Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.
    And he said:
    You would know the secret of death.
    But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
    The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
    If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
    For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

    In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
    And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
    Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
    Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
    Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
    Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

    For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
    And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

    Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
    And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
    And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

A father is fate
say the ancient oracles

or the modernist therapist
or the son despondent

harrowing against.
A mother 

is mystery or
memory, a makeshift

stay against the father.
And me? I see now

how easy it was to be
a son. How if the son dies

before the father 
there is no end to it

and so what eases
the father is the imminence 

of his death, which eases
too the son

if the son is not
a child. And a mother?

Her death is that hole.
In the earth or the universe.

In the heart or the hell
the family has wrought

where the father vanishes
and all is her absence.

No one solves these.
No one outlives these.

There are reasons poems live,
people die. There are reasons.

Copyright © 2024 by David Mura. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

I heard myself in every cell the singer sang

The wind in the singer had to pass through her heart

When the queen ascended into view I was with her, hiding

In her darkness. When she fell from favor

I fell too. I governed

Myself with silence. I covered my wound

In my own naked body

I said no protest words when the stranger 

Entered me. I’ll forget his face, I told myself

I closed my eyes and I did not forget it

Though it was many a good thing in spite of this

I did manage to forget: healing

Potions, songs, and secret sounds

The rose with its mouth like a child’s, asleep

Minaret, thorn, spire, steeple

Wishful flavor, exhausted people

Two cups of blood, one grain of sand

Receding flesh with your tooth in its hand

If I knew the words I would bid the mother of us all be seated

As it is I pull out a chair for my own mother to sit in

I offer her a cigarette

I light it for her in my mouth

Copyright © 2022 by Ariana Reines. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This poem is in the public domain.

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Bishop. Reprinted from Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Gone now the baby's nurse,
a lioness who ruled the roost
and made the Mother cry.
She used to tie
gobbets of porkrind in bowknots of gauze--
three months they hung like soggy toast
on our eight foot magnolia tree,
and helped the English sparrows
weather a Boston winter.

Three months, three months! 
Is Richard now himself again?
Dimpled with exaltation,
my daughter holds her levee in the tub.
Our noses rub,
each of us pats a stringy lock of hair--
they tell me nothing's gone.
Though I am forty-one,
not forty now, the time I put away
was child's play.  After thirteen weeks
my child still dabs her cheeks
to start me shaving.  When
we dress her in her sky-blue corduroy,
she changes to a boy,
and floats my shaving brush
and washcloth in the flush. . . .
Dearest I cannot loiter here
in lather like a polar bear.

Recuperating, I neither spin nor toil.
Three stories down below,
a choreman tends our coffin's length of soil,
and seven horizontal tulips blow.
Just twelve months ago,
these flowers were pedigreed
imported Dutchmen; now no one need
distinguish them from weed.
Bushed by the late spring snow,
they cannot meet
another year's snowballing enervation.

I keep no rank nor station.
Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small.

From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.

This is what our dying looks like.
You believe in the sun. I believe
I can’t love you. Always be closing,
Said our favorite professor before
He let the gun go off in his mouth.
I turned 29 the way any man turns
In his sleep, unaware of the earth
Moving beneath him, its plates in
Their places, a dated disagreement.
Let’s fight it out, baby. You have
Only so long left—a man turning
In his sleep—so I take a picture.
I won’t look at it, of course. It’s
His bad side, his Mr. Hyde, the hole
In a husband’s head, the O
Of his wife’s mouth. Every night,
I take a pill. Miss one, and I’m gone.
Miss two, and we’re through. Hotels
Bore me, unless I get a mountain view,
A room in which my cell won’t work,
And there’s nothing to do but see
The sun go down into the ground
That cradles us as any coffin can.

Copyright © 2010 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of the author.

          in memory of Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, and Tyler Clementi

There are those who suffer in plain sight,
there are those who suffer in private.
Nothing but secondhand details:
a last shower, a request for a pen, a tall red oak.

There are those who suffer in private.
The one in Tehachapi, aged 13.
A last shower, a request for a pen, a tall red oak:
he had had enough torment, so he hanged himself.

The one in Tehachapi, aged 13;
the one in Cooks Head, aged 15:
he had had enough torment, so he hanged himself.
He was found by his mother.

The one in Cooks Head, aged 15.
The one in Greensburg, aged 15:
he was found by his mother.
"I love my horses, my club lambs. They are the world to me,"

the one in Greensburg, aged 15,
posted on his profile.
"I love my horses, my club lambs. They are the world to me."
The words turn and turn on themselves.

Posted on his profile,
"Jumping off the gw bridge sorry":
the words turn, and turn on themselves,
like the one in New Brunswick, aged 18.

Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.
There are those who suffer in plain sight
like the one in New Brunswick, aged 18.
Nothing but secondhand details.

Copyright © 2010 by Randall Mann. Used with permission of the author.