it was summer and time circled itself like a swarm of gnats  

	
                                     like the pink-topped taxis rounding the 
                                            glorieta  

	
	   if only for the sake of inertia, 
			             we were standing in a foreign desert


the days of the week slid by, uncapitalized


	    my grandfather forever trapped in the picture 
			             where he pretends to play the guitar


a serenade for tourists and lovers with new rules between them


		        our occupation: to look and not touch


at some point we could no longer tell if it was the clouds we were looking at 
		        or the building reflecting the clouds


				                 all epigraphs came pre-assigned


the beautiful thing about this story was that it happened


		         we didn’t see the floating gardens 
					                      and I don’t remember the art  

		
only the symmetry of a blue wall, a momentary breeze


			            there were parrots, I think, or peacocks?  

				
				               there were birds

Copyright © 2019 by Nico Amador. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

No matter the rush of undertow
everything else is still
here. I scrawl your name 
at the bottom of the river
I sing it and it sings me 
back. What I’d give for a name 
so keen     it whittles
the valleys of my neck. I’m forever drenched 
in this night, and you 
no longer exist. The river catches 
the sky’s black, ink 
meant to preserve a memory. I stay
because it’s easy. Here. I relive 
what you did to me, find myself again 
in the water—swollen and sullen 
as a bruise. I trace 
and retrace, graffiti 
every river’s bank, drown 
into ecstasy

instead of moving on with my life. 
I wear what you did to me 
like gills, a new way to breathe. 
I jump into the river
for days. I forget I have lungs at all.

Copyright © 2019 by Noor Ibn Najam. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Everything in the beginning is the same.
Clouds let us look at the sun.

Words let us watch a man about to be killed.
The eye-hollows of his skull see home.

When they stone him,
he knows what a stone is—each word, a stone:

The hole of his nose
as dark as the door I pass through.

I wander the halls numerously.
He’s no longer my grandfather in weight.

Among old bodies piled high, they aim.
Living can tranquilize you.

Copyright © 2018 by E. J. Koh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

it ends my sleep to want my story about
my skin melting in the sun that day of
summer and a doctor who tells me i am dying,
that thing i hide under my nails like dirt
scratched from summer skin.

so i pick up a pencil and begin to erase myself.

erasure is sometimes editing.
immigration is always editing.

*

my father with the heart that chokes
him in his sleep, in his shorter and shorter
walks around concrete and glass sculptures,
around mother who keeps leaning one
way then the other at the precipice of fall

as he yells promises at her to keep her alive.

in this journey that began with his misstep
across waters and languages and his
hands on my face teaching me to long

how did he mean to rewrite me—

*

what will i say to the sky and the soil
neither foreign or home when they are
all gone leaving me to hold our name up
alone when i am neither tree nor

fire.

*

in the mirror i look for my head that
has begun to shake, the weight of how
much i am afraid, how it makes me look
like mother when i was a boy—seeing
it for the first time in her, demanding

she make it stop—

*

this fear of sleep has kept me up for years
did you know? because in dreams there is always
a point when your mother dies while
you are traveling through space searching
for your lost child and other such

possibilities.

*

i spent the day moving my body, guided
by a stranger’s voice and somewhere
on the floor my bones recognized pain
told me that in this too / (that is my body)

there are borders to cross
there are borders not meant to cross

*

interstitial—it’s a new word i learned
something about the space between
things, but it is obvious like my body that
wants to break, that space is the thing not
the between, the mass that cannot be occupied

a space between spaces that tell me

i am a child of none

*

i capture my hand grasping at the sky outside
the window of another plane in mid-flight.

it was orange. it wasn’t anything.

and the hand belonged to no one.

there was only the reaching.

Copyright © 2018 by Chiwan Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask.  No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this?  we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone.  But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
                      It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang.  And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.  Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh!  Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

That's what misery is,
Nothing to have at heart. 
It is to have or nothing. 

It is a thing to have, 
A lion, an ox in his breast, 
To feel it breathing there.
 
Corazon, stout dog, 
Young ox, bow-legged bear, 
He tastes its blood, not spit. 

He is like a man 
In the body of a violent beast. 
Its muscles are his own . . .

The lion sleeps in the sun. 
Its nose is on its paws. 
It can kill a man. 

From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed in 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

This poem is in the public domain.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.

They sent him back to her. The letter came
Saying... and she could have him. And before
She could be sure there was no hidden ill
Under the formal writing, he was in her sight—
Living.— They gave him back to her alive—
How else? They are not known to send the dead—
And not disfigured visibly. His face?—
His hands? She had to look—to ask,
“What was it, dear?” And she had given all
And still she had all—they had—they the lucky!
Wasn’t she glad now? Everything seemed won,
And all the rest for them permissible ease.
She had to ask, "What was it, dear?"
                                                               “Enough,
Yet not enough. A bullet through and through,
High in the breast. Nothing but what good care
And medicine and rest—and you a week,
Can cure me of to go again.” The same
Grim giving to do over for them both.
She dared no more than ask him with her eyes
How was it with him for a second trial.
And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.
They had given him back to her, but not to keep. 

This poem is in the public domain.

When we two parted
   In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
   To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
   Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
   Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
   Sunk chill on my brow— 
It felt like the warning
   Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
   And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
   And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
   A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me—
   Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
   Who knew thee too well—
Long, long shall I rue thee,
   Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
   In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
   Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
   After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
   With silence and tears.

This poem is in the public domain.

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor's art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below:
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master's own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour'd falls, unnotic'd all his worth,
Deny'd in heaven the Soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas'd by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on, it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend's remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one—and here he lies.

This poem is in the public domain.

When I go up through the mowing field,
     The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
     Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
     The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
     Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
     But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
     Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
     By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
     To carry again to you.

This poem is in the public domain.

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

This poem is in the public domain.

When we were birds,
we veered & wheeled, we flapped & looped—

it's true, we flew. When we were birds,
we dined on tiny silver fish
& the watery hearts
of flowers. When we were birds

we sistered the dragonfly,
brothered the night-wise bat,

& sometimes when we were birds

we rose as high as we could go—
light cold & strange—

& when we opened our beaked mouths
sundown poured like wine
down our throats.

When we were birds
we worshipped trees, rivers, mountains,

sage knots, rain, gizzard rocks, grub-shot dung piles,

& like all good beasts & wise green things
the mothering sun. We had many gods
when we were birds,

& each in her own way
was good to us, even winter fog,

which found us huddling
in salal or silk tassel,
singing low, sweet songs & closing
our blood-rich eyes & sleeping
the troubled sleep of birds. Yes,

even when we were birds
we were sometimes troubled & tired,

sad for no reason, 

& so pretended we were not birds
& fell like stones—

the earth hurtling up to meet us,
our trussed bones readying
to be shattered, our unusually large hearts
pounding for nothing—

yet at the last minute we would flap
& lift, & as we flew, shudderingly away,

we told ourselves that this falling—

we would remember. We thought
we would always
be birds. We didn't know.

We didn't know
we could love one another

with such ferocity. That we should.

Copyright © 2016 Joe Wilkins. “My Son Asks for the Story About When We Were Birds” was published in When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016). Used with permission of the author.

