No more walks in the wood:
The trees have all been cut
Down, and where once they stood
Not even a wagon rut
Appears along the path
Low brush is taking over.

No more walks in the wood;
This is the aftermath
Of afternoons in the clover
Fields where we once made love
Then wandered home together
Where the trees arched above,
Where we made our own weather
When branches were the sky.
Now they are gone for good,
And you, for ill, and I
Am only a passer-by.

We and the trees and the way
Back from the fields of play
Lasted as long as we could.
No more walks in the wood.

From Tesserae and Other Poems, by John Hollander, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Inc. Copyright © 1993 by John Hollander. Used with permission.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer'd not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,
And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects—saw, and shriek'd, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;
The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

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.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

"Forgetfulness" from Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins, © 1999. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”

Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bow’d her head to hear,
Lizzie veil’d her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
“Oh,” cried Lizzie, “Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.”
Lizzie cover’d up her eyes,
Cover’d close lest they should look;
Laura rear’d her glossy head,
And whisper’d like the restless brook:
“Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes.”
“No,” said Lizzie, “No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisk’d a tail,
One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
One crawl’d like a snail,
One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretch’d her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turn’d and troop’d the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
“Come buy, come buy.”
When they reach’d where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One rear’d his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heav’d the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
“Come buy, come buy,” was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Long’d but had no money:
The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-faced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly;”—
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answer’d all together:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipp’d a precious golden lock,
She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl,
Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flow’d that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gather’d up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone.

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Pluck’d from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.”
“Nay, hush,” said Laura:
“Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more;” and kiss’d her:
“Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap.”

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtain’d bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipp’d with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars gaz’d in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapp’d to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest.

Early in the morning
When the first cock crow’d his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetch’d in honey, milk’d the cows,
Air’d and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churn’d butter, whipp’d up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sew’d;
Talk’d as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came:
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep;
Lizzie pluck’d purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags.
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Laura loiter’d still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still
The dew not fall’n, the wind not chill;
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
“Come buy, come buy,”
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged, “O Laura, come;
I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glowworm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark:
For clouds may gather
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?”

Laura turn’d cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
“Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life droop’d from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudg’d home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy;”—
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon wax’d bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dew’d it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watch’d for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dream’d of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crown’d trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetch’d honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy;”—
Beside the brook, along the glen,
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The yoke and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Long’d to buy fruit to comfort her,
But fear’d to pay too dear.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter time
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter time.

Till Laura dwindling
Seem’d knocking at Death’s door:
Then Lizzie weigh’d no more
Better and worse;
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kiss’d Laura, cross’d the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook:
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laugh’d every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
Hugg’d her and kiss’d her:
Squeez’d and caress’d her:
Stretch’d up their dishes,
Panniers, and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs.”—

“Good folk,” said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie:
“Give me much and many: —
Held out her apron,
Toss’d them her penny.
“Nay, take a seat with us,
Honour and eat with us,”
They answer’d grinning:
“Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry:
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavour would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us.”—
“Thank you,” said Lizzie: “But one waits
At home alone for me:
So without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I toss’d you for a fee.”—
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One call’d her proud,
Cross-grain’d, uncivil;
Their tones wax’d loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbow’d and jostled her,
Claw’d with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking,
Twitch’d her hair out by the roots,
Stamp’d upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeez’d their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,—
Like a rock of blue-vein’d stone
Lash’d by tides obstreperously,—
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,—
Like a fruit-crown’d orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee,—
Like a royal virgin town
Topp’d with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguer’d by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuff’d and caught her,
Coax’d and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratch’d her, pinch’d her black as ink,
Kick’d and knock’d her,
Maul’d and mock’d her,
Lizzie utter’d not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
But laugh’d in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupp’d all her face,
And lodg’d in dimples of her chin,
And streak’d her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kick’d their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writh’d into the ground,
Some div’d into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanish’d in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore thro’ the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse,—
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she fear’d some goblin man
Dogg’d her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin scurried after,
Nor was she prick’d by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried, “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutch’d her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruin’d in my ruin,
Thirsty, canker’d, goblin-ridden?”—
She clung about her sister,
Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her:
Tears once again
Refresh’d her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loath’d the feast:
Writhing as one possess’d she leap’d and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks stream’d like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knock’d at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame;
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense fail’d in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topp’d waterspout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watch’d by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cool’d her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirp’d about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bow’d in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Open’d of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laugh’d in the innocent old way,
Hugg’d Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks show’d not one thread of grey,
Her breath was sweet as May
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town):
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”
 

Original illustration for the cover of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

If I could just touch your ankle, he whispers, there
on the inside, above the bone—leans closer,
breath of lime and pepper—I know I could
make love to you.  She considers
this, secretly thrilled, though she wasn’t quite
sure what he meant.  He was good
with words, words that went straight to the liver.
Was she falling for him out of sheer boredom—
cooped up in this anything-but-humble dive, stone
gargoyles leering and brocade drapes licked with fire?
Her ankle burns where he described it.  She sighs
just as her mother aboveground stumbles, is caught
by the fetlock—bereft in an instant—
while the Great Man drives home his desire.  

