Christmas is here;
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we;
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter’d about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night birds are we;
Here we carouse,
Singing, like them,
Perch’d round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit—
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short—
When we are gone,
Let them sing on,
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we’ll be!
Drink every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree.

Drain we the cup.—
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

This poem is in the public domain.

In the grey summer garden I shall find you   
With day-break and the morning hills behind you.   
There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;   
And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.   
Not from the past you'll come, but from that deep
Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep:   
And I shall know the sense of life re-born   
From dreams into the mystery of morn   
Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there   
Till that calm song is done, at last we'll share
The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are   
Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.

This poem is in the public domain.

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

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.

It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough—
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.

Panther and panther,
then a black leopard
follows close—
black panther and red
and a great hound,
a god-like beast,
cut the sand in a clear ring
and shut me from the earth,
and cover the sea-sound
with their throats,
and the sea-roar with their own barks
and bellowing and snarls,
and the sea-stars
and the swirl of the sand,
and the rock-tamarisk
and the wind resonance—
but not your voice.

It is easy enough to call men
from the edges of the earth.
It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
with a thought—
it is beautiful to see the tall panther
and the sleek deer-hounds
circle in the dark.

It is easy enough
to make cedar and white ash fumes
into palaces
and to cover the sea-caves
with ivory and onyx.

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

This poem is in the public domain.

          Goaded and harassed in the factory
           That tears our life up into bits of days
           Ticked off upon a clock which never stays,
          Shredding our portion of Eternity,
          We break away at last, and steal the key
           Which hides a world empty of hours; ways
           Of space unroll, and Heaven overlays
          The leafy, sun-lit earth of Fantasy.
           Beyond the ilex shadow glares the sun,
           Scorching against the blue flame of the sky.
          Brown lily-pads lie heavy and supine
           Within a granite basin, under one
           The bronze-gold glimmer of a carp; and I
          Reach out my hand and pluck a nectarine.

This poem is in the public domain. 

          Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
           Sing me a song, O Please!
          A song of ships, and sailor men,
           And parrots, and tropical trees,

          Of islands lost in the Spanish Main
          Which no man ever may find again,
          Of fishes and corals under the waves,
          And seahorses stabled in great green caves.

          Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
          Sing of the things you know so well.

This poem is in the public domain.

“Son,” said my mother,
   When I was knee-high,
“You’ve need of clothes to cover you,
   And not a rag have I.
 
“There’s nothing in the house
   To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
   Nor thread to take stitches.
 
“There’s nothing in the house
   But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
   Nobody will buy,”  
   And she began to cry.
 
That was in the early fall.
   When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you  
   Makes your mother’s blood crawl,—
 
“Little skinny shoulder-blades
   Sticking through your clothes!
And where you’ll get a jacket from
   God above knows.
 
“It’s lucky for me, lad,
   Your daddy’s in the ground,
And can’t see the way I let
   His son go around!”
   And she made a queer sound.
 
That was in the late fall.
   When the winter came,
I’d not a pair of breeches
   Nor a shirt to my name.
 
I couldn’t go to school,
   Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
   Passed our way.
 
“Son,” said my mother,
   “Come, climb into my lap,
And I’ll chafe your little bones
   While you take a nap.”
 
And, oh, but we were silly
   For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
   Dragging on the floor,
 
A-rock-rock-rocking
   To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
   For half an hour’s time!
 
But there was I, a great boy,
   And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
   To sleep all day,
   In such a daft way?
 
Men say the winter
   Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
   And food was dear.
 
A wind with a wolf’s head
   Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
   And sat upon the floor.
 
All that was left us
   Was a chair we couldn’t break,
And the harp with a woman’s head
   Nobody would take,
   For song or pity’s sake.
 
The night before Christmas
   I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
   Like a two-year-old.
 
And in the deep night
   I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
   With love in her eyes.
 
I saw my mother sitting
   On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
   From I couldn’t tell where,
 
Looking nineteen,
   And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
   Leaned against her shoulder.
 
Her thin fingers, moving
   In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
   Wonderful things.
 
Many bright threads,
   From where I couldn’t see,
Were running through the harp-strings
   Rapidly,
 
And gold threads whistling
   Through my mother’s hand.
I saw the web grow,
   And the pattern expand.
 