Box cars run by a mile long.
And I wonder what they say to each other
When they stop a mile long on a sidetrack.
  Maybe their chatter goes:
I came from Fargo with a load of wheat up to the danger line.
I came from Omaha with a load of shorthorns and they
    splintered my boards.
I came from Detroit heavy with a load of flivvers.
I carried apples from the Hood river last year and this year
    bunches of bananas from Florida; they look for me with
    watermelons from Mississippi next year.
 
Hammers and shovels of work gangs sleep in shop corners
when the dark stars come on the sky and the night watchmen
    walk and look.
 
Then the hammer heads talk to the handles,
then the scoops of the shovels talk,
how the day’s work nicked and trimmed them,
how they swung and lifted all day,
how the hands of the work gangs smelled of hope.  
In the night of the dark stars
when the curve of the sky is a work gang handle,
in the night on the mile long sidetracks,
in the night where the hammers and shovels sleep in corners,
the night watchmen stuff their pipes with dreams—
and sometimes they doze and don’t care for nothin’,
and sometimes they search their heads for meanings, stories,
    stars.
  The stuff of it runs like this:
A long way we come; a long way to go; long rests and long deep
    sniffs for our lungs on the way.
Sleep is a belonging of all; even if all songs are old songs and
    the singing heart is snuffed out like a switchman’s lantern
    with the oil gone, even if we forget our names and houses in
    the finish, the secret of sleep is left us, sleep belongs to all,
    sleep is the first and last and best of all.        
  
People singing; people with song mouths connecting with song
    hearts; people who must sing or die; people whose song
    hearts break if there is no song mouth; these are my people.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

Out of albumen and blood, out of amniotic brine,
placental sea-swell, trough, salt-spume and foam,
 
you came to us infinitely far, little traveler, from the other world—
skull-keel and heel-hull socketed to pelvic cradle,
 
rib-rigging, bowsprit-spine, driftwood-bone,
the ship of you scudding wave after wave of what-might-never-have-been.
 
Memory, stay faithful to this moment, which will never return: 
may I never forget when we first saw you, there on the other side,
 
still fish-gilled, water-lunged,
your eelgrass-hair and seahorse-skeleton floating in the sonogram screen
 
like a ghost from tomorrow,
moth-breath quicksilver in snowy pixels, fists in sleep-twitch,
 
not yet alive but not not, 
you who were and were not,
 
a thunder of bloodbeats sutured in green jags on the ultrasound machine
like hooves galloping from eternity to time,
 
feet kicking bone-creel and womb-wall,
while we waited, never to waken in that world again, 
 
the world without the shadow of your death,
with no you or not-you, no is or was or might-have-been or never-were.
 
May I never forget when we first saw you in your afterlife
which was life,
 
soaked otter-pelt and swan-down crowning,
face cauled in blood and mucus-mud, eyes soldered shut,
 
wet birth-cord rooting you from one world to the next,
you who might not have lived, might never have been born, like all the others,
 
as we looked at every pock and crook of your skull,
every clotted hair, seal-slick on your blue-black scalp,
 
every lash, every nail, every pore, every breath,
with so much wonder that wonder is not the word—

Copyright © 2018 by Suji Kwock Kim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

II.

Because our kiss is as the moon to draw
The mounting waters of that red-lit sea
That circles brain with sense, and bids us be
The playthings of an elemental law,
Shall we forego the deeper touch of awe
On love's extremest pinnacle, where we,
Winging the vistas of infinity,
Gigantic on the mist our shadows saw?

Shall kinship with the dim first-moving clod
Not draw the folded pinion from the soul,
And shall we not, by spirals vision-trod,
Reach upward to some still-retreating goal,
As earth, escaping from the night's control,
Drinks at the founts of morning like a god?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Life, like a marble block, is given to all,
A blank, inchoate mass of years and days,
Whence one with ardent chisel swift essays
Some shape of strength or symmetry to call;
One shatters it in bits to mend a wall;
One in a craftier hand the chisel lays,
And one, to wake the mirth in Lesbia’s gaze,
Carves it apace in toys fantastical.

But least is he who, with enchanted eyes
Filled with high visions of fair shapes to be,
Muses which god he shall immortalize
In the proud Parian’s perpetuity,
Till twilight warns him from the punctual skies
That the night cometh wherein none shall see.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This poem is in the public domain.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

This poem is in the public domain.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This poem is in the public domain.

I had withdrawn in forest, and my song
Was swallowed up in leaves that blew alway;
And to the forest edge you came one day
(This was my dream) and looked and pondered long,
But did not enter, though the wish was strong:
You shook your pensive head as who should say,
‘I dare not—too far in his footsteps stray—
He must seek me would he undo the wrong.’

Not far, but near, I stood and saw it all
Behind low boughs the trees let down outside;
And the sweet pang it cost me not to call
And tell you that I saw does still abide.
But ’tis not true that thus I dwelt aloof,
For the wood wakes, and you are here for proof.

This poem is in the public domain.

Twelve o'clock.	
Along the reaches of the street	
Held in a lunar synthesis,	
Whispering lunar incantations	
Dissolve the floors of memory	        
And all its clear relations,	
Its divisions and precisions.	
Every street lamp that I pass	
Beats like a fatalistic drum,	
And through the spaces of the dark	        
Midnight shakes the memory	
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.	
 
   Half-past one,	
The street-lamp sputtered,	
The street-lamp muttered,	        
The street-lamp said, "Regard that woman	
Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door	
Which opens on her like a grin.	
You see the border of her dress	
Is torn and stained with sand,	        
And you see the corner of her eye	
Twists like a crooked pin."	
 
   The memory throws up high and dry	
A crowd of twisted things;	
A twisted branch upon the beach	        
Eaten smooth, and polished	
As if the world gave up	
The secret of its skeleton,	
Stiff and white.	
A broken spring in a factory yard,	        
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left	
Hard and curled and ready to snap.	
 
   Half-past two,	
The street-lamp said,	
"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,	        
Slips out its tongue	
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."	
So the hand of the child, automatic,	
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.	
I could see nothing behind that child's eye.	        
I have seen eyes in the street	
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,	
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,	
An old crab with barnacles on his back,	
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.	        
 
   Half-past three,	
The lamp sputtered,	
The lamp muttered in the dark.	
The lamp hummed:	
"Regard the moon,	        
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,	
She winks a feeble eye,	
She smiles into corners.	
She smooths the hair of the grass.	
The moon has lost her memory.	        
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,	
Her hand twists a paper rose,	
That smells of dust and eau de Cologne,	
She is alone	
With all the old nocturnal smells	        
That cross and cross across her brain."	
The reminiscence comes	
Of sunless dry geraniums	
And dust in crevices,	
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,	        
And female smells in shuttered rooms,	
And cigarettes in corridors	
And cocktail smells in bars.	
 
   The lamp said,	
"Four o'clock,	        
Here is the number on the door.	
Memory!	
You have the key,	
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair.	
Mount.	        
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,	
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."	
 
   The last twist of the knife.

This poem is in the public domain.

     S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
     So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
     And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?

          . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

          . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
     That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
     “That is not it at all,
     That is not what I meant, at all.”

          . . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Published in 1915. This poem is in the public domain.

I.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

II.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

III.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Written June 12, 1814. This poem is in the public domain.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem is in the public domain.

Hamlet speaks to Horatio

Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter'd?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.—Something too much of this.—
There is a play to-night before the king;
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father's death:
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe mine uncle: if his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan's stithy. Give him heedful note;
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgments join
In censure of his seeming.