"Hades' Pitch", from Mother Love by Rita Dove. Copyright © 1995 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O'er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

This poem is in the public domain.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

23–29 October 1962

From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.

Poseidon was easier than most.
He calls himself a god,
but he fell beneath my fingers
with more shaking than any mortal.
He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders.

I made him bend his back for me,
listened to his screams break like waves.
We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled,
screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner.
The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that.
I'm sure I'll be hearing from her.

She'll give me nightmares for a week or so;
that I can handle.
Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood;
I'll scream when I see it,
and that will be that.
Maybe my first child 
will be born with the head of a fish.
I'm not even sure it was worth it,
Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman,
losing his immortal mind
because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight.

Now my arms smoke and itch.
Hard scales cover my wrists like armour.
C'mon Athena, he was only another lay,
and not a particularly good one at that,
even though he can spit steam from his fingers.
Won't touch him again. Promise.
And we didn't mean to drop to our knees
in your temple,
but our bodies were so hot and misaligned.
It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god,
you know that. Why are you being so rough on me?

I feel my eyes twisting,
the lids crusting over and boiling,
the pupils glowing red with heat.
Athena, woman to woman,
could you have resisted him?
Would you have been able to wait
for the proper place, the right moment,
to jump those immortal bones?

Now my feet are tangled with hair,
my ears are gone. My back is curving
and my lips have grown numb.
My garden boy just shattered at my feet.

Dammit, Athena,
take away my father's gold.
Send me away to live with lepers.
Give me a pimple or two.
But my face. To have men never again
be able to gaze at my face,
growing stupid in anticipation
of that first touch,
how can any woman live like that?
How will I be able 
to watch their warm bodies turn to rock
when their only sin was desiring me?

All they want is to see me sweat.
They only want to touch my face
and run their fingers through my . . .

my hair

is it moving?

© 1992 by Patricia Smith, from Big Towns, Big Talk, published by Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA). Used with permission. All rights reserved.

My childhood home I see again, 
    And sadden with the view; 
And still, as memory crowds my brain, 
    There's pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world 
    'Twixt earth and paradise, 
Where things decayed and loved ones lost 
    In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that's earthly vile, 
    Seem hallowed, pure, and bright, 
Like scenes in some enchanted isle 
    All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye 
    When twilight chases day; 
As bugle-notes that, passing by, 
    In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall, 
    We, lingering, list its roar— 
So memory will hallow all 
    We've known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away 
    Since here I bid farewell 
To woods and fields, and scenes of play, 
    And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain 
    Of old familiar things; 
But seeing them, to mind again 
    The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day, 
    How changed, as time has sped! 
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray, 
    And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell 
    How nought from death could save, 
Till every sound appears a knell, 
    And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread, 
    And pace the hollow rooms, 
And feel (companion of the dead) 
    I'm living in the tombs.

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.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
       But O heart! heart! heart!
         O the bleeding drops of red,
           Where on the deck my Captain lies,
             Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
       Here Captain! dear father!
         This arm beneath your head!
           It is some dream that on the deck,
             You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
       Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
         But I with mournful tread,
           Walk the deck my Captain lies,
             Fallen cold and dead.

This poem is in the public domain.

How much grit do you think you've got? 
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot? 
You may talk of pluck; it's an easy word, 
And where'er you go it is often heard; 
But can you tell to a jot or guess 
Just how much courage you now possess? 


You may stand to trouble and keep your grin, 
But have you tackled self-discipline? 
Have you ever issued commands to you 
To quit the things that you like to do, 
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed, 
Those rigid orders have you obeyed? 


Don't boast of your grit till you've tried it out, 
Nor prate to men of your courage stout, 
For it's easy enough to retain a grin 
In the face of a fight there's a chance to win, 
But the sort of grit that is good to own 
Is the stuff you need when you're all alone. 


How much grit do you think you've got? 
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot? 
Have you ever tested yourself to know 
How far with yourself your will can go? 
If you want to know if you have grit, 
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit. 


It's bully sport and it's open fight; 
It will keep you busy both day and night; 
For the toughest kind of a game you'll find 
Is to make your body obey your mind. 
And you never will know what is meant by grit 
Unless there's something you've tried to quit.

