Christina Rossetti |
A fool I was to sleep at noon,
And wake when night is chilly
Beneath the comfortless cold moon;
A fool to pluck my rose too soon,
A fool to snap my lily.
My garden-plot I have not kept;
Faded and all-forsaken,
I weep as I have never wept:
Oh it was summer when I slept,
It's winter now I waken.
Talk what you please of future spring
And sun-warm'd sweet to-morrow:—
Stripp'd bare of hope and everything,
No more to laugh, no more to sing,
I sit alone with sorrow.
Randall Jarrell |
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook.
Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook.
And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children.
Now that I'm old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered.
How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile
Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life.
Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home.
Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind
Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know .
Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,
My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them.
As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:
I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate.
Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old.
" That's all, I'm old.
And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.
Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!(42)
Declare, O Muse! in what ill-fated hour(43)
Sprung the fierce strife, from what offended power
Latona's son a dire contagion spread,(44)
And heap'd the camp with mountains of the dead;
The king of men his reverent priest defied,(45)
And for the king's offence the people died.
For Chryses sought with costly gifts to gain
His captive daughter from the victor's chain.
Suppliant the venerable father stands;
Apollo's awful ensigns grace his hands
By these he begs; and lowly bending down,
Extends the sceptre and the laurel crown
He sued to all, but chief implored for grace
The brother-kings, of Atreus' royal race(46)
"Ye kings and warriors! may your vows be crown'd,
And Troy's proud walls lie level with the ground.
May Jove restore you when your toils are o'er
Safe to the pleasures of your native shore.
But, oh! relieve a wretched parent's pain,
And give Chryseis to these arms again;
If mercy fail, yet let my presents move,
And dread avenging Phoebus, son of Jove.
The Greeks in shouts their joint assent declare,
The priest to reverence, and release the fair.
Not so Atrides; he, with kingly pride,
Repulsed the sacred sire, and thus replied:
"Hence on thy life, and fly these hostile plains,
Nor ask, presumptuous, what the king detains
Hence, with thy laurel crown, and golden rod,
Nor trust too far those ensigns of thy god.
Mine is thy daughter, priest, and shall remain;
And prayers, and tears, and bribes, shall plead in vain;
Till time shall rifle every youthful grace,
And age dismiss her from my cold embrace,
In daily labours of the loom employ'd,
Or doom'd to deck the bed she once enjoy'd
Hence then; to Argos shall the maid retire,
Far from her native soil and weeping sire.
More great poems below...
Wild and fearful in his cavern
Hid the naked troglodyte,
And the homeless nomad wandered
Laying waste the fertile plain.
Menacing with spear and arrow
In the woods the hunter strayed .
Woe to all poor wreteches stranded
On those cruel and hostile shores!
From the peak of high Olympus
Came the mother Ceres down,
Seeeking in those savage regions
Her lost daughter Prosperine.
But the Goddess found no refuge,
Found no kindly welcome there,
And no temple bearing witness
To the worship of the gods.
From the fields and from the vineyards
Came no fruit to deck the feasts,
Only flesh of blood-stained victims
Smouldered on the alter-fires,
And where'er the grieving goddess
Turns her melancholy gaze,
Sunk in vilest degradation
Man his loathsomeness displays.
Would he purge his soul from vileness
And attain to light and worth,
He must turn and cling forever
To his ancient Mother Earth.
Joy everlasting fostereth
The soul of all creation,
It is her secret ferment fires
The cup of life with flame.
'Tis at her beck the grass hath turned
Each blade toward the light
and solar systems have evolved
From chaos and dark night,
Filling the realms of boundless space
Beyond the sage's sight.
At bounteous nature's kindly breast,
All things that breath drink Joy,
And bird and beasts and creaping things
All follow where she leads.
Her gifts to man are friends in need,
The wreath, the foaming must,
To angels -- visions of God's throne,
To insects -- sensual lust.
Edgar Allan Poe |
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart
Vulture whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood
The Elfin from the green grass and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
Robert William Service |
(16th January 1949)
I thank whatever gods may be
For all the happiness that's mine;
That I am festive, fit and free
To savour women, wit and wine;
That I may game of golf enjoy,
And have a formidable drive:
In short, that I'm a gay old boy
Though I be
My daughter thinks.
because I'm old
(I'm not a crock, when all is said),
I mustn't let my feet get cold,
And should wear woollen socks in bed;
A worsted night-cap too, forsooth!
To humour her I won't contrive:
A man is in his second youth
When he is
At four-score years old age begins,
And not till then, I warn my wife;
At eighty I'll recant my sins,
And live a staid and sober life.
But meantime let me whoop it up,
And tell the world that I'm alive:
Fill to the brim the bubbly cup -
Here's health to
Margaret Atwood |
My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.
