Elizabeth Barrett Browning |
We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,
We build the house where we may rest,
And then, at moments, suddenly,
We look up to the great wide sky,
Inquiring wherefore we were born…
For earnest or for jest?
The senses folding thick and dark
About the stifled soul within,
We guess diviner things beyond,
And yearn to them with yearning fond;
We strike out blindly to a mark
Believed in, but not seen.
We vibrate to the pant and thrill
Wherewith Eternity has curled
In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
While, freshening upward to His feet,
In gradual growth His full-leaved will
Expands from world to world.
And, in the tumult and excess
Of act and passion under sun,
We sometimes hear—oh, soft and far,
As silver star did touch with star,
The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
Through all things that are done.
God keeps His holy mysteries
Just on the outside of man’s dream;
In diapason slow, we think
To hear their pinions rise and sink,
While they float pure beneath His eyes,
Like swans adown a stream.
Abstractions, are they, from the forms
Of His great beauty?—exaltations
From His great glory?—strong previsions
Of what we shall be?—intuitions
Of what we are—in calms and storms,
Beyond our peace and passions?
Things nameless! which, in passing so,
Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
We say, ‘Who passes?’—they are dumb.
We cannot see them go or come:
Their touches fall soft, cold, as snow
Upon a blind man’s face.
Yet, touching so, they draw above
Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
Our daily joy and pain advance
To a divine significance,
Our human love—O mortal love,
That light is not its own!
And sometimes horror chills our blood
To be so near such mystic Things,
And we wrap round us for defence
Our purple manners, moods of sense—
As angels from the face of God
Stand hidden in their wings.
And sometimes through life’s heavy swound
We grope for them!—with strangled breath
We stretch our hands abroad and try
To reach them in our agony,—
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
Which soon is large enough for death.
Robert Frost |
(A Christmas Circular Letter)
THE CITY had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round.
The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, “A thousand.
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them.
Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.
Isaac Watts |
Up from my youth, may Isr'el say,
Have I been nursed in tears;
My griefs were constant as the day,
And tedious as the years.
Up from my youth I bore the rage
Of all the sons of strife;
Oft they assailed my riper age,
But not destroyed my life.
Their cruel plow had torn my flesh
With furrows long and deep;
Hourly they vexed my wounds afresh,
Nor let my sorrows sleep.
The Lord grew angry on his throne,
And, with impartial eye,
Measured the mischiefs they had done,
Then let his arrows fly.
How was their insolence surprised
To hear his thunders roll!
And all the foes of Zion seized
With horror to the soul!
Thus shall the men that hate the saints
Be blasted from the sky;
Their glory fades, their courage faints
And all their projects die.
[What though they flourish tall and fair,
They have no root beneath;
Their growth shall perish in despair,
And lie despised in death.
[So corn that on the house-top stands
No hope of harvest gives;
The reaper ne'er shall fill his hands,
Nor binder fold the sheaves.
It springs and withers on the place;
No traveller bestows
A word of blessing on the grass,
Nor minds it as he goes.
More great poems below...
Alfred Lord Tennyson |
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millenial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Isaac Rosenberg |
The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.
The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched;
Their shut mouths made no moan,
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman,
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now.
Earth has waited for them,
All the time of their growth
Fretting for their decay:
Now she has them at last!
In the strength of her strength
Suspended—stopped and held.
What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit
Earth! Have they gone into you?
Somewhere they must have gone,
And flung on your hard back
Is their souls' sack,
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
Who hurled them out? Who hurled?
None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,
Or stood aside for the half-used life to pass
Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
When the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth.
What of us, who flung on the shrieking pyre,
Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
Immortal seeming ever?
Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
A fear may choke in our veins
And the startled blood may stop.
The air is loud with death,
The dark air spurts with fire,
The explosions ceaseless are.
Timelessly now, some minutes past,
These dead strode time with vigorous life,
Till the shrapnel called "an end!"
But not to all.
In bleeding pangs
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.
A man's brains splattered on
A stretcher-bearer's face;
His shook shoulders slipped their load,
But when they bent to look again
The drowning soul was sunk too deep
For human tenderness.
They left this dead with the older dead,
Stretched at the cross roads.
Burnt black by strange decay,
Their sinister faces lie
The lid over each eye,
The grass and coloured clay
More motion have than they,
Joined to the great sunk silences.
Here is one not long dead;
His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
And the choked soul stretched weak hands
To reach the living word the far wheels said,
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
Swift for the end to break,
Or the wheels to break,
Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.
Will they come? Will they ever come?
Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
The quivering-bellied mules,
And the rushing wheels all mixed
With his tortured upturned sight.
So we crashed round the bend,
We heard his weak scream,
We heard his very last sound,
And our wheels grazed his dead face.
Walt Whitman |
I SAY whatever tastes sweet to the most perfect person, that is finally right.
I say nourish a great intellect, a great brain;
If I have said anything to the contrary, I hereby retract it.
I say man shall not hold property in man;
I say the least developed person on earth is just as important and sacred to himself or
herself, as the most developed person is to himself or herself.
I say where liberty draws not the blood out of slavery, there slavery draws the blood out
I say the word of the good old cause in These States, and resound it hence over the world.
I say the human shape or face is so great, it must never be made ridiculous;
I say for ornaments nothing outre can be allowed,
And that anything is most beautiful without ornament,
And that exaggerations will be sternly revenged in your own physiology, and in other
persons’ physiology also;
And I say that clean-shaped children can be jetted and conceived only where natural forms
prevail in public, and the human face and form are never caricatured;
And I say that genius need never more be turned to romances,
(For facts properly told, how mean appear all romances.
I say the word of lands fearing nothing—I will have no other land;
I say discuss all and expose all—I am for every topic openly;
I say there can be no salvation for These States without innovators—without free
and ears willing to hear the tongues;
And I announce as a glory of These States, that they respectfully listen to propositions,
reforms, fresh views and doctrines, from successions of men and women,
Each age with its own growth.
I have said many times that materials and the Soul are great, and that all depends on
Now I reverse what I said, and affirm that all depends on the æsthetic or
And that criticism is great—and that refinement is greatest of all;
And I affirm now that the mind governs—and that all depends on the mind.
With one man or woman—(no matter which one—I even pick out the lowest,)
With him or her I now illustrate the whole law;
I say that every right, in politics or what-not, shall be eligible to that one man or
the same terms as any.
David Lehman |
"He gave her class.
She gave him sex.
-- Katharine Hepburn on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
He gave her money.
She gave him head.
He gave her tips on "aggressive growth" mutual funds.
She gave him a red rose
and a little statue of eros.
He gave her Genesis 2 (21-23).
She gave him Genesis 1 (26-28).
He gave her a square peg.
She gave him a round hole.
He gave her Long Beach on a late Sunday in September.
She gave him zinnias
and cosmos in the plenitude of July.
He gave her a camisole and a brooch.
She gave him a cover and a break.
He gave her Venice, Florida.
She gave him Rome, New York.
He gave her a false sense of security.
She gave him a true sense of uncertainty.
He gave her the finger.
She gave him what for.
He gave her a black eye.
She gave him a divorce.
He gave her a steak for her black eye.
She gave him his money back.
He gave her what she had never had before.
She gave him what he had had and
He gave her nastiness in children.
She gave him prudery in adults.
He gave her Panic Hill.
She gave him Mirror Lake.
He gave her an anthology of drum solos.
She gave him the rattle of leaves in
William Strode |
Like to the rowling of an eye,
Or like a starre shott from the skye,
Or like a hand upon a clock,
Or like a wave upon a rock,
Or like a winde, or like a flame,
Or like false newes which people frame,
Even such is man, of equall stay,
Whose very growth leades to decay.
The eye is turn'd, the starre down bendeth
The hand doth steale, the wave descendeth,
The winde is spent, the flame unfir'd,
The newes disprov'd, man's life expir'd.
Like to an eye which sleepe doth chayne,
Or like a starre whose fall we fayne,
Or like the shade on Ahaz watch,
Or like a wave which gulfes doe snatch
Or like a winde or flame that's past,
Or smother'd newes confirm'd at last;
Even so man's life, pawn'd in the grave,
Wayts for a riseing it must have.
The eye still sees, the starre still blazeth,
The shade goes back, the wave escapeth,
The winde is turn'd, the flame reviv'd,
The newes renew'd, and man new liv'd.
Syl Cheney-Coker |
Along the route of this river,
with a little luck, we shall chance upon
our brothers' fortune, hidden with that cold smile
reserved for discreet bankers unmindful of the hydra
growing fiery mornings from our discontent
Wealth was always fashionable, telluric,
not honor pristine and profound.
In blasphemous glee, they raise to God's lips
those cups filled with ethnic offerings
that saps the blood of all human good.
Having no other country to call my own
except for this one full of pine needles
on which we nail our children's lives,
I have put off examining this skull,
savage harvest, the swollen earth,
until that day when, all God's children,
we shall plant a eureka supported by a blood knot.