This poem is in the public domain.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

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 of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

An Essay

A friend asks, "What was at stake for you in the Eighties?" She's trying to figure out Bay Area Poetry. There was Reagan's New Morning for America. Garfield dolls stuck to the backs of windshields with suction cups. At the beginning of the Eighties I was married & at the end i was not. The Civil Rights Movement became kind of quiet. Feminism became kind of quiet. An editor told a woman he couldn't read her poems because it said she was a mother in her bio. Many thought about word materials. Environmentalism got kind of quiet. The earth spirits were not quiet. Buildup of arms. Iran-Contra. Savings & Loan scandal. Tax cuts gave way to library closings. The Challenger went down with the first woman astronaut aboard. People read letters to her on TV. Mini-golf places with purple castles opened on Highway 80 in the Eighties. Chernobyl exploded & the media announced it as a setback for nuclear energy. People ate out more because of tax cuts. i fell in love with a poet. Earth dropped its dark clock. A few wrote outside the margins. Mergers & Acquisitions. The Bay continued to shrink. Many got child-support checks. Many came out. Deconstruction found the moving circle. A few read Lacan. Guns 'n Roses Sweet Child o' Mine. Our daughter drew pictures of trucks with colored fur. She had 24 ear infections in one year so why were you not supposed to write mother in your bio. Many wrote the lyric with word materials. The Soviet Union began to free prisoners. America freed fewer prisoners. Superconductivity. Gorbachev became president instead of something else. One son went to college. We cried. There was no e-mail. Art pierced the image. Blue-rimmed clouds hurried past outside & in. Some wrote about childhood; some wrote about states of mind; some wrote word materials instead of about. Symbolist poetry, by then 120 years old, pushed the dream nature of the world. Hypnotherapy. i began the trance method. In the Eighties, Mt. Tam stayed the same. Mt. Diablo stayed almost the same. Many species died & would not return. At stake. One son started a punk band; he had a one-foot-high purple Mohawk. i listened to the tape with another mother trying to make out the words. Oliver North held up his right hand. Reagan turned off his hearing aid. Sentences fell apart but they had always been a part. Yeltsin. Walesa. Wall comes down. Romania. El Salvador. Noriega. Some elderly folk lived on dog-food when their pensions collapsed. People worried about children, lovers, ex-husbands, jobs. Consciousness stayed alive. Interest rates leapt through the vault of the sky. We cried & cried. We made food & quit smoking. We learned the names of wildflowers & forgot them & relearned them. This was only the beginning. There's so much more to be said in answer to your question.

From Practical Water. Copyright © 2010 by Brenda Hillman. Used with permission of Wesleyan University Press.

One summer she goes into the field as usual
stopping for a bit at the pool where she often
looks at herself, to see
if she detects any changes. She sees
the same person, the horrible mantle
of daughterliness still clinging to her.

The sun seems, in the water, very close.
That's my uncle spying again, she thinks—
everything in nature is in some way her relative.
I am never alone, she thinks,
turning the thought into a prayer.
Then death appears, like the answer to a prayer.

No one understands anymore
how beautiful he was. But Persephone remembers.
Also that he embraced her, right there,
with her uncle watching. She remembers
sunlight flashing on his bare arms.

This is the last moment she remembers clearly.
Then the dark god bore her away.

She also remembers, less clearly,
the chilling insight that from this moment
she couldn't live without him again.

The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body. Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance

cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists.

All the different nouns—
she says them in rotation.
Death, husband, god, stranger.
Everything sounds so simple, so conventional.
I must have been, she thinks, a simple girl.

She can't remember herself as that person
but she keeps thinking the pool will remember
and explain to her the meaning of her prayer
so she can understand
whether it was answered or not.

"The Myth of Innocence" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
    Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
    But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
    An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
    White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
    But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
    She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes liked to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

    She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
    Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
    Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
    His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

    The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
    Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
    At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
    Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.

From The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1955 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

From “Appendix to The Anniad: leaves from a loose-leaf war diary” in Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harper © 1949 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,—
Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away,
As if spent passion were a holiday!
And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow
Of tardy kindness can avail thee now
With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown;
Lonely I came, and I depart alone,
And know not where nor unto whom I go;
But that thou canst not follow me I know."

Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain
My thought ran still, until I spake again:

"Ah, but I go not as I came,—no trace
Is mine to bear away of that old grace
I brought! I have been heated in thy fires,
Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires,
Thy mark is on me! I am not the same
Nor ever more shall be, as when I came.
Ashes am I of all that once I seemed.
In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed
Is wakeful for alarm,—oh, shame to thee,
For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me,
Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing
Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house when I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favor save this one:
That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
And this thou didst deny, calling my name
Insistently, until I rose and came.
I saw the sun no more.—It were not well
So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell,
Need I arise to-morrow and renew
Again my hated tasks, but I am through
With all things save my thoughts and this one night,
So that in truth I seem already quite
Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste
And no reluctance to depart; I taste
Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught,
That in a little while I shall have quaffed."

Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled,
Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed
Before me one by one till once again
I set new words unto an old refrain:

"Treasures thou hast that never have been mine!
Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine
Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown
Like blossoms out to me that sat alone!
And I have waited well for thee to show
If any share were mine,—and now I go
Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain
I shall but come into mine own again!"

Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more,
But turning, straightway, sought a certain door
In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low
And dark,—a way by which none e'er would go
That other exit had, and never knock
Was heard thereat,—bearing a curious lock
Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily,
Whereof Life held content the useless key,
And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust,
Whose sudden voice across a silence must,
I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,—
A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.—So near
I came I felt upon my feet the chill
Of acid wind creeping across the sill.
So stood longtime, till over me at last
Came weariness, and all things other passed
To make it room; the still night drifted deep
Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep.

But, suddenly, marking the morning hour,
Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower!
Startled, I raised my head,—and with a shout
Laid hold upon the latch,—and was without.

* * * *

Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, 
Leading me back unto my old abode, 
My father's house! There in the night I came, 
And found them feasting, and all things the same 
As they had been before. A splendour hung 
Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung 
As, echoing out of very long ago, 
Had called me from the house of Life, I know.
So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame
On the unlovely garb in which I came;
Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked:
"It is my father's house!" I said and knocked;
And the door opened. To the shining crowd
Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud,
Seeing no face but his; to him I crept,
And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept.

* * * *

Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone
I wandered through the house. My own, my own,
My own to touch, my own to taste and smell,
All I had lacked so long and loved so well!
None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song,
Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long.

I know not when the wonder came to me
Of what my father's business might be,
And whither fared and on what errands bent
The tall and gracious messengers he sent.
Yet one day with no song from dawn till night
Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight.
And the next day I called; and on the third
Asked them if I might go,—but no one heard.
Then, sick with longing, I arose at last
And went unto my father,—in that vast
Chamber wherein he for so many years
Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres.
"Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play
The harp that thou didst give me, and all day
I sit in idleness, while to and fro
About me thy serene, grave servants go;
And I am weary of my lonely ease.
Better a perilous journey overseas
Away from thee, than this, the life I lead,
To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed
That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they
Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
Father, I beg of thee a little task
To dignify my days,—'tis all I ask
Forever, but forever, this denied,
I perish."
        "Child," my father's voice replied,
"All things thy fancy hath desired of me
Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee
Within my house a spacious chamber, where
Are delicate things to handle and to wear,
And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song?
My minstrels shall attend thee all day long.
Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand
Open as fields to thee on every hand.
And all thy days this word shall hold the same:
No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name.
But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head;
"Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.

From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.

Before our lives divide for ever, 
      While time is with us and hands are free, 
(Time, swift to fasten and swift to sever 
      Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea) 
I will say no word that a man might say 
Whose whole life's love goes down in a day; 
For this could never have been; and never, 
      Though the gods and the years relent, shall be. 


Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour, 
      To think of things that are well outworn? 
Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower, 
      The dream foregone and the deed forborne? 
Though joy be done with and grief be vain, 
Time shall not sever us wholly in twain; 
Earth is not spoilt for a single shower; 
      But the rain has ruined the ungrown corn. 


It will grow not again, this fruit of my heart, 
      Smitten with sunbeams, ruined with rain. 
The singing seasons divide and depart, 
      Winter and summer depart in twain. 
It will grow not again, it is ruined at root, 
The bloodlike blossom, the dull red fruit; 
Though the heart yet sickens, the lips yet smart, 
      With sullen savour of poisonous pain. 


I have given no man of my fruit to eat; 
      I trod the grapes, I have drunken the wine. 
Had you eaten and drunken and found it sweet, 
      This wild new growth of the corn and vine, 
This wine and bread without lees or leaven, 
We had grown as gods, as the gods in heaven, 
Souls fair to look upon, goodly to greet, 
      One splendid spirit, your soul and mine. 


In the change of years, in the coil of things, 
      In the clamour and rumour of life to be, 
We, drinking love at the furthest springs, 
      Covered with love as a covering tree, 
We had grown as gods, as the gods above, 
Filled from the heart to the lips with love, 
Held fast in his hands, clothed warm with his wings, 
      O love, my love, had you loved but me! 


We had stood as the sure stars stand, and moved 
      As the moon moves, loving the world; and seen 
Grief collapse as a thing disproved, 
      Death consume as a thing unclean. 
Twain halves of a perfect heart, made fast 
Soul to soul while the years fell past; 
Had you loved me once, as you have not loved; 
      Had the chance been with us that has not been. 


I have put my days and dreams out of mind, 
      Days that are over, dreams that are done. 
Though we seek life through, we shall surely find 
      There is none of them clear to us now, not one. 
But clear are these things; the grass and the sand, 
Where, sure as the eyes reach, ever at hand, 
With lips wide open and face burnt blind, 
      The strong sea-daisies feast on the sun. 


