Lewis Carroll |
"How shall I be a poet?
How shall I write in rhyme?
You told me once the very wish
Partook of the sublime:
Then tell me how.
Don't put me off
With your 'another time'.
The old man smiled to see him,
To hear his sudden sally;
He liked the lad to speak his mind
And thought, "There's no hum-drum in him,
Nor any shilly-shally.
"And would you be a poet
Before you've been to school?
Ah well! I hardly thought you
So absolute a fool.
First learn to be spasmodic—
A very simple rule.
"For first you write a sentence,
And then you chop it small!
Then mix the bits, and sort them out
Just as they chance to fall:
The order of the phrases makes
No difference at all.
"Then, if you'd be impressive,
Remember what I say,
The abstract qualities begin
With capitals alway:
The True, the Good, the Beautiful,
These are the things that pay!
"Next, when you are describing
A shape, or sound, or tint,
Don't state the matter plainly,
But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things
With a sort of mental squint.
"For instance, if I wished, Sir,
Of mutton-pies to tell,
Should I say 'Dreams of fleecy flocks
Pent in a wheaten cell'?"
"Why, yes," the old man said: "that phrase
Would answer very well.
"Then, fourthly, there are epithets
That suit with any word—
As well as Harvey's Reading Sauce
With fish, or flesh, or bird—
Of these 'wild,' 'lonely,' 'weary,' 'strange,'
Are much to be preferred.
"And will it do, O will it do
To take them in a lump—
As 'the wild man went his weary way
To a strange and lonely pump'?"
"Nay, nay! You must not hastily
To such conclusions jump.
"Such epithets, like pepper,
Give zest to what you write,
And, if you strew them sparely,
They whet the appetite:
But if you lay them on too thick,
You spoil the matter quite!
"Last, as to the arrangement;
Your reader, you should show him,
Must take what information he
Can get, and look for no im-
mature disclosure of the drift
And purpose of your poem.
"Therefore, to test his patience—
How much he can endure—
Mention no places, names, nor dates,
And evermore be sure
Throughout the poem to be found
"First fix upon the limit
To which it shall extend:
Then fill it up with 'padding',
(Beg some of any friend):
Your great sensation-stanza
You place towards the end.
Now try your hand, ere Fancy
Have lost its present glow—"
"And then," his grandson added,
"We'll publish it, you know:
Green cloth—gold-lettered at the back,
Then proudly smiled the old man
To see the eager lad
Rush madly for his pen and ink
And for his blotting-pad—
But when he thought of publishing,
His face grew stern and sad.
Grace Paley |
Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be
at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.
Nazim Hikmet |
I was born in 1902
I never once went back to my birthplace
I don't like to turn back
at three I served as a pasha's grandson in Aleppo
at nineteen as a student at Moscow Communist University
at forty-nine I was back in Moscow as the Tcheka Party's guest
and I've been a poet since I was fourteen
some people know all about plants some about fish
I know separation
some people know the names of the stars by heart
I recite absences
I've slept in prisons and in grand hotels
I've known hunger even a hunger strike and there's almost no food
I haven't tasted
at thirty they wanted to hang me
at forty-eight to give me the Peace Prize
which they did
at thirty-six I covered four square meters of concrete in half a year
at fifty-nine I flew from Prague to Havana in eighteen hours
I never saw Lenin I stood watch at his coffin in '24
in '61 the tomb I visit is his books
they tried to tear me away from my party
it didn't work
nor was I crushed under the falling idols
in '51 I sailed with a young friend into the teeth of death
in '52 I spent four months flat on my back with a broken heart
waiting to die
I was jealous of the women I loved
I didn't envy Charlie Chaplin one bit
I deceived my women
I never talked my friends' backs
I drank but not every day
I earned my bread money honestly what happiness
out of embarrassment for others I lied
I lied so as not to hurt someone else
but I also lied for no reason at all
I've ridden in trains planes and cars
most people don't get the chance
I went to opera
most people haven't even heard of the opera
and since '21 I haven't gone to the places most people visit
mosques churches temples synagogues sorcerers
but I've had my coffee grounds read
my writings are published in thirty or forty languages
in my Turkey in my Turkish they're banned
cancer hasn't caught up with me yet
and nothing says it will
I'll never be a prime minister or anything like that
and I wouldn't want such a life
nor did I go to war
or burrow in bomb shelters in the bottom of the night
and I never had to take to the road under diving planes
but I fell in love at almost sixty
in short comrades
even if today in Berlin I'm croaking of grief
I can say I've lived like a human being
and who knows
how much longer I'll live
what else will happen to me
This autobiography was written
in east Berlin on 11 September 1961
More great poems below...