This poem is in the public domain.

“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.”

For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

           Frisch weht der Wind
           Der Heimat zu,            
           Mein Irisch Kind,
           Wo weilest du?

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Öd’ und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

 

II. A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished thone,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed.
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Clawed into words, then would be savagely still.

“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is the noise?”
                                 The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
                                        Nothing again nothing.
                                                              “Do
“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
“Nothing?”
                    I remember
                                        Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”
                                                            But
O  O  O  O  that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
                                    The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said—
I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there's others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said,
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be alright, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

 

III. The Fire Sermon

The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix denfants, chantant dans la coupole!

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.
Tereu

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire,
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

“This music crept by me upon the waters”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City City, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
Wide
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
                       Weialala leia
                       Wallala leialala
Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
                       Weialala leia
                       Wallala leialala

“Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”

“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised ‘a new start.’
I made no comment. What should I resent?”

“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing.”
                       la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

burning

 

IV. Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
                                       A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
                                       Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

 

V. What the Thunder Said

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
                                              If there were water
      And no rock
      If there were rock
      And also water
      And water
      A spring
      A pool among the rock
      If there were the sound of water only
      Not the cicada
      And dry grass singing
      But sound of water over a rock
      Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
      Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
      But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that one on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home,
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
DA
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
DA
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
DA
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

                                    I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
em>Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince dAquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

          Shantih     shantih     shantih

 


Notes

Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston’s book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.

 

I. The Burial of the Dead

Line 20. Cf. Ezekiel II, i.
23. Cf. Ecclesiastes XII, v.
31. V. Tristan und Isolde, I, verses 5–8.
42. Id. III, verse 24.
46. I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples of Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the “crowds of people,” and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself.
60. Cf. Baudelaire:

“Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves
“Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.”

63. Cf. Inferno III, 55–57:

                          “si lunga tratta
“di gente, ch’io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”

64. Cf. Inferno IV, 25–27:

“Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
“non avea pianto ma’ che de sospiri,
“che l’aura eterna facevan tremare.”

68. A phenomenon which I have often noticed.
74. Cf. The Dirge in Webster’s White Devil.
76. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.

 

II. A Game of Chess

77. Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II, ii, I. 190.
92. Laquearia. V. Aeneid, I, 726:

                          “dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et noctem flammis funalia vincunt.”

98. Sylvan scene. V. Milton, Paradise Lost, IV, 140.
99. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, Philomela.
100. Cf. Part III 1. 204.
115. Cf. Part III 1. 195.
118. Cf. Webster: “Is the wind in that door still?”
126. Cf. Part I, ll. 37, 48.
138. Cf. the game of chess in Middleton’s Women Beware Women.

 

III. The Fire Sermon

176. V. Spenser, Prothalamion.
192. Cf. The Tempest, I, ii.
196. Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.
197. Cf. Day, Parliament of Bees:

“When of the sudden, listening, you shall hear,
“A noise of horns and hunting, which shall bring
“Actaeon to Diana in the spring,
“Where all shall see her naked skin. . .”

199. I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines are taken; it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia.
202. V. Verlaine, “Parsifal.”
210. The currants were quoted at a price “carriage and insurance free to London”; and the Bill of Lading etc. were to be handed to the buyer upon payment of the sight draft.
218. Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a “character,” is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. The whole passage from Ovid is of great anthropological interest:

. . . Cum Iunone iocos et “maior vestra profecto est
Quam, quae contingit maribus,” dixisse, “voluptas.”
Illa negat; placuit quae sit sententia docti
Quaerere Tiresiae: venus huic erat utraque nota.
Nam duo magnorum viridi coeuntia silva
Corpora serpentum baculi violaverat ictu
Deque viro factus, mirabile, femina septem
Egerat autumnos; octavo rursus eosdem
Vidit et “est vestrae si tanta potentia plagae,”
Dixit “ut auctoris sortem in contraria mutet,
Nunc quoque vos feriam!” percussis anguibus isdem
Forma prior rediit genetivaque venit imago.
Arbiter hic igitur sumptus de lite iocosa
Dicta Iovis firmat; gravius Saturnia iusto
Nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique
Iudicis aeterna damnavit lumina nocte,
At pater omnipotens (neque enim licet inrita cuiquam
Facta dei fecisse deo) pro lumine adempto
Scire future dedit poenamque levavit honore.

221. This may not appear as exact as Sappho’s lines, but I had in mind the “longshore” or “dory” fisherman, who returns at nightfall.
253. V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield.
257. V. The Tempest, as above.
264. The interior of St. Magnus Martyr is to my mind one of the finest among Wren’s interiors. See The Proposed Demolition of Nineteen City Churches: (P.S. King & Son Ltd.).
266. The Song of the (three) Thames-daughters begins here. From line 292 to 306 inclusive they speak in turn. V. Götterdämmerung, III, i: the Rhine-daughters.
279. V. Froude, Elizabeth Vol. I, ch. iv, letter of De Quadra to Philip of Spain: “In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river. (The queen) was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop, when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far that Lord Robert at last said, as I was on the spot there was no reason why they should not be married if the queen pleased.”
293. Cf. Purgatorio, V. 133:

“Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
“Siena mi fe’, disfecemi Maremma.”

307. V. St. Augustine’s Confessions: “to Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears.”
308. The complete text of the Buddha’s Fire Sermon (which corresponds in importance to the Sermon on the Mount) from which these words are taken, will be found translated in the late Henry Clarke Warren’s Buddhism in Translation (Harvard Oriental Series). Mr. Warren was one of the great pioneers of Buddhist studies in the occident.
312. From St. Augustine’s Confessions again. The collocation of these two representatives of eastern and western asceticism, as the culmination of this part of the poem, is not an accident.

 

V. What the Thunder Said

In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston’s book) and the present decay of eastern Europe.

357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec Country. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America) “it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats. . . . Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequaled.” Its “water-dripping song” is justly celebrated.
360. The following lines were stimulated by the account of one of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one of Shackleton’s): it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted.
366-76. Cf. Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos: “Schon ist halb Europa, schon ist zumindest der halbe Osten Europas auf dem Wege zum Chaos, fährt betrunken im heiligem Wahn am Abgrund entlang und singt dazu, singt betrunken und hymnisch wie Dmitri Karamasoff sang. Ueber diese Lieder lacht der Bürger beleidigt, der Heilige und Seher hört sie mit Tränen.”
401. “Datta, dayadhvam, damyata” (Give, sympathise, control). The fable of the meaning of the Thunder is found in the BrihadaranyakaUpanishad, 5, I. A translation is found in Deussen’s Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, p. 489.
407. Cf. Webster, The White Devil, V. vi:

                          “. . . they’ll remarry
“Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.”

411. Cf. Inferno, XXXIII, 46:

“ed io seniti chiavar l’uscio di sotto
all’orribile torre.”

Also F. H, Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 346.
“My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it. . . . In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.”
424. V. Weston: From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King.
427. V. Purgatorio, XXVI, 148.

“‘Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
‘que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
‘sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.’
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.”

428. V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.
429. V. Gérard de Nerval, Sonnet “El Desdichado.”
431. V. Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy.
433. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. “The Peace which passeth understanding” is a feeble transition of the content of this word.

From The Waste Land (Boni & Liveright, 1922) by T.S. Eliot. This poem is in the public domain.