The low downs lean to the sea; the stream, 
      One loose thin pulseless tremulous vein, 
Rapid and vivid and dumb as a dream, 
      Works downward, sick of the sun and the rain; 
No wind is rough with the rank rare flowers; 
The sweet sea, mother of loves and hours, 
Shudders and shines as the grey winds gleam, 
      Turning her smile to a fugitive pain. 


Mother of loves that are swift to fade, 
      Mother of mutable winds and hours. 
A barren mother, a mother-maid, 
      Cold and clean as her faint salt flowers. 
I would we twain were even as she, 
Lost in the night and the light of the sea, 
Where faint sounds falter and wan beams wade, 
      Break, and are broken, and shed into showers. 


The loves and hours of the life of a man, 
      They are swift and sad, being born of the sea. 
Hours that rejoice and regret for a span, 
      Born with a man's breath, mortal as he; 
Loves that are lost ere they come to birth, 
Weeds of the wave, without fruit upon earth. 
I lose what I long for, save what I can, 
      My love, my love, and no love for me! 


It is not much that a man can save 
      On the sands of life, in the straits of time, 
Who swims in sight of the great third wave 
      That never a swimmer shall cross or climb. 
Some waif washed up with the strays and spars 
That ebb-tide shows to the shore and the stars; 
Weed from the water, grass from a grave, 
      A broken blossom, a ruined rhyme. 


There will no man do for your sake, I think, 
      What I would have done for the least word said. 
I had wrung life dry for your lips to drink, 
      Broken it up for your daily bread: 
Body for body and blood for blood, 
As the flow of the full sea risen to flood 
That yearns and trembles before it sink, 
      I had given, and lain down for you, glad and dead. 


Yea, hope at highest and all her fruit, 
      And time at fullest and all his dower, 
I had given you surely, and life to boot, 
      Were we once made one for a single hour. 
But now, you are twain, you are cloven apart, 
Flesh of his flesh, but heart of my heart; 
And deep in one is the bitter root, 
      And sweet for one is the lifelong flower. 


To have died if you cared I should die for you, clung 
      To my life if you bade me, played my part 
As it pleased you — these were the thoughts that stung, 
      The dreams that smote with a keener dart 
Than shafts of love or arrows of death; 
These were but as fire is, dust, or breath, 
Or poisonous foam on the tender tongue 
      Of the little snakes that eat my heart. 


I wish we were dead together to-day, 
      Lost sight of, hidden away out of sight, 
Clasped and clothed in the cloven clay, 
      Out of the world's way, out of the light, 
Out of the ages of worldly weather, 
Forgotten of all men altogether, 
As the world's first dead, taken wholly away, 
      Made one with death, filled full of the night. 


How we should slumber, how we should sleep, 
      Far in the dark with the dreams and the dews! 
And dreaming, grow to each other, and weep, 
      Laugh low, live softly, murmur and muse; 
Yea, and it may be, struck through by the dream, 
Feel the dust quicken and quiver, and seem 
Alive as of old to the lips, and leap 
      Spirit to spirit as lovers use. 


Sick dreams and sad of a dull delight; 
      For what shall it profit when men are dead 
To have dreamed, to have loved with the whole soul's might, 
      To have looked for day when the day was fled? 
Let come what will, there is one thing worth, 
To have had fair love in the life upon earth: 
To have held love safe till the day grew night, 
      While skies had colour and lips were red. 


Would I lose you now? would I take you then, 
      If I lose you now that my heart has need? 
And come what may after death to men, 
      What thing worth this will the dead years breed? 
Lose life, lose all; but at least I know, 
O sweet life's love, having loved you so, 
Had I reached you on earth, I should lose not again, 
      In death nor life, nor in dream or deed. 


Yea, I know this well: were you once sealed mine, 
      Mine in the blood's beat, mine in the breath, 
Mixed into me as honey in wine, 
      Not time, that sayeth and gainsayeth, 
Nor all strong things had severed us then; 
Not wrath of gods, nor wisdom of men, 
Nor all things earthly, nor all divine, 
      Nor joy nor sorrow, nor life nor death. 


I had grown pure as the dawn and the dew, 
      You had grown strong as the sun or the sea. 
But none shall triumph a whole life through: 
      For death is one, and the fates are three. 
At the door of life, by the gate of breath, 
There are worse things waiting for men than death; 
Death could not sever my soul and you, 
      As these have severed your soul from me. 


You have chosen and clung to the chance they sent you, 
      Life sweet as perfume and pure as prayer. 
But will it not one day in heaven repent you? 
      Will they solace you wholly, the days that were? 
Will you lift up your eyes between sadness and bliss, 
Meet mine, and see where the great love is, 
And tremble and turn and be changed? Content you; 
      The gate is strait; I shall not be there. 


