Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

                 *

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

                  *

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Copyright © by the Estate of Archibald MacLeish and reprinted by permission of the Estate.

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.

If space and time, as sages say,
    Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
    Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
    While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
    Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
    Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
    To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
    Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
    Yet let them be divine.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

This poem is in the public domain.

The little white clouds are racing over the sky,
   And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March,
   The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch
Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.

A delicate odour is borne on the wings of the morning breeze,
   The odour of leaves, and of grass, and of newly upturned earth,
   The birds are singing for joy of the Spring's glad birth,
Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees.

And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,
   And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,
   And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire
Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.

And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love
   Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,
   And the gloom of the wych-elm's hollow is lit with the iris sheen
Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove.

See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there,
   Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,
   And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue!
The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

A Harmony.

Her ivory hands on the ivory keys
    Strayed in a fitful fantasy,
Like the silver gleam when the poplar trees
    Rustle their pale leaves listlessly,
Or the drifting foam of a restless sea
When the waves show their teeth in the flying breeze.

Her gold hair fell on the wall of gold
    Like the delicate gossamer tangles spun
On the burnished disk of the marigold,
    Or the sun-flower turning to meet the sun
    When the gloom of the jealous night is done,
And the spear of the lily is aureoled.

And her sweet red lips on these lips of mine
    Burned like the ruby fire set
In the swinging lamp of a crimson shrine,
    Or the bleeding wounds of the pomegranate,
    Or the heart of the lotus drenched and wet
With the spilt-out blood of the rose-red wine.

This poem is in the public domain.

Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
And over the mice in the barley sheaves;
Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.

The hour of the waning of love has beset us,
And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

This poem is in the public domain.

The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
    The setting sun, too indolent to hold
    A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night’s barbecue,

A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
    An orgy for some genius of the South
    With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.

The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
    And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
    Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.

Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
    Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
    Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.

Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
    Race memories of king and caravan,
    High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.

Their voices rise . . . the pine trees are guitars,
    Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . . .
    Their voices rise . . . the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars . . .

O singers, resinous and soft your songs
    Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
    Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Hairbraided chestnut,
     coiled like a lyncher's rope,
Eyesfagots,
Lipsold scars, or the first red blisters,
Breaththe last sweet scent of cane,
And her slim body, white as the ash
     of black flesh after flame.

From Cane by Jean Toomer. Copyright © 1923 Boni and Liveright, renewed 1951 by Jean Toomer. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

This poem is in the public domain.

 

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.

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.

I die of thirst beside the fountain 
I'm hot as fire, I'm shaking tooth on tooth 
In my own country I'm in a distant land 
Beside the blaze I'm shivering in flames 
Naked as a worm, dressed like a president 
I laugh in tears and hope in despair 
I cheer up in sad hopelessness 
I'm joyful and no pleasure's anywhere 
I'm powerful and lack all force and strength 
Warmly welcomed, always turned away.

I'm sure of nothing but what is uncertain 
Find nothing obscure but the obvious 
Doubt nothing but the certainties 
Knowledge to me is mere accident
I keep winning and remain the loser 
At dawn I say "I bid you good night"
Lying down I'm afraid of falling 
I'm so rich I haven't a penny 
I await an inheritance and am no one's heir 
Warmly welcomed, always turned away.

I never work and yet I labor 
To acquire goods I don't even want 
Kind words irritate me most 
He who speaks true deceives me worst 
A friend is someone who makes me think 
A white swan is a black crow 
The people who harm me think they help 
Lies and truth today I see they're one
I remember everything, my mind's a blank 
Warmly welcomed, always turned away.

Merciful Prince may it please you to know 
I understand much and have no wit or learning 
I'm biased against all laws impartially 
What's next to do? Redeem my pawned goods again! 
Warmly welcomed, always turned away.

From The Poems of François Villon translated by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin, © 1965. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled;
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

This poem is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit) ©. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

These tall—taller than me if today I sit
among them—chandelier weeds, all filament
invisible up from the forest floor more
than a yard away I thought yesterday were
waiting for their moment in the season to unsheathe
whatever torches they would at the far, upward
tips of their muted spray; but coming out
again in the afternoon the wait had been, I saw,
for their moment in the day, to open asters,
perfect sunny fives haphazard in the air,
map pins on a dream-warm itinerary
and every outpost a starry capital.
Every night another year in our prime and
every year a span primeval underground
where the odyssey yet is a closed calendar.

Dear AI, show me a calendar in
a chandler’s workshop, show me his
apprentice when he believes himself
alone, show me what happens upon him,
who he feels himself become when through
the cell window the sun through a canopy
warms his brow, cheek, neck, and clavicle.
Show me at his early mouth a flare
if he feels it awakening, plump
and firm and sensitive, seeking, and the tallow,
too, responsive in its redolence
in its vessel, warm bellied and daylit.
Is it a low country, is it renaissance, and
who is the smith or athena of this?

Copyright © 2023 by Brian Blanchfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

The goat scratches so much it can't sleep 
The pot fetches water so much it breaks 
You heat iron so much it reddens 
You hammer it so much it cracks 
A man's worth so much as he's esteemed 
He's away so much he's forgotten 
He's bad so much he's hated 
We cry good news so much it comes.