She wove a child’s jacket,
   And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
   And wove another one.
 
She wove a red cloak
   So regal to see,
“She’s made it for a king’s son,”
   I said, “and not for me.”
   But I knew it was for me.
 
She wove a pair of breeches
   Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
   And a little cocked hat.
 
She wove a pair of mittens,
   She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
   In the still, cold house.
 
She sang as she worked,
   And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
   And the thread never broke.
   And when I awoke,—
 
There sat my mother
   With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
   And not a day older,
 
A smile about her lips,
   And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
   Frozen dead.
 
And piled up beside her
   And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
   Just my size.

This poem is in the public domain.

Love, if I weep it will not matter,
   And if you laugh I shall not care;
Foolish am I to think about it,
   But it is good to feel you there.

Love, in my sleep I dreamed of waking, —
   White and awful the moonlight reached
Over the floor, and somewhere, somewhere,
   There was a shutter loose, —it screeched!

Swung in the wind, — and no wind blowing! —
   I was afraid, and turned to you,
Put out my hand to you for comfort, —
   And you were gone!  Cold, cold as dew,

Under my hand the moonlight lay!
   Love, if you laugh I shall not care,
But if I weep it will not matter, —
   Ah, it is good to feel you there!

This poem is in the public domain.

People that build their houses inland,
   People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
   Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
   Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
   One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
   Spanking the boats at the harbour's head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
   Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
   Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
   One salt taste of the sea once more?

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. 
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, 
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; 
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. 

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; 
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, 
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; 
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, 
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold. 

We were very tired, we were very merry, 
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. 
We hailed "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head, 
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; 
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears, 
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

This poem is in the public domain.

O my songs,
Why do you look so eagerly and so curiously into people's faces,
Will you find your lost dead among them?

This poem is in the public domain.

(The fantasia of a fallen gentleman on a cold, bitter night.)

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In the flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

This poem is in the public domain.

*Tulwa Thlocco—A large settlement of people. This settlement lies on the north side of the Oktahatchee.

Thro’ the vine-embowered portal blows 
   The fragrant breath of summer-time; 
Far, the river, brightly winding, goes  
    With murmurs falling into rhyme.  
 
It is spring in Tulwa Thlocco now;  
   The fresher hue of grass and tree  
All but hides upon the mountain’s brow  
   The green haunts of the chickadee.  
 
There are drifts of plum blooms, snowy white,  
   Along the lane and greening hedge;  
And the dogwood blossoms cast a light  
    Upon the forest’s dusky edge.  
 
Crocus, earliest flower of the year,  
   Hangs out its starry petals where  
The spring beauties in their hiding peer, 
   And the red-buds crimson all the air.  

This poem is in the public domain. 

I said a thoughtless word one day,
A loved one heard and went away;
I cried: “Forgive me, I was blind;
I would not wound or be unkind.”
I waited long, but all in vain,
To win my loved one back again.
Too late, alas! to weep and pray,
Death came; my loved one passed away.
Then, what a bitter fate was mine;
No language could my grief define;
Tears of deep regret could not unsay
The thoughtless word I spoke that day.

This poem is in the public domain.

Flaming wonderer! that dost leave vaunting, proud
Ambition boasting its lightning fringed
Immensity—cleaving wings, gaudy dipp’d
In sunset’s blossoming splendors bright and
Tinsel fire, with puny flight fluttering
Far behind! Thou that art cloth’d in mistery
More startling and more glorious than thine own
Encircling fires—profound as the oceans
Of shoreless space through which now thou flyest!
Art thou some erring world now deep engulph’d
In hellish, Judgement fires, with phrenzied ire
And fury hot, like some dread sky rocket
Of Eternity, flaming, vast, plunging
Thro’ immensity, scatt’ring in thy track
The wrathful fires of thine own damnation
Or wingest thou with direful speed, the ear
Of some flaming god of far off systems
Within these skies unheard of and unknown?
Ye Gods! How proud the thought to mount this orb
Of fire—boom thro’ the breathless oceans vast
Of big immensity—quickly leaving
Far behind all that for long ages gone
Dull, gray headed dames have prated of—
Travel far off mystic eternities—
Then proudly, on this little twisting ball
Returning once more set foot, glowing with
The splendors of a vast intelligence—
Frizzling little, puny humanity
Into icy horrors—bursting the big
Wide-spread eyeball of dismay—to recount
Direful regions travers’d and wonders seen!
Why I’d be as great a man as Fremont
Who cross’d the Rocky Mountains, didn’t freeze
And’s got a gold mine!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Of all my verses, say that one is good,
So shalt thou give more praise than Hope might claim;
And from my poet-grave, to vex thy soul,
No ghost shall rise, whose deeds demand a name.

