My hero bares his nerves along my wrist That rules from wrist to shoulder, Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost, Leans on my mortal ruler, The proud spine spurning turn and twist. And these poor nerves so wired to the skull Ache on the lovelorn paper I hug to love with my unruly scrawl That utters all love hunger And tells the page the empty ill. My hero bares my side and sees his heart Tread, like a naked Venus, The beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait; Stripping my loin of promise, He promises a secret heat. He holds the wire from the box of nerves Praising the mortal error Of birth and death, the two sad knaves of thieves, And the hunger's emperor; He pulls the chain, the cistern moves.
From Selected Poems by Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 2003 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.
For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959
Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.
We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.
My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.
And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.
From The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton. Used with permission.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
From Ariel, published by Harper & Row, 1966. Copyright © 1966 by Ted Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
For Elizabeth Bishop Nautilus Island's hermit heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; her sheep still graze above the sea. Her son's a bishop. Her farmer is first selectman in our village, she's in her dotage. Thirsting for the hierarchic privacy of Queen Victoria's century, she buys up all the eyesores facing her shore, and lets them fall. The season's ill— we've lost our summer millionaire, who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean catalogue. His nine-knot yawl was auctioned off to lobstermen. A red fox stain covers Blue Hill. And now our fairy decorator brightens his shop for fall, his fishnet's filled with orange cork, orange, his cobbler's bench and awl, there is no money in his work, he'd rather marry. One dark night, my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull, I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down, they lay together, hull to hull, where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . . My mind's not right. A car radio bleats, 'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, as if my hand were at its throat . . . . I myself am hell; nobody's here— only skunks, that search in the moonlight for a bite to eat. They march on their soles up Main Street: white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire under the chalk-dry and spar spire of the Trinitarian Church. I stand on top of our back steps and breathe the rich air— a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail She jabs her wedge-head in a cup of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, and will not scare.
From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.
I have folded my sorrows into the mantle of summer night,
Assigning each brief storm its allotted space in time,
Quietly pursuing catastrophic histories buried in my eyes.
And yes, the world is not some unplayed Cosmic Game,
And the sun is still ninety-three million miles from me,
And in the imaginary forest, the shingled hippo becomes the gray unicorn.
No, my traffic is not with addled keepers of yesterday’s disasters,
Seekers of manifest disembowelment on shafts of yesterday’s pains.
Blues come dressed like introspective echoes of a journey.
And yes, I have searched the rooms of the moon on cold summer nights.
And yes, I have refought those unfinished encounters.
Still, they remain unfinished.
And yes, I have at times wished myself something different.
The tragedies are sung nightly at the funerals of the poet;
The revisited soul is wrapped in the aura of familiarity.
“I Have Folded My Sorrows,” by Robert Kaufman, from SOLITUDES CROWDED WITH LONELINESS, copyright © 1965 by Bob Kaufman. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
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Yes, the Year is growing old,
And his eye is pale and bleared!
Death, with frosty hand and cold,
Plucks the old man by the beard,
The leaves are falling, falling,
Solemnly and slow;
Caw! caw! the rooks are calling,
It is a sound of woe,
A sound of woe!
Through woods and mountain-passes
The winds, like anthems, roll;
They are chanting solemn masses,
Singing; Pray for this poor soul,
And the hooded clouds, like friars,
Tell their beads in drops of rain,
And patter their doleful prayers;—
But their prayers are all in vain,
All in vain!
There he stands in the foul weather,
The foolish, fond Old Year,
Crowned with wild flowers and with heather,
Like weak, despised Lear,
A king,—a king!
Then comes the summer-like day,
Bids the old man rejoice!
His joy! his last! O, the old man gray
Loveth that ever-soft voice,
Gentle and low.
To the crimson woods he saith,
And the voice gentle and low
Of the soft air, like a daughter's breath,
Pray do not mock me so!
Do not laugh at me!
And now the sweet day is dead;
Cold in his arms it lies;
No stain from its breath is spread
Over the glassy skies,
No mist or stain!
Then, too, the Old Year dieth,
And the forests utter a moan,
Like the voice of one who crieth
In the wilderness alone,
Vex not his ghost!
Then comes, with an awful roar,
Gathering and sounding on,
The storm-wind from Labrador,
The wind Euroclydon,
Howl! howl! and from the forest
Sweep the red leaves away!
Would, the sins that thou abhorrest,
O Soul! could thus decay,
And be swept away!
For there shall come a mightier blast,
There shall be a darker day;
And the stars, from heaven down-cast
Like red leaves be swept away!
This poem is in the public domain.