Tanka I–VIII


Could I but retrace 
The winding stairs fate built me. 
They fell from my feet. 
Now I stand on the high round. 
Down beneath height above depth—


Through the eyes of life
I looked in at my own heart:
A long furrowed field 
Grown cement waiting for seed
Baking in desolation. 


Drink in moods of joy! 
Why should the sky be lonely? 
Neither sun nor moon—
How my heart is shy of night 
Like Autumn’s leaf brown pendants 


Cold against the sky 
The blue jays cried at dawning. 
The larks where are they? 
Heavily upon the air 
My ears tuned in to listen. 

So this is the reed? 
The very pips for singing—
Life plays me new songs. 
Wistfully from out the dawn
The crows broke across the sky! 


And now Spring has come 
Blossoming up my garden. 
I alone unchanged, 
Moving in my house of Autumn. 
One leaf alone saves a tree. 


By the pool of life 
Willows are drooping tonight
I can see no stars. 
What dances in the water?
O my clouds dripping with tears. 


Could I hear your voice
O but this silence is sweet 
Words mar all beauty. 
Turn then into your own heart 
And pluck the roots from the soil—



From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.