And remorse not being theirs to feel,
I offer an inventory of abuse by these men,
with this wretched earth on my palms,
so as to remind them of our stilted growth
the length of a cutlass, or if you prefer
the size of our burnt-out brotherhood.
Walt Whitman |
AS I walk these broad, majestic days of peace,
(For the war, the struggle of blood finish’d, wherein, O terrific Ideal!
Against vast odds, having gloriously won,
Now thou stridest on—yet perhaps in time toward denser wars,
Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,
Longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others;
—As I walk solitary, unattended,
Around me I hear that eclat of the world—politics, produce,
The announcements of recognized things—science,
The approved growth of cities, and the spread of inventions.
I see the ships, (they will last a few years,)
The vast factories, with their foremen and workmen,
And here the indorsement of all, and do not object to it.
But I too announce solid things;
Science, ships, politics, cities, factories, are not nothing—I watch them,
Like a grand procession, to music of distant bugles, pouring, triumphantly moving—and
grander heaving in sight;
They stand for realities—all is as it should be.
Then my realities;
What else is so real as mine?
Libertad, and the divine average—Freedom to every slave on the face of the earth,
The rapt promises and luminé of seers—the spiritual world—these centuries
And our visions, the visions of poets, the most solid announcements of any.
For we support all, fuse all,
After the rest is done and gone, we remain;
There is no final reliance but upon us;
Democracy rests finally upon us (I, my brethren, begin it,)
And our visions sweep through eternity.
Rabindranath Tagore |
She who ever had remained in the depth of my being,
in the twilight of gleams and of glimpses;
she who never opened her veils in the morning light,
will be my last gift to thee, my God, folded in my final song.
Words have wooed yet failed to win her;
persuasion has stretched to her its eager arms in vain.
I have roamed from country to country keeping her in the core of my heart,
and around her have risen and fallen the growth and decay of my life.
Over my thoughts and actions, my slumbers and dreams,
she reigned yet dwelled alone and apart.
Many a man knocked at my door and asked for her
and turned away in despair.
There was none in the world who ever saw her face to face,
and she remained in her loneliness waiting for thy recognition.
Anne Sexton |
She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let's face it, I have been momentary.
A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that.
She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment.
She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter's wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission --
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound --
for the burying of her small red wound alive --
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother's knee, for the stocking,
for the garter belt, for the call --
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.
Elizabeth Bishop |
Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
In a dim age
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.
At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times--always five--
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.
House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
of silver fish, mouse,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew's
darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water
the great rock will stare
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
in the steady sun.
Robert Frost |
Here further up the mountain slope
Than there was every any hope,
My father built, enclosed a spring,
Strung chains of wall round everything,
Subdued the growth of earth to grass,
And brought our various lives to pass.
A dozen girls and boys we were.
The mountain seemed to like the stir,
And made of us a little while--
With always something in her smile.
Today she wouldn't know our name.
(No girl's, of course, has stayed the same.
The mountain pushed us off her knees.
And now her lap is full of trees.
Philip Levine |
The doctor fingers my bruise.
"Magnificent," he says, "black
at the edges and purple
" Seated, he spies for clues,
gingerly probing the slack
flesh, while I, standing, fazed, pull
for air, losing the battle.
Faced by his aged diploma,
the heavy head of the X-
ray, and the iron saddle,
I grow lonely.
He finds my
secrets common and my sex
nor lovely, though he is on
the hunt for significance.
The shelved cutlery twinkles
behind glass, and I am on
the way out, "an instance
of the succumbed through extreme
" He is alarmed
at last, and would raise me, but
I am floorward in a dream
of lowered trousers, unarmed
and weakly fighting to shut
the window of my drawers.
There are others in the room,
voices of women above
white oxfords; and the old floor,
the friendly linoleum,
I whisper, "my love,"
and am safe, tabled, sniffing
spirits of ammonia
in the land of my fellows.
"Open house!" my openings
sing: pores, nose, anus let go
their charges, a shameless flow
into the outer world;
and the ceiling, equipped with
intelligence, surveys my
The doctor is thrilled
by my display, for he is half
the slave of necessity;
I, enormous in my need,
justify his sciences.
"We have alternatives," he
" (And my blood
whitens as on their dull trays
the tubes dance.
I must study
the dark bellows of the gas
machine, the painless maker.
and learning to live with it.
Oh, but I am learning fast
to live with any pain, ache,
growth to keep myself intact;
and in imagination
I hug my bruise like an old
Pooh Bear, already attuned
to its moods.
"Oh, my dark one,
tell of the coming of cold
and of Kings, ancient and ruined.