Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time's best jewel from time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
    O, none, unless this miracle have might,
    That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

This poem is in the public domain.

I was leaving a country of rain for a country of apples. I hadn’t much time. I told my beloved to wear his bathrobe, his cowboy boots, a black patch like a pirate might wear over his sharpest eye. My own bags were full of salt, which made them shifty, hard to lift. Houses had fallen, face first, into the mud at the edge of the sea. Hurry, I thought, and my hands were like birds. They could hold nothing. A feathery breeze. Then a white tree blossomed over the bed, all white blossoms, a painted tree. “Oh,” I said, or my love said to me. We want to be human, always, again, so we knelt like children at prayer while our lost mothers hushed us. A halo of bees. I was dreaming as hard as I could dream. It was fast—how the apples fattened and fell. The country that rose up to meet me was steep as a mirror; the gold hook gleamed.

From Carpathia by Cecilia Woloch. Copyright © 2010 by Cecilia Woloch. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

drops from upper air,
                                         like rain,
clinging brightly
                                 to the fresh-cut hair
of children
                          and the infantry:
all hail
                 the clicking heel, all will
regale
                 the shrinking light
with grains
                      of wedding rice, of salt,
of sands as fit
                              a last brassy parade:
the marching band
                                      will soften
with its growing-distant
                                               drum,
the oscillating hand
                                        will stop
its waving
                     soon enough, soon
enough;
                   here now, the motorcade
hums
                gaily through the citizens’
applause
                       and the children’s eyes
bronze faintly
                             with the glint
of far-off fireworks,
                                    or firebombs,
or falling evening stars.

Copyright © 2014 by Malachi Black. Used with permission of the author.

Love gives all its reasons
as if they were terms for peace.
Love is this but not that
that but not this.
Love as it always was.

But there is no peace in the mountain
cleft where the fruit bats scatter
from the light.
There is no peace in the hollow when
the heat snuffs night’s blue candle.

The outline of brown leaves on
the beach is the wind’s body.

A crow is squawking at the sun
as if the screech itself is dawn.
Let me hear every perfect note.
How I loved that jasper morning.

Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan Wells. Used with permission of the author.

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
   Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in heaven above,
   Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea,
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

From The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, vol. II, 1850

We cannot live, except thus mutually
We alternate, aware or unaware,
The reflex act of life: and when we bear
Our virtue onward most impulsively,
Most full of invocation, and to be
Most instantly compellant, certes, there
We live most life, whoever breathes most air
And counts his dying years by sun and sea.
But when a soul, by choice and conscience, doth
Throw out her full force on another soul,
The conscience and the concentration both make
mere life, Love. For Life in perfect whole
And aim consummated, is Love in sooth,
As nature's magnet-heat rounds pole with pole.

This poem is in the public domain.

A visit to the shores of lullabies,
So far from here, so very far away,
A floor of sand, it doesn't matter where,
And overhead a water-ceiling sways;
A shell is summoned to materialize—
The holy life, a spiral, hushed and pure,
Complete unto itself—a spiral shell
Is summoned from a substratum of wonder:
And all is well now, hush now, close your eyes,
Around a primal, ragged nucleus
Accumulated layers crystallize:

An embryonic seashell pulls itself
Through being-portals intricately placed
In seas of non-existence; caught; self-caught
In nets of pasts-and-futures synchronized
In present-nows: the Many and the One—

It doesn't matter, really, how it's done,
The how of it; the why; it doesn't know
How atoms in the ancient paradox
Can pass from unseen particles to seen

Or why a chain of atoms interlocks
And manifests in blurry pink and green;
It doesn't matter really, where it's from—
Descended from an ancient nacre-dream,
Self-fabricating through genetic codes
Without an archetype to utilize,
As if the wondrous deed it's summoned to
Were all that ever mattered, seam by seam
Volutions from a nacre-nucleus
Of violet iridescence: being-whorl
With everything in play, and all in play,
And all is well now, hush now, close your eyes—

A shell appears—Fusiturricula
And uses its inherited clairvoyance
To plot a logarithmic spiral round
An axis of rotation evermore
And evermore-forevermore unseen,
Through pre-existing numbers, one-two-three,