The rustling of the silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the courtyard,
There is no sound of footfall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them:

A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.

This poem is in the public domain.

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
   As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

        By Rihaku

"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" is based on the first of Li Po's "Two Letters from Chang-Kan." Copyright © 1956, 1957 by Ezra Pound. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea,
London has swept about you this score years
And bright ships left you this or that in fee:
Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things,
Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price.
Great minds have sought you—lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind—with one thought less, each year.
Oh, you are patient, I have seen you sit
Hours, where something might have floated up.
And now you pay one. Yes, you richly pay.
You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away:
Trophies fished up; some curious suggestion:
Fact that leads nowhere; and a tale or two,
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves,
That never fits a corner or shows use,
Or finds its hour upon the loom of days:
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work;
Idols and ambergris and rare inlays,
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite your own.
                     Yet this is you.

From Ripostes (1912), by Ezra Pound.

Old friend,
are we there yet? 

You sat with me once,
outside a dirty burger joint,
a hard light at the windows.

It was just about
the ass crack of the afternoon,

mountains in the distance,

& I’d played a trick on you,
or you’d played a trick on me,

& the highway
was a home to comings & goings,
nothing to do with us.

We had hours yet to drive.

Old friend,
how long should we sit here,
breathing dust & gasoline,

watching clouds gut themselves
on the pines?

Copyright © 2018 Joe Wilkins. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2018.

When a human is asked about a particular fire,
she comes close:
then it is too hot,
so she turns her face—

and that’s when the forest of her bearable life appears,
always on the other side of the fire. The fire
she’s been asked to tell the story of,
she has to turn from it, so the story you hear
is that of pines and twitching leaves
and how her body is like neither—

all the while there is a fire
at her back
which she feels in fine detail,
as if the flame were a dremel
and her back its etching glass.

You will not know all about the fire
simply because you asked.
When she speaks of the forest
this is what she is teaching you,

you who thought you were her master.

Copyright @ 2014 by Katie Ford. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2014.

You tried to take
my red metals with your wolf jaw tongs

to forge a body never to be flame-licked again
but I reached out and held you

by the throat, pressed
my ear to your chest that meadow

startled with magpies.
You are not the first man

who tried to make my body a smoke.
But here I am

to silver the air and surround you
like a sky vast enough

to take your embers into itself;
I’ve been made to carry your fires.

Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Dooley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

as if opening a crepe sail
on a raft of linden
downriver with no
glacial cut swerve down
soft like bourbon if I could
ask the waters then
to chop to shake
an apology when you cry
I feel a wet bank in me
ring dry here I’ll wrap you
in the piano shawl from the upright
to your fists a spray
of dandelion and comb my last
compassion to grasp.
Goodbye, friend. Willows
dip to your lips
dew from their leafed
digits feast now
on the cold blue soup
of sky the iron from bankwater
gilts your blood I’ll break
a bottle on your gunwale
and read broken
poems from the shore
as the dark river
curls back white from the cheap timber
as if letting what’s made to drift
drift.

Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Dooley. Used with permission of the author. 

Now the wire is bare; now it's sheathed 
in blackbirds, a magic that undoes me 
every time: how they alight or rise 
like iron filings drawn by a magnet. 
What purpose to this synchronous eruption
 
but beauty? And yet, beneath such wonder,
what horrors bulge up out of the given. Take
that afternoon when, still shaken from it all
I cooked a funeral meal. Blind bars of sun
laced the counter, the cold, ground meat 
 
I rubbed with herbs and salt. I knew my friend 
wouldn’t taste, if he even ate, but the task 
gave me reason not to be still with the recent 
spectacle: the casket, his son’s body dressed 
as if for a school dance, the wrecked wrists
 
hidden beneath sleeves. If I’d let it, the specters
would split and split, like nesting dolls. Behind 
that impression, another—the ashes of a friend 
who’d hanged himself the month before. How, 
when cast, some of those ashes returned 
 
and clung to my sweater. The washed-up bones 
of the schizophrenic girl who’d walked into the river 
that summer. This was reality: the raw meat, 
my hands the same dull red, the drought scorching 
the heartland’s cornfields to straw, everything wasted. 
 
And yet, seasons flicker past like slides, a long
line of traffic, going whether I watch or not, so look: 
here I am, driving fast down a white highway. 
The fields shine in their netting of frost, and every 
last filament on every tree lining the road is plated 
 
meticulous silver—not a branch untouched—
and these witless blackbirds rise, making 
a sailing vessel of wings: you were wrong, says 
the ship that’s not a ship, that disappears 
into fog, wrong about everything.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Claire McQuerry. “Meadow with Hoarfrost” originally appeared in Poetry Northwest. Reprinted with permission of the author.

         for Kenneka Jenkins and her mother

What is it about my mother’s face, a bright burn
when I think back, her teeth, her immaculate teeth

that I seldom saw or knew, her hair like braided
black liquorice. I am thinking of my mother’s face,

because she is like the mother in the news whose
daughter was found dead, frozen inside a hotel freezer.

My mother is this mourning mother who begged
the staff to search for her daughter, but was denied.

Black mothers are often seen pleading for their children,
shown stern and wailing, held back somehow by police

or caution tape—

a black mother just wants to see her baby’s body.
a black mother just wants to cover her baby’s body

with a sheet on the street. A black mother
leaves the coffin open for all the world to see,

and my mother is no different. She is worried
about seeing the last minutes of me: pre-ghost,

stumbling alone through empty hotel hallways
failing to find balance, searching for a friend,

a center, anyone, to help me home. Yes.
I’ve gotten into a van with strangers.

I’ve taken drugs with people that did not care
how hard or fast I smoked or blew.

But what did I know of Hayden? What did I know
of that poem besides my mother’s hands, her fist,

her prayers and premonitions? What did I know
of her disembodied voice hovering over the seams

of my life like the vatic song the whip-poor-will
makes when it can sense a soul dispersing?

Still. My mother wants to know where I am,
who I am with, and when will I land.

I get frustrated by her insistence on my safety
and survival. What a shame I am. I’m sorry, mom.

Some say Black love is different. Once,
I asked my mother why she always yelled

at me when I was little. She said I never listened
to her when she spoke to me in hushed tones

like a white mother would, meaning soft volume
is a privilege. Yeah, that’s right. I am using a stereotype

to say a louder thing. I am saying my mother
was screaming when she lost me in the mall once.

I keep hearing that voice everywhere I go.
I follow my name. The music of her rage sustains me.

Copyright © 2019 by Tiana Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. An excerpt from this poem originally appeared in an essay for Oxford American.

Cool your heels on the rail of an observation car.
Let the engineer open her up for ninety miles an hour.
Take in the prairie right and left, rolling land and new hay crops,
      swaths of new hay laid in the sun.
A gray village flecks by and the horses hitched in front of the
      post-office never blink an eye.
A barnyard and fifteen Holstein cows, dabs of white on a black
      wall map, never blink an eye.
A signalman in a tower, the outpost of Kansas City, keeps his
      place at a window with the serenity of a bronze statue on a
      dark night when lovers pass whispering.

This poem is in the public domain.

I. CHICKENS

I am The Great White Way of the city:  
When you ask what is my desire, I answer:  
"Girls fresh as country wild flowers,  
With young faces tired of the cows and barns,  
Eager in their eyes as the dawn to find my mysteries,
Slender supple girls with shapely legs,  
Lure in the arch of their little shoulders  
And wisdom from the prairies to cry only softly at the ashes of my mysteries."  
  