But you, had you chosen, had you stretched hand, 
      Had you seen good such a thing were done, 
I too might have stood with the souls that stand 
      In the sun's sight, clothed with the light of the sun; 
But who now on earth need care how I live? 
Have the high gods anything left to give, 
Save dust and laurels and gold and sand? 
      Which gifts are goodly; but I will none. 


O all fair lovers about the world, 
      There is none of you, none, that shall comfort me. 
My thoughts are as dead things, wrecked and whirled 
      Round and round in a gulf of the sea; 
And still, through the sound and the straining stream, 
Through the coil and chafe, they gleam in a dream, 
The bright fine lips so cruelly curled, 
      And strange swift eyes where the soul sits free. 


Free, without pity, withheld from woe, 
      Ignorant; fair as the eyes are fair. 
Would I have you change now, change at a blow, 
      Startled and stricken, awake and aware? 
Yea, if I could, would I have you see 
My very love of you filling me, 
And know my soul to the quick, as I know 
      The likeness and look of your throat and hair? 


I shall not change you. Nay, though I might, 
      Would I change my sweet one love with a word? 
I had rather your hair should change in a night, 
      Clear now as the plume of a black bright bird; 
Your face fail suddenly, cease, turn grey, 
Die as a leaf that dies in a day. 
I will keep my soul in a place out of sight, 
      Far off, where the pulse of it is not heard. 


Far off it walks, in a bleak blown space, 
      Full of the sound of the sorrow of years. 
I have woven a veil for the weeping face, 
      Whose lips have drunken the wine of tears; 
I have found a way for the failing feet, 
A place for slumber and sorrow to meet; 
There is no rumour about the place, 
      Nor light, nor any that sees or hears. 


I have hidden my soul out of sight, and said 
      "Let none take pity upon thee, none 
Comfort thy crying: for lo, thou art dead, 
      Lie still now, safe out of sight of the sun. 
Have I not built thee a grave, and wrought 
Thy grave-clothes on thee of grievous thought, 
With soft spun verses and tears unshed, 
      And sweet light visions of things undone? 


"I have given thee garments and balm and myrrh, 
      And gold, and beautiful burial things. 
But thou, be at peace now, make no stir; 
      Is not thy grave as a royal king's? 
Fret not thyself though the end were sore; 
Sleep, be patient, vex me no more. 
Sleep; what hast thou to do with her? 
      The eyes that weep, with the mouth that sings?" 


Where the dead red leaves of the years lie rotten, 
      The cold old crimes and the deeds thrown by, 
The misconceived and the misbegotten, 
      I would find a sin to do ere I die, 
Sure to dissolve and destroy me all through, 
That would set you higher in heaven, serve you 
And leave you happy, when clean forgotten, 
      As a dead man out of mind, am I. 


Your lithe hands draw me, your face burns through me, 
      I am swift to follow you, keen to see; 
But love lacks might to redeem or undo me; 
      As I have been, I know I shall surely be; 
"What should such fellows as I do?" Nay, 
My part were worse if I chose to play; 
For the worst is this after all; if they knew me, 
      Not a soul upon earth would pity me. 


And I play not for pity of these; but you, 
      If you saw with your soul what man am I, 
You would praise me at least that my soul all through 
      Clove to you, loathing the lives that lie; 
The souls and lips that are bought and sold, 
The smiles of silver and kisses of gold, 
The lapdog loves that whine as they chew, 
      The little lovers that curse and cry. 


There are fairer women, I hear; that may be; 
      But I, that I love you and find you fair, 
Who are more than fair in my eyes if they be, 
      Do the high gods know or the great gods care? 
Though the swords in my heart for one were seven, 
Should the iron hollow of doubtful heaven, 
That knows not itself whether night-time or day be, 
      Reverberate words and a foolish prayer? 


I will go back to the great sweet mother, 
      Mother and lover of men, the sea. 
I will go down to her, I and none other, 
      Close with her, kiss her and mix her with me; 
Cling to her, strive with her, hold her fast: 
O fair white mother, in days long past 
Born without sister, born without brother, 
      Set free my soul as thy soul is free. 


O fair green-girdled mother of mine, 
      Sea, that art clothed with the sun and the rain, 
Thy sweet hard kisses are strong like wine, 
      Thy large embraces are keen like pain. 
Save me and hide me with all thy waves, 
Find me one grave of thy thousand graves, 
Those pure cold populous graves of thine 
      Wrought without hand in a world without stain. 


I shall sleep, and move with the moving ships, 
      Change as the winds change, veer in the tide; 
My lips will feast on the foam of thy lips, 
      I shall rise with thy rising, with thee subside; 
Sleep, and not know if she be, if she were, 
Filled full with life to the eyes and hair, 
As a rose is fulfilled to the roseleaf tips 
      With splendid summer and perfume and pride. 


