Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
This poem is in the public domain.
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
My face a featureless, fine
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.
These are my hands
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.
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
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.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
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.
Lur’d by some Captain’s smooth address,
His scarlet coat and roguish face,
One Half-A-Joe on drum-head laid,
A tavern-treat—and reckoning paid;
See yonder simple lad consign’d
To slavery of the basest kind.
With only skill to drive a plough
a musquet he must handle now;
Must twirl there and twirl it there
Now on the ground, no in the air:
Its every motion by some rule
Of practice, taught in Frederick’s school, *
Must be directed—nicely true—
Or he be beaten black—and blue.
A sergeant, rais’d from cleaning shoes
May now this country lad abuse:—
On meager fare grown poor and lean,
He treats him like a mere machine,
Directs his look, directs his step,
And kicks him into decent shape,
From aukward habit frees the clown,
Erects his head—or knocks him down,
Last Friday week to Battery-Green
The sergeant came with this Machine—
One motion of the firelock miss’d—
The Tutor thump’d him with his fist:
I saw him lift his hickory cane,
I heard poor Jeffery’s head complain!—
Yet this—and more—’s forc’d to bear;
And this goes on from year to year,
’Till desperate grown at such a lot,
He drinks—deserts—and so is shot!
°The Prussian manual exercise.
This poem is in the public domain.
Then came Oscar, the time of the guns,
And there was no land for a man, no land for a country,
Unless guns sprang up
And spoke their language.
The how of running the world was all in guns.
The law of a God keeping sea and land apart,
The law of a child sucking milk,
The law of stars held together,
They slept and worked in the heads of men
Making twenty-mile guns, sixty-mile guns,
Speaking their language
Of no land for a man, no land for a country
Unless… guns… unless… guns.
There was a child wanted the moon shot off the sky,
asking a long gun to get the moon,
to conquer the insults of the moon,
to conquer something, anything,
to put it over and run up the flag,
To show them the running of the world was all in guns.
There was a child wanted the moon shot off the day.
They dreamed… in the time of the guns… of guns.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Mac Dunlop and Natalia Bukia-Peters Three years ago, during the war, our house was burgled. When I returned everything was upside down, Our possessions had probably borne those alien fingers with hatred. They stole my gold ring and several bottles of wine. They were probably in a hurry—only the drawers had been emptied. They took nothing from the shelves. And yet I was grateful—they had not burned my family album, nor ripped up my books, even that they had left the house at all. This will always be my shameful gratitude. And today, just around the corner, almost in town the military drills sound again as my child sleeps in the room, while each passing tick of the clock feels like a slap in the face. One-man empires threaten everything. Our skeletons for them are sticks and stones, as if they would fight each other using our bones as weapons. As for us, let us carry our invisible kingdoms through alien lands and alien harvests, for all eyes to see kingdoms where we ourselves are the crowned kings. Let us carry them, and in this coziness let us have temporary shelter until dwarfs and giants drill into them and crush them. My child, I am ashamed of these tales. Don’t get accustomed to malevolent endings like “the plague is there and so joy here.” That doesn't exist. If it could, you mustn't wish for it. Bringing out of our hidden kingdoms this inherited tumor, this love not for homeland but for soil. The lullaby of the machine gun. Who can escape his own charisma, when time so firmly, so loyally hardens the fontanels of all our children.
Originally published in the September 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. © Lela Samniashvili. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Mac Dunlop. All rights reserved.
All night long we lie
Stupidly watching the smoke puff over the sky,
Stupidly watching the interminable stars
Come out again, peaceful and cold and high,
Swim into the smoke again, or melt in a flare of red…
All night long, all night long,
Hearing the terrible battle of guns,
We smoke our pipes, we think we shall soon be dead,
We sleep for a second, and wake again,
We dream we are filling pans and baking bread,
Or hoeing the witch-grass out of the wheat,
We dream we are turning lathes,
Or open our shops, in the early morning,
And look for a moment along the quiet street…
And we do not laugh, though it is strange
In a harrowing second of time
To traverse so many worlds, so many ages,
And come to this chaos again,
This vast symphonic dance of death,
This incoherent dust.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both
parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard
Humanity i love you because
when you're hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you're flush pride keeps
you from the pawn shop and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house
Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
of death Humanity
i hate you
This poem is in the public domain.