II. USED UP
Lines based on certain regrets that come with rumination
upon the painted faces of women on North Clark Street, Chicago

          Roses,  
        Red roses,
          Crushed  
In the rain and wind  
Like mouths of women  
Beaten by the fists of  
Men using them. 
  O little roses  
  And broken leaves  
  And petal wisps:  
You that so flung your crimson  
  To the sun
Only yesterday.  
  


III. HOME

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:  
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened  
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness. 

This poem is in the public domain.

I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
      shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
      the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
      singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
      bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
      talking to a spread of white stars:
                          It was you that slunk laughing
                          in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
      alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
      somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
      under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run
      away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.

This poem is in the public domain.

You have spoken the answer.
A child searches far sometimes
Into the red dust
                       On a dark rose leaf
And so you have gone far
                       For the answer is:
                                           Silence.

   In the republic
Of the winking stars
                       and spent cataclysms
Sure we are it is off there the answer is hidden and folded over,
Sleeping in the sun, careless whether it is Sunday or any other
    day of the week,

Knowing silence will bring all one way or another.

Have we not seen
Purple of the pansy
            out of the mulch
            and mold
            crawl
            into a dusk
            of velvet?
            blur of yellow?
Almost we thought from nowhere but it was the silence,
            the future,
            working.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

The past is a bucket of ashes.

1

The woman named Tomorrow  
sits with a hairpin in her teeth  
and takes her time  
and does her hair the way she wants it  
and fastens at last the last braid and coil 
and puts the hairpin where it belongs  
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?  
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.  
What of it? Let the dead be dead.  
  
 
2

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold  
and the girls were golden girls  
and the panels read and the girls chanted:  
  We are the greatest city,  
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.  
   
The doors are twisted on broken hinges.  
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind  
  where the golden girls ran and the panels read:  
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,  
  nothing like us ever was.  
   

3

It has happened before.  
Strong men put up a city and got  
  a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women  
  to warble: We are the greatest city,  
    the greatest nation,  
    nothing like us ever was.  
   
And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened  
and paid the singers well  
and felt good about it all,  
  there were rats and lizards who listened  
  … and the only listeners left now
  … are … the rats … and the lizards.  
   
And there are black crows  
crying, "Caw, caw,"  
bringing mud and sticks  
building a nest
over the words carved  
on the doors where the panels were cedar  
and the strips on the panels were gold  
and the golden girls came singing:  
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:  
  nothing like us ever was.  
   
The only singers now are crows crying, "Caw, caw,"  
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.  
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.
   

4

The feet of the rats  
scribble on the door sills;  
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints  
chatter the pedigrees of the rats  
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed  
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers  
of the rats.  
   
And the wind shifts  
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints  
tells us nothing, nothing at all  
about the greatest city, the greatest nation  
where the strong men listened  
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was. 

This poem is in the public domain.

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed in 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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 force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

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, 2003 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter's robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics dies,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.

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.

There once was a planet who was both
sick and beautiful. Chemicals rode through her
that she did not put there.
Animals drowned in her eyeballs
that she did not put there—
animals she could not warn
against falling in because
she was of them, not
separable from them.
Define sick, the atmosphere asked.
So she tried: she made
a whale on fire
somehow still
swimming and alive.
See? she said. Like that,
kind of. But the atmosphere did
not understand this, so the planet progressed in her argument.
She talked about the skin
that snakes shed, about satellites that circled her
like suitors forever yet never
said a word.
She talked about the shyness
of large things, how a blueberry dominates
the tongue that it dies on.
She talked and talked and
the atmosphere started nodding—
you could call this
a revolution, or just therapy.
Meanwhile the whale spent the rest of his
life burning (etc., etc., he sang a few songs).
When he finally died
his body, continuing
to burn steadily, drifted down
to the ocean floor.
And although the planet
had long since forgotten him—he was merely one
of her many examples—he became
a kind of god in the eyes
of the fish that saw him as he fell. Or
not a god exactly, but at least something
inexplicable. Something strange and worth
briefly turning your face toward.

Copyright © 2019 by Mikko Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

we won’t tell you where it lies, as in time
we might need the minor intimacy
of that secret. just creatures, heavy with hope
& begging against the grave song inside
our living, we have agreed his death is
the one cold chord we refuse to endure

from the sorry endlessness of the blues.
& if ever we fail to bear the rate at which
we feel the world pining for the body
of our boy, we can conjure that mole—the small
brown presence of it tucked where only tenderness
would think to look—& recall when it seemed

nothing about our child could drift beyond
the terrible certainty of love’s reach.

Copyright © 2019 by Geffrey Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

A young man learns to shoot
& dies in the mud
an ocean away from home,
a rifle in his fingers
& the sky dripping
from his heart. Next to him
a friend watches
his final breath slip
ragged into the ditch,
a thing the friend will carry
back to America—
wound, souvenir,
backstory. He’ll teach 
literature to young people
for 40 years. He’ll coach
his daughters’ softball teams. 
Root for Red Wings
& Lions & Tigers. Dance
well. Love generously. 
He’ll be quick with a joke
& firm with handshakes.
He’ll rarely talk
about the war. If asked
he’ll tell you instead
his favorite story:
Odysseus escaping
from the Cyclops
with a bad pun & good wine
& a sharp stick.
It’s about buying time
& making do, he’ll say. 
It’s about doing what it takes 
to get home, & you see 
he has been talking 
about the war all along.
We all want the same thing
from this world:
Call me nobody. Let me live.

Copyright © 2019 by Amorak Huey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

In Saint Petersburg, on an autumn morning,
having been allowed an early entry
to the Hermitage, my family and I wandered
the empty hallways and corridors, virtually every space

adorned with famous paintings and artwork.
There must be a term for overloading on art.
One of Caravaggio’s boys smirked at us,
his lips a red that betrayed a sloppy kiss

recently delivered, while across the room
the Virgin looked on with nothing but sorrow.
Even in museums, the drama is staged.
Bored, I left my family and, steered myself,

foolish moth, toward the light coming
from a rotunda. Before me, the empty stairs.
Ready to descend, ready to step outside
into the damp and chilly air, I felt

the centuries-old reflex kick in, that sense
of being watched. When I turned, I found
no one; instead, I was staring at The Return
of the Prodigal Son. I had studied it, written about it

as a student. But no amount of study could have
prepared me for the size of it, the darkness of it.
There, the son knelt before his father, his dirty foot
left for inspection. Something broke. As clichéd

as it sounds, something inside me broke, and
as if captured on film, I found myself slowly sinking
to my knees. The tears began without warning until soon
I was sobbing. What reflex betrays one like this?

What nerve agent did Rembrandt hide
within the dark shades of paint that he used?
What inside me had malfunctioned, had left me
kneeling and sobbing in a museum?

Prosto plakat. Prosto plakat. Osvobodi sebya
said the guard as his hands steadied my shoulders.
He stood there repeating the phrase until
I stopped crying, until I was able to rise.

I’m not crazy, nor am I a very emotional man.
For most of my life, I have been called, correctly, cold.
As a student, I catalogued the techniques, carefully
analyzed this painting for a class on the “Dutch Masters.”