A thousand loves, and only one shall stand
To show us what its counterfeits should be;
The blossoms of a spring-tide, and but one
Bears the world’s fruit,—the seed of History.

A thousand rhymes shall pass, and only one
Show, crystal-shod, the Muse’s twinkling feet;
A thousand pearls the haughty Ethiop spurned
Ere one could make her luxury complete.

In goodliest places, some meanest room
The owner’s smallness shields contentedly.
Nay, further: of the manifold we are,
But one pin’s point shall pass eternity.

Exalt, then, to the greatness of the throne
One only of these beggarlings of mine;
I with the rest will dwell in modest bounds:
The chosen one shall glorify the line.

This poem is in the public domain.

I

Living is no laughing matter:
	you must live with great seriousness
		like a squirrel, for example—
   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
		I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
	you must take it seriously,
	so much so and to such a degree
   that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                            your back to the wall,
   or else in a laboratory
	in your white coat and safety glasses,
	you can die for people—
   even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
   even though you know living
	is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
   that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
   and not for your children, either,
   but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
   because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
			from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
			about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
		for the latest newscast. . . 
Let’s say we’re at the front—
	for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
	we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
        but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
        about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                        before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                                I  mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
        we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
               and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
	  I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even 
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
	  in pitch-black space . . . 
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                               if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.

 

Lovely Antiques, breathing in every line
The perfume of an age long passed away,
Wafting us back to 1829,
Museum pieces of a by-gone day,
You should not languish in the public press
Where modern thought might reach and do you harm,
And vulgar youth insult your hoariness,
Missing the flavor of your old world charm;
You should be locked, where rust cannot corrode
In some old rosewood cabinet, dimmed by age,
With silver-lustre, tortoise shell and Spode;
And all would cry, who read your yellowing page:
            “Yes, that’s the sort of thing that men believed
            Before the First Reform Bill was conceived!”

This poem is in the public domain.

With apologies to Lord Tennyson.

(“The grant of suffrage to women is repugnant to instincts that strike their roots deep in the order of nature. It runs counter to human reason, it flouts the teachings of experience and the admonitions of common sense.”—N.Y. Times, Feb. 7, 1915.)

Oh, that ‘twere possible
   After those words inane
For me to read The Times
   Ever again!

When I was wont to read it
   In the early morning hours,
In a mood ‘twixt wrath and mirth,
   I exclaimed: “Alas, Ye Powers,
These ideas are fainter, quainter
   Than anything on earth!”

A paper’s laid before me.
   Not thou, not like to thee.
Dear me, if it were possible
   The Times should ever see
How very far the times have moved
   (Spelt with a little “t”). 

This poem is in the public domain. 

(“I hate a woman who is not a mystery to herself, as well as to me.”—The Phoenix.)

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery
            Known to the world as a Woman of Charm,
Take all the conspicuous ladies of history,
            Mix them all up without doing them harm.
The beauty of Helen, the warmth of Cleopatra,
            Salome’s notorious skill in the dance,
The dusky allure of the belles of Sumatra
            The fashion and finish of ladies from France.
The youth of Susanna, beloved by an elder,
            The wit of a Chambers’ incomparable minx,
The conjugal views of the patient Griselda,
            The fire of Sappho, the calm of the Sphinx,
The eyes of La Vallière, the voice of Cordelia,
The musical gifts of the sainted Cecelia,
Trillby and Carmen and Ruth and Ophelia,
Madame de Staël and the matron Cornelia,
Iseult, Hypatia and naughty Nell Gwynn,
Una, Titania and Elinor Glyn.
            Take of these elements all that is fusible,
            Melt ‘em all down in a pipkin or crucible,
            Set ‘em to simmer and take off the scum,
            And a Woman of Charm is the residuum!
                        (Slightly adapted from W.S. Gilbert.)