William Butler Yeats |
I call on those that call me son,
Grandson, or great-grandson,
On uncles, aunts, great-uncles or great-aunts,
To judge what I have done.
Have I, that put it into words,
Spoilt what old loins have sent?
Eyes spiritualised by death can judge,
I cannot, but I am not content.
He that in Sligo at Drumcliff
Set up the old stone Cross,
That red-headed rector in County Down,
A good man on a horse,
Sandymount Corbets, that notable man
Old William pollexfen,
The smuggler Middleton, Butlers far back,
Half legendary men.
Infirm and aged I might stay
In some good company,
I who have always hated work,
Smiling at the sea,
Or demonstrate in my own life
What Robert Browning meant
By an old hunter talking with Gods;
But I am not content.
Randall Jarrell |
I ate pancakes one night in a Pancake House
Run by a lady my age.
She was gay.
When I told her that I came from Pasadena
She laughed and said, "I lived in Pasadena
When Fatty Arbuckle drove the El Molino bus.
I felt that I had met someone from home.
No, not Pasadena, Fatty Arbuckle.
Who's that? Oh, something that we had in common
Like -- like -- the false armistice.
She told me her house was the first Pancake House
East of the Mississippi, and I showed her
A picture of my grandson.
Going home --
Home to the hotel -- I began to hum,
"Smile a while, I bid you sad adieu,
When the clouds roll back I'll come to you.
Let's brush our hair before we go to bed,
I say to the old friend who lives in my mirror.
I remember how I'd brush my mother's hair
Before she bobbed it.
How long has it been
Since I hit my funnybone? had a scab on my knee?
Here are Mother and Father in a photograph,
Father's holding me.
They both look so young.
I'm so much older than they are.
Look at them,
Two babies with their baby.
I don't blame you,
You weren't old enough to know any better;
If I could I'd go back, sit down by you both,
And sign our true armistice: you weren't to blame.
I shut my eyes and there's our living room.
The piano's playing something by Chopin,
And Mother and Father and their little girl
Look, the keys go down by themselves!
I go over, hold my hands out, play I play --
If only, somehow, I had learned to live!
The three of us sit watching, as my waltz
Plays itself out a half-inch from my fingers.
Czeslaw Milosz |
Forget the suffering
You caused others.
Forget the suffering
Others caused you.
The waters run and run,
Springs sparkle and are done,
You walk the earth you are forgetting.
Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
A childlike sun grows warm.
A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
You are led by the hand once again.
The names of the rivers remain with you.
How endless those rivers seem!
Your fields lie fallow,
The city towers are not as they were.
You stand at the threshold mute.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe |
AFTER these vernal rains
That we so warmly sought,
Dear wife, see how our plains
With blessings sweet are fraught!
We cast our distant gaze
Far in the misty blue;
Here gentle love still strays,
Here dwells still rapture true.
Thou seest whither go
Yon pair of pigeons white,
Where swelling violets blow
Round sunny foliage bright.
'Twas there we gather'd first
A nosegay as we roved;
There into flame first burst
The passion that we proved.
Yet when, with plighted troth,
The priest beheld us fare
Home from the altar both,
With many a youthful pair,--
Then other moons had birth,
And many a beauteous sun,
Then we had gain'd the earth
Whereon life's race to run.
A hundred thousand fold
The mighty bond was seal'd;
In woods, on mountains cold,
In bushes, in the field,
Within the wall, in caves,
And on the craggy height,
And love, e'en o'er the waves,
Bore in his tube the light.
Contented we remain'd,
We deem'd ourselves a pair;
'Twas otherwise ordain'd,
For, lo! a third was there;
A fourth, fifth, sixth appear'd,
And sat around our board;
And now the plants we've rear'd
High o'er our heads have soar'd!
How fair and pleasant looks,
On yonder beauteous spot,
Embraced by poplar-brooks,
The newly-finish'd cot!
Who is it there that sits
In that glad home above?
Is't not our darling Fritz
With his own darling love?
Beside yon precipice,
Whence pent-up waters steal,
And leaving the abyss,
Fall foaming through the wheel,
Though people often tell
Of millers' wives so fair,
Yet none can e'er excel
Our dearest daughter there!