Years later, having mustered the courage to tell
this ridiculous story, a friend who spoke Russian
translated the guard’s words for me: “Just cry. Just cry.
Free yourself.” But free myself from what, exactly?

You see, I want this whole thing to be something
meaningful, my falling to my knees in front of a painting
by Rembrandt, a painting inspired by a parable
of forgiveness offered by a father to his lost son.

But nothing meaningful has presented itself. Even now,
after so much time has passed, I have no clue
what any of this means. I still haven’t figured out
whether or not I am the lost son or the found.

Copyright © 2019 by C. Dale Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Some bad whiskey
I drink by myself
just like you
when this wind
blows as it does
in the delta
where a lost hearing aid
can be taken
for a grub worm
when the black constellations
make you swim backwards
in circles of blood
stableboys ruin their hands
for a while
and a man none of us
can do without
breaks his neck
jumping over some hill
chasing the fox
of a half-pint
and a fine-blooded horse
is put out of its misery
even the young sisters
of the boys we run with
we would give our fingers
to touch them again
but this war
seeps back into us
little insecticide
and the white cricket of those days
drags itself off the hook
there are no more fish
there is no more bait
the rivers are formed by the tears of sports fans
we try to pour a trail of salt
as if making a long fuse
with a gunpowder keg
we try to swim away from the gym
like slugs with gills
the girls from the other school
step off the bus
the clouds are weighed in at the gin
there is a pattern to all this
like a weave of a skirt
we all go crazy from looking

Frank Stanford, "Cotton You Lose in the Field," from What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Copyright © 2015 by Ginny Crouch Stanford and C. D. Wright, Estate of Frank Stanford. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

 

translated from the Chinese by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi

Autumn wind chases in
From all directions
And a thousand chaste leaves
Give way.

Scatter in me the seeds
Of a thousand saplings.
Let grow a grassy heaven.
On my brow: a sun.
This bliss is yours, Living
World, and alone it endures.
Music at midnight.
Young wine.
Lovers hand in hand
By daylight, moonlight.
Living World, hold me
In your mouth,

Slip on your frivolous shoes
And dance with me. My soul
Is the wild vine
Who alone has grasped it,
Who has seen through the awful plot,
Who will arrive in time to vanquish
The river already heavy with blossoms,
The moon spilling light onto packs
Of men. What is sadder than witless
Wolves, wind without borders,
Nationless birds, small gifts
Laden with love’s intentions?

Fistfuls of rain fall hard, fill
My heart with mud. An old wind
May still come chasing in.
Resurrection fire. And me here
Laughing like a cloud in trousers,
Entreating the earth to bury me.

Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of the author.

after the photo by Jonathan Bachman

Our bodies run with ink dark blood.
Blood pools in the pavement’s seams.

Is it strange to say love is a language
Few practice, but all, or near all speak?

Even the men in black armor, the ones
Jangling handcuffs and keys, what else

Are they so buffered against, if not love’s blade
Sizing up the heart’s familiar meat?

We watch and grieve. We sleep, stir, eat.
Love: the heart sliced open, gutted, clean.

Love: naked almost in the everlasting street,
Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze.

From Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

A species of tiny human has been discovered, which lived on the remote Indonesian island of Flores just 18,000 years ago. . . . Researchers have so far unearthed remains from eight individuals who were just one metre tall, with grapefruit-sized skulls. These astonishing little people . . . made tools, hunted tiny elephants and lived at the same time as modern humans who were colonizing the area.

—Nature, October 2004

Light: lifted, I stretch my brief body.
Color: blaze of day behind blank eyes.

Sound: birds stab greedy beaks
Into trunk and seed, spill husk

Onto the heap where my dreaming
And my loving live.

Every day I wake to this.

Tracks follow the heavy beasts
Back to where they huddle, herd.

Hunt: a dance against hunger.
Music: feast and fear.

This island becomes us.

Trees cap our sky. It rustles with delight
In a voice green as lust. Reptiles

Drag night from their tails,
Live by the dark. A rage of waves

Protects the horizon, which we would devour.
One day I want to dive in and drift,

Legs and arms wracked with danger.
Like a dark star. I want to last.

Copyright © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted from Duende with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

Within me, the sipped, iced bourbon enacts
the sense of a slow, April rain
blurring and nurturing a landscape.
Decades I’ve been pipe-dreaming of finding
a life as concise as a wartime telegram.
Ultimately, I’ve ended up compiling
an archive of miscommunication
and the faded receipts of secondary disgraces.
In third grade, a friend’s uncle stole the two dollars
from my pocket as I slept on their couch,
and later he must’ve hurried into the night
toward a flat in the nearby building
where a newly minted narcotic promised
to evict the misgivings from all riled souls.
I told no one of the theft, letting the emptiness
become my government, my friend’s
mother counting her food stamps while we walked
the late-morning blocks to a bustling grocery,
within which she eventually smacked
the hopeful face of my friend as he reached
again for too costly a thing.

Copyright © 2019 by Marcus Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Moons on the upper visual
field. I replay many springs

                                      for their ripening
                                      heat. Five limb in

                                                                           me: Ornate, Greased,
                                                                           Codling, Luna, 
                                                                                Death’s-head.

                                                  Two supernatural, three
                                                  balance need. I feed on fat

                                                                                      apples, pears: 
                                                                                           Tunnel
                                                                                      toward center, a 
                                                                                           heaven

                                                            in the core. Instinct
                                                            attempts to correct

                                       with a turn
                                       toward light.

                        My dress
                        a brief

                                     darkness. Flits
                                     there. Another set

                                                                         of wings to tear.
                                                                         Spiral me in the silk

                                                                                     of my tongue. 
                                                                                          Farm
                                                                                     what is 
                                                                                          economical

                                                             in me: Blood for blood,
                                                             heart for snare.

                                                                          Scent, sweet
                                                                          air: My cedar,

                                                hung juniper, lavender
                                                cross: What holds the body

                         keeps the body blesses the body’s
                         lack.

                                                Is that not a blessing?
                                                What blooms in me:

                                   Trouble. Trouble.
                                   Trouble.

            So I consume. So I feed
            what festers.

When navigating artificial
light, the angle changes

                         noticeably. Angle strict, beloved:
                         My head a mess of moon.

Copyright © 2019 by Carly Joy Miller. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

after a bottle of chianti
              Don’t mistake me, I’ve pondered this before.
              But tonight I’m serious.
              One bottle and the end is certain.
              Tomorrow: Lawyer. Boxes. Road map. More wine.

while walking the dog
              Paris won’t even notice.
              I’ll feed the pup, pack a quick bag,
              take out the trash, and slip away into the night.
              Home to Sparta. Or Santa Monica.
              An island off the southernmost tip of Peru.
              Disappear. Like fog from a mirror.

while paying the bills
              Guess I’ll have to give up that whole new career plan.
              Academic dreams. House-and-yard dreams.
              Stay on like this a few more years. Or forever.
              Face the bottomless nights in solitude.
              Wither. Drink. Write poems about dead ends.
              Drink more. Work. Pay rent.
              End.

when Paris comes home drunk
              Call Clytemnestra. Make a plan.
              Move a few things into Clym’s spare room,
              storage for the rest. Set up arbitration.
              File what needs to be filed.
              Head to Athens. Or back to Crown Heights.
              Maybe find a roommate in Fort Greene.
              All I know is out out out.
              Sure, I can blame the past or the scotch
              or my own smartmouth or my worst rage,
              but blame is a word. I need a weapon.

when Menelaus writes a letter
              As if.

from the ocean floor
              Bathtub. Ocean. Whichever. All this water.
              Yes, Paris pulled me from the ruby tub.
              Menelaus fed me to the river a year before that.
              Metaphorical, and not at all.
              O, a girl and her water. Such romance.
              Gaudy. And gauche.
              How do I leave what cared enough to keep me?
              What of those goddamn ships?
              That ridiculous horse? All those men?
              Now, wretched little me. All this dizzy sadness.
              How many kings to tame one woman? Silence her?
              How many to put her under?

