Poetry Near You

Find poetry readings, workshops, festivals, conferences, literary organizations, and poetry-friendly bookstores, and learn more about poets laureate, in your area.

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See a list of all state poets laureate.

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The Harvest Moon

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Scriptorium

Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads,

before the curving limbs and wings
of hounds, cats, and cormorants
knot into letters, before the letters knot
into the Word, Eadfrith ventures from his cell,

reed basket on his arm, past Cuthbert’s grave,
past the stockyard where the calves’ cries bell,
and their blood illuminates the dirt as ink
on vellum, across the glens and woods

to gather woad and lichens, to the shores
to gather shells. The earth, not the cell,
is his scriptorium, where he might see
the interlace of branch and twig and leaf;

how green bleeds brown when fields are plowed;
how green banks blue where grass gives way to sea;
how blue twists into white in swirling lines
purling through the water and the sky.

Before the skinning of a hundred calves,
before the stretching and the scraping of their hides,
before the boiling vinegar, the toasting lead,
the bubbling orpiment and verdigris,

before the glair cracks from the egg,
before the monk perfects his recipe
(egg white, oak-gall, iron salt, mixed
in a tree-stump, some speculate)

to make the pigments glorious to the Lord,
before Eadfrith’s fingers are permanently stained
the colors of his world—crimson, emerald,
cerulean, gold—outside the monastery walls,

in the village, with its brown hounds
spooking yellow cats stalking green-black birds,
on the purple-bitten lips of peasants
his gospel’s corruption already sings forth

in vermilion ink, firebrands on a red calf’s hide—
though he’ll be dead before the Vikings sail,
and two centuries of men and wars
will pass before his successor Aldred

pierces Eadfrith’s text with thorn,
ash, and all the other angled letters
of his gloss. Laced between the lines of Latin,
the vernacular proclaims, in one dull tint,

a second illumination,
of which Eadfrith was not unaware:
this good news is for everyone,
like language, like color, like air.

I Cannot Sing

I cannot sing, because when a child, 
   My mother often hushed me. 
The others she allowed to sing, 
   No matter what their melody. 

And since I’ve grown to manhood
   All music I applaud, 
But have no voice for singing, 
   So I write my songs to God. 

I have ears and know the measures, 
   And I’ll write a song for you, 
But the world must do the singing 
   Of my sonnets old and new. 

Now tell me, world of music, 
   Why I cannot sing one song? 
Is it because my mother hushed me
   And laughed when I was wrong?

Although I can write music, 
   And tell when harmony’s right, 
I will never sing better than when 
   My song was hushed one night. 

Fond mothers, always be careful; 
   Let the songs be poorly sung. 
To hush the child is cruel; 
   Let it sing while it is young.