Yet where the thick-set green
Stands round yon church and sad,
Where the old fir-tree's seen
Alone tow'rd heaven to nod,--
'Tis there the ashes lie
Of our untimely dead;
From earth our gaze on high
By their blest memory's led.
See how yon hill is bright
With billowy-waving arms!
The force returns, whose might
Has vanquished war's alarms.
Who proudly hastens here
With wreath-encircled brow?
'Tis like our child so dear
Thus Charles comes homeward now.
That dearest honour'd guest
Is welcom'd by the bride;
She makes the true one blest,
At the glad festal tide.
And ev'ry one makes haste
To join the dance with glee;
While thou with wreaths hast graced
The youngest children three.
To sound of flute and horn
The time appears renew'd,
When we, in love's young morn,
In the glad dance upstood;
And perfect bliss I know
Ere the year's course is run,
For to the font we go
With grandson and with son!
Vachel Lindsay |
Let not our town be large, remembering
That little Athens was the Muses' home,
That Oxford rules the heart of London still,
That Florence gave the Renaissance to Rome.
Record it for the grandson of your son —
A city is not builded in a day:
Our little town cannot complete her soul
Till countless generations pass away.
Now let each child be joined as to a church
To her perpetual hopes, each man ordained:
Let every street be made a reverent aisle
Where Music grows and Beauty is unchained.
Let Science and Machinery and Trade
Be slaves of her, and make her all in all,
Building against our blatant, restless time
An unseen, skilful, medieval wall.
Let every citizen be rich toward God.
Let Christ the beggar, teach divinity.
Let no man rule who holds his money dear.
Let this, our city, be our luxury.
We should build parks that students from afar
Would choose to starve in, rather than go home,
Fair little squares, with Phidian ornament,
Food for the spirit, milk and honeycomb.
Songs shall be sung by us in that good day,
Songs we have written, blood within the rhyme
Beating, as when Old England still was glad, —
The purple, rich Elizabethan time.
Say, is my prophecy too fair and far?
I only know, unless her faith be high,
The soul of this, our Nineveh, is doomed,
Our little Babylon will surely die.
Some city on the breast of Illinois
No wiser and no better at the start
By faith shall rise redeemed, by faith shall rise
Bearing the western glory in her heart.
The genius of the Maple, Elm and Oak,
The secret hidden in each grain of corn,
The glory that the prairie angels sing
At night when sons of Life and Love are born,
Born but to struggle, squalid and alone,
Broken and wandering in their early years.
When will they make our dusty streets their goal,
Within our attics hide their sacred tears?
When will they start our vulgar blood athrill
With living language, words that set us free?
When will they make a path of beauty clear
Between our riches and our liberty?
We must have many Lincoln-hearted men.
A city is not builded in a day.
And they must do their work, and come and go
While countless generations pass away.
Du Fu |
Dusk stay at stone moat village
Be official night capture people
Old man over wall escape
Old woman out door look
Official shout with what anger
Woman cry with what grief
Hear woman forward send words
Three sons Ye city defend
One son send letter to
Two sons newly battle dead
Survive one for now sneak life
Dead ones great end finished
House in become no person
Only be breast on grandson
Have grandson mother not go
come and go without whole skirt
Old woman strength though decline
Ask follow officer night return
Urgent should Heyang work
Like produce prepare morning meal
Night long speech sound exhaust
Seem hear sob whimpering
Sky bright up before road
Alone with old man part
At dusk, I stopped to rest at Stone Moat village,
An officer came that night to capture men.
The old man escaped by climbing over the wall,
The old wife went to look outside the door.
How angrily the officer now shouted,
How bitterly the wife did weep out loud!
I heard the words the wife was sending forth:
"Three sons of mine were sent to defend Yecheng.
From one of my sons, a letter has arrived,
The other two have recently died in battle.
The one who survived has kept alive for now,
The dead ones though have met their final end.
Inside this house, there are no people left,
There's just a grandson suckling on the breast.
The grandson's mother also cannot go,
She goes about without a skirt intact.
Although I'm an old woman with failing strength,
I ask you to take me with you tonight.
If you should need workers at Heyang,
I can prepare the morning meal for you.
Her voice then died away into the night,
I seemed to hear her sob and whimper still.
At dawn, before I set upon the road,
It's only from the old man that I part.