I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.
A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
There is no either / or.
I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.
Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.
A word after a word
after a word is power.
At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.
This is a metaphor.
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.
Michael Ondaatje |
All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
--all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.
When I thought of daughters
I wasn't expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say 'like'
I mean of course 'love'
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.
One day I'll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it.
For if you close your ears
only nothing happens.
You will never change.
I don't care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories.
don't be fooled by anyone but yourself.
This is the first lecture I've given you.
You're 'sweet sixteen' you said.
I'd rather be your closest friend
than your father.
I'm not good at advice
you know that, but ride
until they grow dark.
Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with loss
--but that is greed.
And sometimes I've gone
into my purple world
and lost you.
One afternoon I stepped
into your room.
You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
--all those possible worlds!--
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.
I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don't care
but I'll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever.
If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly,
it is without answers.
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.
Don't recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon's
yellow suburban annunciation.
in his frightening mask
Ben Jonson |
On My First Daughter
by Ben Jonson
Here lies, to each her parents' ruth,
Mary, the daughter of their youth;
Yet all heaven's gifts being heaven's due,
It makes the father less to rue.
At six months' end, she parted hence
With safety of her innocence;
Whose soul heaven's queen, whose name she bears,
In comfort of her mother's tears,
Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:
Where, while that severed doth remain,
This grave partakes the fleshly birth;
Which cover lightly, gentle earth!
Jackie Kay |
I always wanted to give birth
Do that incredible natural thing
That women do-I nearly broke down
When I heard we couldn't
And then my man said to me
Well there's always adoption
(we didn't have test tubes and the rest
then) and well even in the early sixties there was something
Scandalous about adopting
Telling the world your secret failure
Bringing up an alien child
Who knew what it would turn out to be?
But I wanted a baby badly
Didn't need to come from my womb
Or his seed for me to love it
And I had sisters who looked just like me
Didn't need carbon copy features
Blueprints for generations
It was my baby a baby a baby I wanted
So I watched my child grow
Always the first to hear her in the night
All this umbilical knot business is
Nonsense-the men can afford deeper sleeps
I listened to hear her talk
And when she did I heard my voice under hers
And now some of her mannerisms
Crack me up
All them stories could have really had me
Believing unless you are breast fed
You'll never be close and the rest
My daughter's warmth spills over me
Leaves a gap
When she's gone
I think of her mother.
She remembers how I read her
All those newspaper and magazine
Cuttings about adoption
She says her head's an encyclopedia
Of sob stories: the ones that were never
Told and committed suicide on their wedding nights
I always believed in the telling anyhow
You can't keep something like that secret
I wanted her to think of her other mother
Out there thinking that child I had will be
Eight today nine today all the way up to
God knows when.
I told my daughter;
I bet your mother's never missed your birthday
How could she
Now when people say ah but
It's not like having your own child though is it
I say of course it is what else is it
She's my child I have brought her up
Told her stories wept at losses
Laughed at her pleasures she is mine.
Well maybe that is why I don't
Like all this talk about her being black
I brought her up as my own
As I would any other child
Colour matters to the nuttters
But she says my daughter says
It matters to her.
I suppose there would have been things
I couldn't have understood with any child
We knew she was coloured
They told us they had no babies at first
And I chanced to say it didn't matter
What colour it was and then they
Said oh well are you sure in that case
We have a baby for you
To think she wasn't even thought of as a baby!
My baby my baby.
Suheir Hammad |
leaves and leaving call october home
her daughter releases wood
smoke from her skin
rich in scorpio
blood survived the first
flood each new year marks
a circle around her
thick bark middle
this the month summer and
winter fall into each
other and leave orange
the vibrancy of death
carry it all
coiled in my belly
cut on the cusp
of libra tail
tips the scales
tonight it is raining in
the tradition of my parents
wanted a daughter not a writer
happy birthday poet
who loves you baby
the way your mama did
under her breast the way your
father did under his breath
leaves and leaving have known
my name intimately
i harvest pumpkins
to offer the river eat
buttered phoenix meat
to celebrate a new year
new cipher for my belly
i got a new name
secret nobody knows
the cold can't call me
leaving won't know
where to find me
october gonna hide me
in her harvest in
happy birthday daughter
of the falling
James Weldon Johnson |
Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Grief-stricken son--weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter --weep no more;
She only just gone home.
Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell of Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God's big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.
And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death!--Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.
And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn't make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God's command.
And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She's borne the burden and heat of the day,
She's labored long in my vineyard,
And she's tired--
Do down, Death, and bring her to me.
And Death didn't say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven's pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning's flash behind;
Straight down he came.
While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn't see;
She saw Old Death.
She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn't frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I'm going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.
Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Adrienne Rich |
Something spreading underground won't speak to us
under skin won't declare itself
not all life-forms want dialogue with the
machine-gods in their drama hogging down
the deep bush clear-cutting refugees
from ancient or transient villages into
our opportunistic fervor to search
crazily for a host a lifeboat
Suddenly instead of art we're eyeing
organisms traced and stained on cathedral transparencies
cruel blues embroidered purples succinct yellows
a beautiful tumor
I guess you're not alone I fear you're alone
There's, of course, poetry:
awful bridge rising over naked air: I first
took it as just a continuation of the road:
"a masterpiece of engineering
" then on the radio:
"incline too steep for ease of, etc.
Drove it nonetheless because I had to
this being how— So this is how
I find you: alive and more
As if (how many conditionals must we suffer?)
I'm driving to your side
—an intimate collusion—
packed in the trunk my bag of foils for fencing with pain
glasses of varying spectrum for sun or fog or sun-struck
rain or bitterest night my sack of hidden
poetries, old glue shredding from their spines
my time exposure of the Leonids
over Joshua Tree
As if we're going to win this O because
If you have a sister I am not she
nor your mother nor you my daughter
nor are we lovers or any kind of couple
except in the intensive care
of poetry and
death's master plan architecture-in-progress
draft elevations of a black-and-white mosaic dome
the master left on your doorstep
with a white card in black calligraphy:
Make what you will of this
As if leaving purple roses
If (how many conditionals must we suffer?)
I tell you a letter from the master
is lying on my own doorstep
glued there with leaves and rain
and I haven't bent to it yet
if I tell you I surmise
he writes differently to me:
Do as you will, you have had your life
many have not
signing it in his olden script:
Meister aus Deutschland
In coldest Europe end of that war
frozen domes iron railings frozen stoves lit in the
memory banks of cold
the Nike of Samothrace
on a staircase wings in blazing
backdraft said to me
: : to everyone she met
Displaced, amputated never discount me
indented in disaster striding
at the head of stairs
for Tory Dent
Edwin Arlington Robinson |
Down by the flash of the restless water
The dim White Ship like a white bird lay;
Laughing at life and the world they sought her,
And out she swung to the silvering bay.
Then off they flew on their roystering way,
And the keen moon fired the light foam flying
Up from the flood where the faint stars play,
And the bones of the brave in the wave are lying.
'T was a king's fair son with a king's fair daughter,
And full three hundred beside, they say, --
Revelling on for the lone, cold slaughter
So soon to seize them and hide them for aye;
But they danced and they drank and their souls grew gay,
Nor ever they knew of a ghoul's eye spying
Their splendor a flickering phantom to stray
Where the bones of the brave in the wave are lying.
Through the mist of a drunken dream they brought her
(This wild white bird) for the sea-fiend's prey:
The pitiless reef in his hard clutch caught her,
And hurled her down where the dead men stay.
A torturing silence of wan dismay --
Shrieks and curses of mad souls dying --
Then down they sank to slumber and sway
Where the bones of the brave in the wave are lying.
Prince, do you sleep to the sound alway
Of the mournful surge and the sea-birds' crying? --
Or does love still shudder and steel still slay,
Where the bones of the brave in the wave are lying?
Dylan Thomas |
Before I knocked and flesh let enter,
With liquid hands tapped on the womb,
I who was as shapeless as the water
That shaped the Jordan near my home
Was brother to Mnetha's daughter
And sister to the fathering worm.
I who was deaf to spring and summer,
Who knew not sun nor moon by name,
Felt thud beneath my flesh's armour,
As yet was in a molten form
The leaden stars, the rainy hammer
Swung by my father from his dome.
I knew the message of the winter,
The darted hail, the childish snow,
And the wind was my sister suitor;
Wind in me leaped, the hellborn dew;
My veins flowed with the Eastern weather;
Ungotten I knew night and day.
As yet ungotten, I did suffer;
The rack of dreams my lily bones
Did twist into a living cipher,
And flesh was snipped to cross the lines
Of gallow crosses on the liver
And brambles in the wringing brains.
My throat knew thirst before the structure
Of skin and vein around the well
Where words and water make a mixture
Unfailing till the blood runs foul;
My heart knew love, my belly hunger;
I smelt the maggot in my stool.
And time cast forth my mortal creature
To drift or drown upon the seas
Acquainted with the salt adventure
Of tides that never touch the shores.
I who was rich was made the richer
By sipping at the vine of days.
I, born of flesh and ghost, was neither
A ghost nor man, but mortal ghost.
And I was struck down by death's feather.
I was a mortal to the last
Long breath that carried to my father
The message of his dying christ.
You who bow down at cross and altar,
Remember me and pity Him
Who took my flesh and bone for armour
And doublecrossed my mother's womb.