This woven raiment of nights and days, 
      Were it once cast off and unwound from me, 
Naked and glad would I walk in thy ways, 
      Alive and aware of thy ways and thee; 
Clear of the whole world, hidden at home, 
Clothed with the green and crowned with the foam, 
A pulse of the life of thy straits and bays, 
      A vein in the heart of the streams of the sea. 


Fair mother, fed with the lives of men, 
      Thou art subtle and cruel of heart, men say. 
Thou hast taken, and shalt not render again; 
      Thou art full of thy dead, and cold as they. 
But death is the worst that comes of thee; 
Thou art fed with our dead, O mother, O sea, 
But when hast thou fed on our hearts? or when, 
      Having given us love, hast thou taken away? 


O tender-hearted, O perfect lover, 
      Thy lips are bitter, and sweet thine heart. 
The hopes that hurt and the dreams that hover, 
      Shall they not vanish away and apart? 
But thou, thou art sure, thou art older than earth; 
Thou art strong for death and fruitful of birth; 
Thy depths conceal and thy gulfs discover; 
      From the first thou wert; in the end thou art. 


And grief shall endure not for ever, I know. 
      As things that are not shall these things be; 
We shall live through seasons of sun and of snow, 
      And none be grievous as this to me. 
We shall hear, as one in a trance that hears, 
The sound of time, the rhyme of the years; 
Wrecked hope and passionate pain will grow 
      As tender things of a spring-tide sea. 


Sea-fruit that swings in the waves that hiss, 
      Drowned gold and purple and royal rings. 
And all time past, was it all for this? 
      Times unforgotten, and treasures of things? 
Swift years of liking and sweet long laughter, 
That wist not well of the years thereafter 
Till love woke, smitten at heart by a kiss, 
      With lips that trembled and trailing wings? 


There lived a singer in France of old 
      By the tideless dolorous midland sea. 
In a land of sand and ruin and gold 
      There shone one woman, and none but she. 
And finding life for her love's sake fail, 
Being fain to see her, he bade set sail, 
Touched land, and saw her as life grew cold, 
      And praised God, seeing; and so died he. 


Died, praising God for his gift and grace: 
      For she bowed down to him weeping, and said 
"Live;" and her tears were shed on his face 
      Or ever the life in his face was shed. 
The sharp tears fell through her hair, and stung 
Once, and her close lips touched him and clung 
Once, and grew one with his lips for a space; 
      And so drew back, and the man was dead. 


O brother, the gods were good to you. 
      Sleep, and be glad while the world endures. 
Be well content as the years wear through; 
      Give thanks for life, and the loves and lures; 
Give thanks for life, O brother, and death, 
For the sweet last sound of her feet, her breath, 
For gifts she gave you, gracious and few, 
      Tears and kisses, that lady of yours. 


Rest, and be glad of the gods; but I, 
      How shall I praise them, or how take rest? 
There is not room under all the sky 
      For me that know not of worst or best, 
Dream or desire of the days before, 
Sweet things or bitterness, any more. 
Love will not come to me now though I die, 
      As love came close to you, breast to breast. 


I shall never be friends again with roses; 
      I shall loathe sweet tunes, where a note grown strong 
Relents and recoils, and climbs and closes, 
      As a wave of the sea turned back by song. 
There are sounds where the soul's delight takes fire, 
Face to face with its own desire; 
A delight that rebels, a desire that reposes; 
      I shall hate sweet music my whole life long. 


The pulse of war and passion of wonder, 
      The heavens that murmur, the sounds that shine, 
The stars that sing and the loves that thunder, 
      The music burning at heart like wine, 
An armed archangel whose hands raise up 
All senses mixed in the spirit's cup 
Till flesh and spirit are molten in sunder — 
      These things are over, and no more mine. 


These were a part of the playing I heard 
      Once, ere my love and my heart were at strife; 
Love that sings and hath wings as a bird, 
      Balm of the wound and heft of the knife. 
Fairer than earth is the sea, and sleep 
Than overwatching of eyes that weep, 
Now time has done with his one sweet word, 
      The wine and leaven of lovely life. 


I shall go my ways, tread out my measure, 
      Fill the days of my daily breath 
With fugitive things not good to treasure, 
      Do as the world doth, say as it saith; 
But if we had loved each other — O sweet, 
Had you felt, lying under the palms of your feet, 
The heart of my heart, beating harder with pleasure 
      To feel you tread it to dust and death — 


Ah, had I not taken my life up and given 
      All that life gives and the years let go, 
The wine and honey, the balm and leaven, 
      The dreams reared high and the hopes brought low? 
Come life, come death, not a word be said; 
Should I lose you living, and vex you dead? 
I never shall tell you on earth; and in heaven, 
      If I cry to you then, will you hear or know? 