You talk so much you refute yourself 
Fame's worth so much as its perquisites 
You promise so much you renege 
You beg so much you get your wish 
A thing costs so much you want it 
You want it so much you get it 
It's around so much you want it no more 
We cry good news so much it comes.

You love a dog so much you feed it 
A song's loved so much as people hum it
A fruit is kept so much it rots 
You strive for a place so much it's taken
You dawdle so much you miss your chance 
You hurry so much you run into bad luck 
You grasp so hard you lose your grip 
We cry good news so much it comes.

You jeer so much nobody laughs 
You spend so much you've lost your shirt
You're honest so much you're broke
"Take it" is worth so much as a promise 
You love God so much you go to church 
You give so much you have to borrow 
The wind shifts so much it blows cold 
We cry good news so much it comes.

Prince a fool lives so much he grows wise 
He travels so much he returns home 
He's beaten so much he reverts to form 
We cry good news so much it comes.

From The Poems of François Villon translated by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin, © 1965. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings 

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am. 
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less 

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up 

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house. 
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices 

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle 

passing through the tall grasses and ferns 
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows. 

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away 

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them. 

Copyright© 2005 by Jason Shinder. First published in The American Poetry Review, November/December 2005. From Stupid Hope (Graywolf, 2009). Appears with permission of the Literary Estate of Jason Shinder.

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
   That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
   A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
   And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
   Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
   Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
   In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
   In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
   Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2017. This poem is in the public domain.

An opening to a story should be                                             When the will
unremarkable.                    of one’s willingness to work
supersedes 
After my essay                                                alphabetical
was stretched              by                                        order. When the
the love doctor,                                                           will of
I resumed a hermetic lifestyle. To manage                                               a local spirit
my               interrupts your martyrdom. A
time, I distributed water crystals                                  medium becomes a
and Kirkland                                                      medium
bottles on the highway. As                         because they can’t avoid
a side character, I have only                                         the fact of their
desired to                                                        calling.
seize                                                                     
agency                          They assume mortality.
with little to                         They eat average meals.
no knowledge.                             They excommunicate
journalists. A troupe
And you wished                                                of exorcists
that for me.                          exudes brilliance. Sure,
let’s say last
Even listening is                                                 night I was
useless. I have nothing to say.                                           an anthurium
I don’t think a man can                                          full of wonder.
understand petty                    ,                                                                     
nor                   can he                                                  Dreaming
 recognize the mercy                              on the third day. The
inherent in                                                         end of
his own killing.                fragrance, renewing stomps.

Copyright © 2023 by Catherine Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Weight advantage: Santa. Sugar and milk
at every stop, the stout man shimmies
down one more chimney, sack of desire
chuting behind, while Elijah, skinny
and empty-handed, slips in invisible as
a once favored, since disgraced uncle,
through the propped open side door.
Inside, I’ve been awaiting a miracle
since 1962, my 9 year-old self slouching
on this slip-covered sofa, Manischewitz
stashed beneath the cushion. Where
are the fire-tinged horses, the chariots
to transport me? Where is the whirlwind
and brimstone? Instead, our dull-bladed
sleigh rusts in the storage bin beneath
the building’s soot-covered flight   
of cellar stairs. Come back to me father,
during December’s perfect snowfall
and pull me once more up Schenck
and down Pitkin, where the line wraps
around Church Hall. Show me, again,
the snapshot of the skull-capped boy
on Santa’s lap. Let me laugh this time
and levitate like a magician’s assistant,
awed by my own weightlessness. Give me
the imagination to climb the fire escape
and look up toward the Godless Heavens
and to marvel at the ordinary sky.

"Elijah vs. Santa" from More Money than God, by Richard Michelson © 2015. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This poem is in the public domain.

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Lady, my lady, come from out the garden,
Clayfingered, dirtysmocked, and in my time
I too shall learn the quietness of Arden,
Knowledge so long a stranger to my rhyme.

What were more fitting than your springtime task?
Here, close engirdled by your vines and flowers
Surely there is no other grace to ask,
No better cloister from the bickering hours.

A step beyond, the dingy streets begin
With all their farce, and silly tragedy—
But here, unmindful of the futile din
You grow your flowers, far wiser certainly,

You and your garden sum the same to me,
A sense of strange and momentary pleasure,
And beauty snatched—oh, fragmentarily
Perhaps, yet who can boast of other seizure?

Oh, you have somehow robbed, I know not how
The secret of the loveliness of these
Whom you have served so long. Oh, shameless, now
You flaunt the winnings of your thieveries.

Thus, I exclaim against you, profiteer. . . .
For purpled evenings spent in pleasing toil,
Should you have gained so easily the dear
Capricious largesse of the miser soil?

Colorful living in a world grown dull,
Quiet sufficiency in weakling days,
Delicate happiness, more beautiful
For lighting up belittered, grimy ways—

Surely I think I shall remember this,
You in your old, rough dress, bedaubed with clay,
Your smudgy face parading happiness,
Life’s puzzle solved. Perhaps, in turn, you may.

One time, while clipping bushes, tending vines,
(Making your brave, sly mock at dastard days,)
Laugh gently at these trivial, truthful lines—
And that will be sufficient for my praise.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

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

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