand—like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.
From The Rest of Love by Carl Phillips. Copyright © 2004 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. All rights reserved.
She is neither pink nor pale, And she never will be all mine; She learned her hands in a fairy-tale, And her mouth on a valentine. She has more hair than she needs; In the sun 'tis a woe to me! And her voice is a string of colored beads, Or steps leading into the sea. She loves me all that she can, And her ways to my ways resign; But she was not made for any man, And she never will be all mine.
From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.
There are no angels yet
here comes an angel one
with a man's face young
shut-off the dark
side of the moon turning to me
and saying: I am the plumed
serpent the beast
with fangs of fire and a gentle
But he doesn't say that His message
drenches his body
he'd want to kill me
for using words to name him
I sit in the bare apartment
words stream past me poetry
disturbed surfaces reflecting clouds
reflecting wrinkled neon
but clogged and mostly
nothing alive left
in their depths
The angel is barely
speaking to me
Once in a horn of light
he stood or someone like him
salutations in gold-leaf
ribboning from his lips
Today again the hair streams
to his shoulders
the eyes reflect something
like a lost country or so I think
but the ribbon has reeled itself
he isn't giving
or taking any shit
We glance miserably
across the room at each other
It's true there are moments
closer and closer together
when words stick in my throat
'the art of love'
'the art of words'
I get your message Gabriel
just will you stay looking
straight at me
"Gabriel." Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1969 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, from Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970 by Adrienne Rich. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.
“Floating Poem, Unnumbered” from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
They’d only done what all along they’d come
intending to do. So they lay untouched by regret,
after. The combined light and shadow of passing
cars stutter-shifted across the walls the way,
the night moths used to, softly
sandbagging the river of dream against dream’s
return…Listen, it’s not like I don’t get it about
suffering being relative—I get it. Not so much
the traces of ice on the surface of four days’
worth of rainwater in a stone urn, for example,
but how, past the ice,
through the water beneath it,
you can see the leaves—sycamore—where they fell
unnoticed. Now they look suspended, like heroes
inside the myth heroes seem bent on making
from the myth of themselves; or like sunlight, in fog.
Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Then spring came: branches-in-a-wind. . . I bought a harness, I bought a bridle. I wagered on God in a kind stranger— kind at first; strange, then less so— and I was right. The difference between God and luck is that luck, when it leaves, does not go far: the idea is to believe you could almost touch it. . . . Now he's singing, cadence of a rough sea—A way of crossing a dark so unspecific, it seems everywhere: isn't that what singing, once, was for? I lay the harness across my lap, the bridle beside me for the sweat—the color and smell of it—that I couldn't, by now, lift the leather free of, even if I wanted to. I don't want to.
Reprinted from Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986-2006 © 2007 by Carl Phillips, by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Learn more about FSG poets at fsgpoetry.com.
Perhaps, in the exaggerated grace of his weight settling, the wings raised, held in strike-or-embrace position, I recognized something more than swan, I can't say. There was just this barely defined shoulder, whose feathers came away in my hands, and the bit of world left beyond it, coming down to the heat-crippled field, ravens the precise color of sorrow in good light, neither black nor blue, like fallen stitches upon it, and the hour forever, it seemed, half-stepping its way elsewhere-- then everything, I remember, began happening more quickly.
From In the Blood by Carl Phillips, published by Northeastern University Press. Copyright © 1992 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted with the permission of Northeastern University Press. All rights reserved.