This poem is in the public domain.

She rose among us where we lay.
She wept, we put our work away.
She chilled our laughter, stilled our play;
And spread a silence there.
And darkness shot across the sky,
And once, and twice, we heard her cry;
And saw her lift white hands on high
And toss her troubled hair.

What shape was this who came to us,
With basilisk eyes so ominous,
With mouth so sweet, so poisonous,
And tortured hands so pale?
We saw her wavering to and fro,
Through dark and wind we saw her go;
Yet what her name was did not know;
And felt our spirits fail.

We tried to turn away; but still
Above we heard her sorrow thrill;
And those that slept, they dreamed of ill
And dreadful things:
Of skies grown red with rending flames
And shuddering hills that cracked their frames;
Of twilights foul with wings;

And skeletons dancing to a tune;
And cries of children stifled soon;
And over all a blood-red moon
A dull and nightmare size.
They woke, and sought to go their ways,
Yet everywhere they met her gaze,
Her fixed and burning eyes.

Who are you now, —we cried to her—
Spirit so strange, so sinister?
We felt dead winds above us stir;
And in the darkness heard
A voice fall, singing, cloying sweet,
Heavily dropping, though that heat,
Heavy as honeyed pulses beat,
Slow word by anguished word.

And through the night strange music went
With voice and cry so darkly blent
We could not fathom what they meant;
Save only that they seemed
To thin the blood along our veins,
Foretelling vile, delirious pains,
And clouds divulging blood-red rains
Upon a hill undreamed.

And this we heard:  "Who dies for me,
He shall possess me secretly,
My terrible beauty he shall see,
And slake my body's flame.
But who denies me cursed shall be,
And slain, and buried loathsomely,
And slimed upon with shame."

And darkness fell.  And like a sea
Of stumbling deaths we followed, we
Who dared not stay behind.
There all night long beneath a cloud
We rose and fell, we struck and bowed,
We were the ploughman and the ploughed,
Our eyes were red and blind.

And some, they said, had touched her side,
Before she fled us there;
And some had taken her to bride;
And some lain down for her and died;
Who had not touched her hair,
Ran to and fro and cursed and cried
And sought her everywhere.

"Her eyes have feasted on the dead,
And small and shapely is her head,
And dark and small her mouth," they said,
"And beautiful to kiss;
Her mouth is sinister and red
As blood in moonlight is."

Then poets forgot their jeweled words
And cut the sky with glittering swords;
And innocent souls turned carrion birds
To perch upon the dead.
Sweet daisy fields were drenched with death,
The air became a charnel breath,
Pale stones were splashed with red.

Green leaves were dappled bright with blood
And fruit trees murdered in the bud;
And when at length the dawn
Came green as twilight from the east,
And all that heaving horror ceased,
Silent was every bird and beast,
And that dark voice was gone.

No word was there, no song, no bell,
No furious tongue that dream to tell;
Only the dead, who rose and fell
Above the wounded men;
And whisperings and wails of pain
Blown slowly from the wounded grain,
Blown slowly from the smoking plain;
And silence fallen again.

Until at dusk, from God knows where,
Beneath dark birds that filled the air,    
Like one who did not hear or care,
Under a blood-red cloud,
An aged ploughman came alone      
And drove his share through flesh and bone,
And turned them under to mould and stone;
All night long he ploughed.

This poem is in the public domain.

The time you won your town the race  
We chaired you through the market-place;  
Man and boy stood cheering by,  
And home we brought you shoulder-high.  

To-day, the road all runners come,    
Shoulder-high we bring you home,  
And set you at your threshold down,  
Townsman of a stiller town.  

Smart lad, to slip betimes away  
From fields where glory does not stay, 
And early though the laurel grows  
It withers quicker than the rose.  

Eyes the shady night has shut  
Cannot see the record cut,  
And silence sounds no worse than cheers 
After earth has stopped the ears:  

Now you will not swell the rout  
Of lads that wore their honours out,  
Runners whom renown outran  
And the name died before the man. 

So set, before its echoes fade,  
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,  
And hold to the low lintel up  
The still-defended challenge-cup.  

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,  
And find unwithered on its curls  
The garland briefer than a girl's.

This poem is in the public domain.

The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something
undone.

          •

Did the palo verde
blush yellow
all at once?

Today's edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.

          •

The way a lost
word

will come back
unbidden.

You're not interested
in it now,

only
in knowing
where it's been.

Rae Armantrout, "Unbidden" from Versed. Copyright © 2009 by Rae Armantrout. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

   Under the harvest moon, 
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker, 
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

   Under the summer roses 
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories, 
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

This poem is in the public domain.