Copyright © 2019 by Jeanann Verlee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Tomica

My love is as ancient as my blood.

And of course my blood is still mine

because a woman, sweetened black

with good song, pulled me from the river

like an axe pulled back from the bark.

I learned love, first, as scar.

And of course my love is only mine

because I found the nerve to say it is.

Ha, My love is mine.

But was first my mother’s. Not the how

but the why. But was first her mother’s.

Not the how but the why.

Not the how; Not the how; Not the how;
Not the how; Not the how; Not the how.

I am bored with this beat. I seek

a different dance toward death.

Lord, listen up. Lean in:

I crave a love that happens as sweetly

as it was named. If love must be swung,

let it soften. Not split.

Copyright © 2019 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

English is your fourth language

the baby of the family

the one your mouth spoils

favorite by default

who may one day be sold off by its siblings

in hopes to never return

all of your other tongues have grown jealous


your country has over 200 dialects

that’s over 200 ways

to say Love

to say family

to say I am a song

to say I belong to something

that does not want to kill me

& does not want to siphon the gold from my

blood or the stories from my bones

Copyright © 2019 by Pages Matam. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Lovers, forget your love,
     And list to the love of these,
She a window flower,
     And he a winter breeze.

When the frosty window veil
     Was melted down at noon,
And the cagèd yellow bird
     Hung over her in tune,

He marked her through the pane,
     He could not help but mark,
And only passed her by,
     To come again at dark.

He was a winter wind,
     Concerned with ice and snow,
Dead weeds and unmated birds,
     And little of love could know.

But he sighed upon the sill,
     He gave the sash a shake,
As witness all within
     Who lay that night awake.

Perchance he half prevailed
     To win her for the flight
From the firelit looking-glass
     And warm stove-window light.

But the flower leaned aside
     And thought of naught to say,
And morning found the breeze
     A hundred miles away.

This poem is in the public domain.

 

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

From Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

Dove sta amore
Where lies love
Dove sta amore
Here lies love
The ring dove love
In lyrical delight
Hear love’s hillsong
Love’s true willsong
Love’s low plainsong
Too sweet painsong
In passages of night
Dove sta amore
Here lies love
The ring dove love
Dove sta amore
Here lies love

From A Coney Island of the Mind. Copyright © 1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

(for Ntozake Shange)

I used to be a roller coaster girl
7 times in a row
No vertigo in these skinny legs
My lipstick bubblegum pink 
                          As my panther 10 speed.

never kissed

Nappy pigtails, no-brand gym shoes 
White lined yellow short-shorts

Scratched up legs pedaling past borders of 
humus and baba ganoush 
Masjids and liquor stores 
City chicken, pepperoni bread 
and superman ice cream 
                                    Cones.

Yellow black blending with bits of Arabic
Islam and Catholicism. 

My daddy was Jesus 
My mother was quiet
Jayne Kennedy was worshipped 
by my brother Mark

I don’t remember having my own bed before 12. 
Me and my sister Lisa                                shared. 

Sometimes all three Moore girls slept in the Queen.

You grow up so close 
never close enough.

I used to be a roller coaster girl 
Wild child full of flowers and ideas
Useless crushes on        polish boys 
in a school full of         white girls. 

Future black swan singing 
Zeppelin, U2 and Rick Springfield

Hoping to be Jessie’s Girl 

I could outrun my brothers and 
Everybody else to that 

reoccurring line

I used to be a roller coaster girl
Till you told me I was moving too fast
Said my rush made your head spin 
My laughter hurt your ears

A scream of happiness 
A whisper of freedom 
Pouring out my armpits 
Sweating up my neck 

You were always the scared one
I kept my eyes open for the entire trip
Right before the drop I would brace myself
And let that force push my head back into 

That hard iron seat

My arms nearly fell off a few times
Still, I kept running back to the line  
When I was done
Same way I kept running back to you

I used to be a roller coaster girl
I wasn’t scared of mountains or falling  
Hell, I looked forward to flying and dropping
Off this earth and coming back to life 

every once in a while

I found some peace in being out of control 
allowing my blood to race
through my veins for 180 seconds 

I earned my sometime nicotine pull 
I buy my own damn drinks & the ocean
Still calls my name when it feels my toes 
Near its shore. 

I still love roller coasters 
& you grew up to be 
Afraid 
of all girls who cld  
                                          ride 

Fearlessly

like 
me. 

Copyright © 2019 by jessica Care moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call "Despair" –  
There's Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they're mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own – 

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

I cannot live with You – 
It would be Life – 
And Life is over there – 
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the Key to – 
Putting up
Our Life – His Porcelain – 
Like a Cup – 

Discarded of the Housewife – 
Quaint – or Broke – 
A newer Sevres pleases – 
Old Ones crack – 

I could not die – with You – 
For One must wait
To shut the Other’s Gaze down – 
You – could not – 

And I – could I stand by
And see You – freeze – 
Without my Right of Frost – 
Death's privilege?

Nor could I rise – with You – 
Because Your Face
Would put out Jesus’ – 
That New Grace

Glow plain – and foreign
On my homesick Eye – 
Except that You than He
Shone closer by – 

They’d judge Us – How – 
For You – served Heaven – You know,
Or sought to – 
I could not – 

Because You saturated Sight – 
And I had no more Eyes
For sordid excellence
As Paradise

And were You lost, I would be – 
Though My Name
Rang loudest
On the Heavenly fame – 

And were You – saved – 
And I – condemned to be
Where You were not – 
That self – were Hell to Me – 

So We must meet apart – 
You there – I – here – 
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are – and Prayer – 
And that White Sustenance – 
Despair – 

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves 
And Immortality.

We slowly droveHe knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recessin the Ring
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain
We passed the Setting Sun

Or ratherHe passed us
The Dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my Gown
My Tippetonly Tulle

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground
The Roof was scarcely visible
The Cornicein the Ground

Since then’tis Centuriesand yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

This poem is in the public domain.

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

This poem is in the public domain.

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

This poem is in the public domain.

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.

Like Brooms of Steel  
The Snow and Wind  
Had swept the Winter Street -
The House was hooked  
The Sun sent out   
Faint Deputies of Heat -
Where rode the Bird  
The Silence tied  
His ample - plodding Steed
The Apple in the Cellar snug  
Was all the one that played.

This poem is in the public domain.

Be in me as the eternal moods
            of the bleak wind, and not
As transient things are –
            gaiety of flowers.
Have me in the strong loneliness
            of sunless cliffs
And of grey waters.
            Let the gods speak softly of us
In days hereafter,
            The shadowy flowers of Orcus
Remember Thee.