And shyly browsing algae as it ponders
Angular momentum; symmetry;
Successively self-generating curves
Projecting helixes, the axis fixed;
Then tilting on its axis; torsion-tilt;
Compulsion and desire mixed with toil;
An overhanging cusp becomes a spire
By pushing up and forward on the coil:

Irregularly oscillating whorls
Are flaring out in ruffled calcium;

Pure rhythmia;
                    Slow motion suturings,
With no one there to sew them, perforate
The apex, boring through: a water-vent,
Inhalant and exhalant;
                                knotted threads
Are pulled to fasten equidistant nodes
Along a helix-rim;
                         a clockwise twist
And twirling stripes through interrupted bands
Are darkly lit, through brilliant whites and creams,
Like lightning bolts in violet-tinted brown
That zigzag in slow motion, down and down
From node to node to node; a lightning dream
Descending ridge by ridge:
                                      Sensation: Fizz
Salt water circulating past and through
The ruffled aperture—existence is
A taste of ocean water on a tongue—

And then Fusiturricula, intent
On browsing, sets in motion moving veils
Of sands that long ago and far away
Were magma rocks with twisted veins of ore
From which the sand was ground and empty shells
Like lightning-stricken spires, surface-fused
With used-up bolts of lightning, lie around—

Nacreous, in almost-silence, hushed
Among the lulling engines of the sea—

But hush now, close your eyes now, all is well:
Underwater ink enlarges, blurs,
In violet-brown across a spiral shell:
A record of volutions fills a scroll
With wondrous deeds and great accomplishings,
A record of a summons not refused:

Of logarithms visible and fused
With thoughts in rows of spiral beaded cords
As X goes to infinity; impearled;
Violet; and inviolate; self-endowed;

Itself the writing, and itself the scroll
The writing's written on; and self-aware
With never-ever-to-be-verbalized
Awareness of awareness of awareness,
Instantiation; all in play; a sole
Immaculate example of itself;

And in the aperture, the remnants of
A Heavenly Question, lightly brushed across
With opalescent ore of consciousness:
The universe is where? Is hanging where?

And overhead a water-ceiling sways,
And all is done in play; in heaven above

The ceiling of the sea is drawing streams
Of shining answers through its question-sieves:
Is matter the enchanted lathe? Or mind?
But which one spirals from the other's blade?

And all the waves at the beginning-end
Of all that comes and goes and takes and gives
And all in play and all that dies and lives
Materializes; dematerializes;
Five, and four, and three, and two, and one—
And all is brought to being; all effaced;

And all that could be done has now been done;
And all is well and hush now, never mind;
Fusiturricula slowly withdraws
Its being; self-enfolding; self-enclosed;
And all it toiled for turns out to be
No matter—nothing much—nothing at all— 
Merely the realm where "being" was confined
And what was evanescent evanesced;

And then a spiral shell washed by a wave
Is carried forward in a foaming crest;
But that was long ago and far away,
It doesn't matter, really, when it was,
And close your eyes now, hush now, all is well,
And far from here, so very far away,

A wave sets down an empty spiral shell
And draws away, it doesn't matter where,
Among the other waves that come and go,
And other waves appear and disappear
And hush now, all is well, and far from here

All heaven and earth appear; and evanesce;
A self-engulfing spiral, ridge by ridge,
That disappears in waves that come and go
And all that could be done is done; and seven;
And six; and five; and four; and three; and two;
And one...and disappearing...far away...
Enraptured to the end, and all in play,
A spiral slowly turns itself in heaven.

Excerpted from Heavenly Questions by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. Published in October 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. All rights reserved.

I'd lean close, my ear
to her whisper and roar,
her tongue scattered
with stars.
 
She'd belt her brassy voice
over the waves' backbeat.
No one sings better than her.
 
Would she ever bite
the inside of her cheek?
 
Would she yell at the moon
to quit tugging at her hem,
or would she whistle, drop
her blue dress and shimmy
through space to cleave
to that shimmer?
 
What did she mean to say
that morning she spit out
the emaciated whale
wearing a net for a corset?
 
All this emptying
on the sand. Eyeless
shrimp. Oiled pelicans.
 
Within her jaws the coral forests,
glittering fish, waves like teeth,
her hungry mortal brine.

Copyright © 2014 by Marie-Elizabeth Mali. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 26, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.