This poem is in the public domain. 

(“No brass bands. No speeches. Instead a still, silent, effective influence.”—Anti-suffrage speech.)

We are waging—can you doubt it?
   A campaign so calm and still
No one knows a thing about it
   And we hope they never will.
          No one knows
          What we oppose,
   And we hope they never will.

We are ladylike and quiet,
   Here a whisper—there a hint;
Never speeches, bands or riot,
   Nothing suitable for print.
          No one knows
          What we oppose,
   For we never speak for print.

Sometimes in profound seclusion,
   In some far (but homelike) spot,
We will make a dark allusion:
   “We’re opposed to you-know-what.”
          No one knows
          What we oppose,
For we call it “You-Know-What.”

This poem is in the public domain. 

(The law compels a married woman to take the nationality of her husband.)

I.

In Time of War

Help us. Your country needs you;
   Show that you love her,
Give her your men to fight,
   Ay, even to fall;
The fair, free land of your birth,
   Set nothing above her,
Not husband nor son,
   She must come first of all.

II.

In Time of Peace

What’s this? You’ve wed an alien,
   Yet you ask for legislation
To guard your nationality?
   We’re shocked at your demand.
A woman when she marries
   Takes her husband’s name and nation:
She should love her husband only.
   What’s a woman’s native land?
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

(“Three bills known as the Thompson-Bewley cannery bills have been advanced to third reading in the Senate and Assembly at Albany. One permits the canners to work their employés seven days a week, a second allows them to work women after 9 p.m. and a third removes every restriction upon the hours of labor of women and minors.”—Zenas L. Potter, former chief cannery investigator for New York State Factory Investigating Commission.)

Let us not to an unrestricted day
Impediments admit. Work is not work
To our employés, but a merry play;
They do not ask the law’s excuse to shirk.
Ah, no, the canning season is at hand,
When summer scents are on the air distilled,
When golden fruits are ripening in the land,
And silvery tins are gaping to be filled.
Now to the cannery with jocund mien
Before the dawn come women, girls and boys,
Whose weekly hours (a hundred and nineteen)
Seem all too short for their industrious joys.
If this be error and be proved, alas
The Thompson-Bewley bills may fail to pass!

This poem is in the public domain.

(“Every true woman feels——”—Speech of almost any Congressman.)

I am old-fashioned, and I think it right
   That man should know, by Nature’s laws eternal,
The proper way to rule, to earn, to fight,
   And exercise those functions called paternal;
But even I a little bit rebel
At finding that he knows my job as well.

At least he’s always ready to expound it,
   Especially in legislative hall,
The joys, the cares, the halos that surround it,
   “How women feel”—he knows that best of all.
In fact his thesis is that no one can
Know what is womanly except a man.

I am old-fashioned, and I am content
   When he explains the world of art and science
And government—to him divinely sent—
   I drink it in with ladylike compliance.
But cannot listen—no, I’m only human—
While he instructs me how to be a woman.

This poem is in the public domain.

(“The women of this smart capital are beautiful. Their beauty is disturbing to business; their feet are beautiful, their ankles are beautiful, but here I must pause.”—Mr. Bowdle’s anti-suffrage speech in Congress, January 12, 1915.)

You, who despise the so-called fairer sex,
    Be brave.    There really isn’t any reason
You should not, if you wish, oppose and vex
    And scold us in, and even out of season;
But don’t regard it as your bounden duty
To open with a tribute to our beauty.

Say if you like that women have no sense,
    No self-control, no power of concentration;
Say that hysterics is our one defence
    Our virtue but an absence of temptation;
These I can bear, but, oh, I own it rankles
To hear you maundering on about our ankles.

Tell those old stories, which have now and then
    Been from the Record thoughtfully deleted,
Repeat that favorite one about the hen,
    Repeat the ones that cannot be repeated;
But in the midst of such enjoymens, smother
The impulse to extol your “sainted mother.”

This poem is in the public domain.