This poem is in the public domain.

We walk through clouds
wrapped in ancient symbols

We descend the hill
wearing water 

Maybe we are dead 
and don’t know it

Maybe we are violet flowers
and those we long for 

love only 
our unmade hearts

On attend, on attend

Wait for Duras and Eminescu 
to tell us in French then Romanian

light has wounds
slow down—
memory is misgivings 

Wait until the nails
get rusty 
in the houses of our past.

Copyright © 2019 by Nathalie Handal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I rose into the cradle
of my mother’s mind, she was but
a girl, fighting her sisters
over a flimsy doll. It’s easy
to forget how noiseless I could be
spying from behind my mother’s eyes
as her mother, bulging with a baby,
a real-life Tiny Tears, eclipsed
the doorway with a moon. We all
fell silent. My mother soothed the torn
rag against her chest and caressed
its stringy hair. Even before the divergence
of girl from woman, woman from mother,
I was there: quiet as a vein, quick
as hot, brimming tears. In the decades
before my birthday, years before
my mother’s first blood, I was already
prized. Hers was a hunger
that mattered, though sometimes
she forgot and I dreamed the dream
of orange trees then startled awake
days or hours later. I could’ve been
almost anyone. Before I was a daughter,
I was a son, honeycomb clenching
the O of my mouth. I was a mother—
my own—nursing a beginning.

Copyright © 2019 by Ama Codjoe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I stood on one foot for three minutes & didn’t tilt
the scales. Do you remember how quickly
 
we scrambled up an oak leaning out over the creek,
how easy to trust the water to break
 
our glorious leaps? The body remembers
every wish one lives for or doesn’t, or even horror.
 
Our dance was a rally in sunny leaves, then quick
as anything, Johnny Dickson was up opening
 
his arms wide in the tallest oak, waving
to the sky, & in the flick of an eye
 
he was a buffalo fish gigged, pleading
for help, voiceless. Bigger & stronger,
 
he knew every turn in the creek past his back door,
but now he was cooing like a brown dove
 
in a trap of twigs. A water-honed spear
of kindling jutted up, as if it were the point
 
of our folly & humbug on a Sunday afternoon, right?
Five of us carried him home through the thicket,
 
our feet cutting a new path, running in sleep
years later. We were young as condom-balloons
 
flowering crabapple trees in double bloom
& had a world of baleful hope & breath.
 
Does Johnny run fingers over the thick welt
on his belly, days we were still invincible?
 
Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones
in my body, humming a half-forgotten
 
ballad on a park bench a long ways from home.
The body remembers the berry bushes
 
heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods,
but I doubt it knows words live longer
 
than clay & spit of flesh, as rock-bottom love.
Is it easier to remember pleasure
 
or does hurt ease truest hunger?
That summer, rocking back & forth, uprooting
 
what’s to come, the shadow of the tree
weighed as much as a man.

Copyright © 2019 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Every day you sink into her
To make room for me.
When I die, I sink into you,
When Xing dies, she sinks
Into me, her child dies &
Sinks into Xing & the Earth,
Who is always ravenous,
Swallows us.
I don’t know where you’re buried.
I don’t know your sons’ names,
Only their numbers & fates:
#2 was murdered, #3 went to jail, #4 hung himself, #5, who did the cooking & cleaning, is alive.
#1, my father, died of pancreatic cancer. Of bacon & lunch meat & Napoleons.
Your husband died young, of Double Happiness, unfiltered. 
You died of Time,
Of motherhood,
Of being the boss,
Of working in a sock factory,
Of an everyday ailment
For which there is no cure.
I am alone, like a number.
#1 writes me a letter:
My dearest Jenny,
Do you know Rigoberta Menchú, this name?
There were also silences about Chinese girls, Oriental women.
In field of literature, you must be strong enough to bear all these.
An ivory tower writer can never be successful.
You are almost living like a hermit.
Are you coming home soon?
He doesn’t mention you.
Perfect defect.
Hidden flaw in the cloth,
Yellow bead in the family regalia.
Bidden to be understory,
Silences, pored & poured over.
You are almost living.
You say hello to me quietly.
What is success? Meat? Pastries? 
Cigarettes? The cessation of
Communion with self?
I want to be eaten
By an ivory tower,
Devoured by the power
Of my own solitude.
We’re alone together.
I read the letter every day before death.
Where are you buried, Nainai?
I’m coming home soon.

Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Tseng. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

The crown of it was fire: 
a stolen wish, this city
of bridges valving the heart,
ancient and scarred, tongues
of stone, this haughty sister,
matronly and jeweled, who
straightened her skirts,
looked me down in the eye.
Girl, are you sure 
you’re ready to rise?
Question mark of candles,
waiting for breath.
 
This vision, a pistil
of wavery bloom, a man
before me, the first refused:
a bite off our plates,
an outdoor café, the
privilege to witness
him, fierce and poor,
thrust forth his heart,
douse his body with oil,
purse his lips and blow out
tongues of flame. Utterance
of desire and gasoline,
a presage of future, some of it
mine. In the distance,
iron stippled with light. 

Copyright © 2018 by Gabrielle Civil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

There is more glory in a drop of dew,
    That shineth only for an hour,
Than there is in the pomp of earth’s great Kings
    Within the noonday of their power.

There is more sweetness in a single strain
    That falleth from a wild bird’s throat,
At random in the lonely forest’s depths,
    Than there’s in all the songs that bards e’er wrote.

Yet men, for aye, rememb’ring Caesar’s name,
    Forget the glory in the dew,
And, praising Homer’s epic, let the lark’s
    Song fall unheeded from the blue.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

The sky has put her bluest garment on,
    And gently brushed the snowy clouds away;
The robin trills a sweeter melody,
    Because you are just one year old today.

The wind remembers, in his sweet refrains,
    Away, away up in the tossing trees,
That you came in the world a year ago,
    And earth is filled with pleasant harmonies,

            And all things seem to say,
            “Just one year old today.”

From The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (Crane & Co., 1910). This poem is in the public domain.

I’ve seen the beauty of the rose,
I’ve heard the music of the bird,
And given voice to my delight;
I’ve sought the shapes that come in dreams,
I’ve reached my hands in eager quest,
To fold them empty to my breast;
While you, the whole of all I’ve sought—
The love, the beauty, and the dreams—
Have stood, thro’ weal and woe, true at
My side, silent at my neglect.

From The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (Crane & Co., 1910). This poem is in the public domain.

Why do trees along the river
     Lean so far out o’er the tide?
Very wise men tell me why, but
    I am never satisfied;
And so I keep my fancy still,
    That trees lean out to save
The drowning from the clutches of
    The cold, remorseless wave.

From The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (Crane & Co., 1910). This poem is in the public domain.

It’s dusk on a Tuesday in June. A hot wind
       bears down and east. In my room, a stranger’s
hairclip lies like a gilded insect beside the sink.
       Hours later, it’s still dusk; it will be dusk all night.
Last month, I cut the masking tape from a box my mother left
       my sister and me. On the lid, she wrote, Life is hard, not
unbeatable. If I can do it, darlings, so can you. 2 am. A rosy dark
       dusting the window, the heat a ladder into sleep.

Copyright © 2019 by Chloe Honum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees  
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by Far Corner. Reprinted with permission of the author. Copyright © 1995 Naomi Shihab Nye.

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.