Ben Jonson |
Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men;
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,
Or the feature, or the youth;
But the language and the truth,
With the ardor and the passion,
Gives the lover weight and fashion.
If you then would hear the story,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now
Either whom to love or how;
But be glad as soon with me
When you hear that this is she
Of whose beauty it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keep the middle age at stay,
And let nothing hide decay,
Till she be the reason why
All the world for love may die.
Edgar Allan Poe |
THOU wast that all to me love
For which my soul did pine --
A green isle in the sea love
A fountain and a shrine
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers
And all the flowers were mine.
Ah dream too bright to last!
Ah starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries
"On! on!" -- but o'er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute motionless aghast!
For alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o'er!
No more -- no more -- no more --
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree
Or the stricken eagle soar!
And all my days are trances
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances
And where thy footstep gleams --
In what ethereal dances
By what eternal streams.
Sylvia Plath |
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been sacred of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You----
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
If I've killed one man, I've killed two---
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
More great poems below...
Phillis Wheatley |
To show the lab'ring bosom's deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond'rous youth! each noble path pursue,
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter's and the poet's fire
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
Thrice happy, when exalted to survey
That splendid city, crown'd with endless day,
Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring:
Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring.
Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless'd,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!
But when these shades of time are chas'd away,
And darkness ends in everlasting day,
On what seraphic pinions shall we move,
And view the landscapes in the realms above?
There shall thy tongue in heav'nly murmurs flow,
And there my muse with heav'nly transport glow:
No more to tell of Damon's tender sighs,
Or rising radiance of Aurora's eyes,
For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on th' ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.
Katherine Philips |
If honor to an ancient name be due,
Or riches challenge it for one that's new,
The British language claims in either sense
Both for its age, and for its opulence.
But all great things must be from us removed,
To be with higher reverence beloved.
So landskips which in prospects distant lie,
With greater wonder draw the pleasèd eye.
Is not great Troy to one dark ruin hurled?
Once the fam'd scene of all the fighting world.
Where's Athens now, to whom Rome learning owes,
And the safe laurels that adorned her brows?
A strange reverse of fate she did endure,
Never once greater, than she's now obscure.
Even Rome her self can but some footsteps show
Of Scipio's times, or those of Cicero.
And as the Roman and the Grecian state,
The British fell, the spoil of time and fate.
But though the language hath the beauty lost,
Yet she has still some great remains to boast,
For 'twas in that, the sacred bards of old,
In deathless numbers did their thoughts unfold.
In groves, by rivers, and on fertile plains,
They civilized and taught the listening swains;
Whilst with high raptures, and as great success,
Virtue they clothed in music's charming dress.
This Merlin spoke, who in his gloomy cave,
Even Destiny her self seemed to enslave.
For to his sight the future time was known,
Much better than to others is their own;
And with such state, predictions from him fell,
As if he did decree, and not foretell.
This spoke King Arthur, who, if fame be true,
Could have compelled mankind to speak it too.
In this one Boadicca valor taught,
And spoke more nobly than her soldiers fought:
Tell me what hero could be more than she,
Who fell at once for fame and liberty?
Nor could a greater sacrifice belong,
Or to her children's, or her country's wrong.
This spoke Caractacus, who was so brave,
That to the Roman fortune check he gave:
And when their yoke he could decline no more,
He it so decently and nobly wore,
That Rome her self with blushes did believe,
A Britain would the law of honor give;
And hastily his chains away she threw,
Lest her own captive else should her subdue.
John Keats |
'O WHAT can ail thee knight-at-arms
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is wither'd from the lake
And no birds sing.
'O what can ail thee knight-at-arms 5
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full
And the harvest 's done.
'I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew; 10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.
'I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful¡ªa faery's child
Her hair was long her foot was light 15
And her eyes were wild.
'I made a garland for her head
And bracelets too and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love
And made sweet moan.
'I set her on my pacing steed
And nothing else saw all day long
For sideways would she lean and sing
A faery's song.
'She found me roots of relish sweet 25
And honey wild and manna dew
And sure in language strange she said
I love thee true!
'She took me to her elfin grot
And there she wept and sigh'd fill sore; 30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
'And there she lull¨¨d me asleep
And there I dream'd¡ªAh! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream'd 35
On the cold hill's side.
'I saw pale kings and princes too
Pale warriors death-pale were they all;
They cried¡ª"La belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!" 40
'I saw their starved lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gap¨¨d wide
And I awoke and found me here
On the cold hill's side.
'And this is why I sojourn here 45
Alone and palely loitering
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake
And no birds sing.
Margaret Atwood |
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper.
You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
Billy Collins |
Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow.
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage.
We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.
The 1790's will never come again.
Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.
Ralph Waldo Emerson |
BRING me wine but wine which never grew
In the belly of the grape
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots reaching through
Under the Andes to the Cape
Suffer'd no savour of the earth to 'scape.
Let its grapes the morn salute
From a nocturnal root
Which feels the acrid juice
Of Styx and Erebus;
And turns the woe of Night 10
By its own craft to a more rich delight.
We buy ashes for bread;
We buy diluted wine;
Give me of the true
Whose ample leaves and tendrils curl'd 15
Among the silver hills of heaven
Draw everlasting dew;
Wine of wine
Blood of the world
Form of forms and mould of statures 20
That I intoxicated
And by the draught assimilated
May float at pleasure through all natures;
The bird-language rightly spell
And that which roses say so well: 25
Wine that is shed
Like the torrents of the sun
Up the horizon walls
Or like the Atlantic streams which run
When the South Sea calls.
Water and bread
Food which needs no transmuting
Wine which is already man
Food which teach and reason can.
Wine which Music is ¡ª
Music and wine are one ¡ª
That I drinking this
Shall hear far Chaos talk with me;
Kings unborn shall walk with me; 40
And the poor grass shall plot and plan
What it will do when it is man.
Quicken'd so will I unlock
Every crypt of every rock.
I thank the joyful juice 45
For all I know;
Winds of remembering
Of the ancient being blow
And seeming-solid walls of use
Open and flow.
Pour Bacchus! the remembering wine;
Retrieve the loss of me and mine!
Vine for vine be antidote
And the grape requite the lote!
Haste to cure the old despair; 55
Reason in Nature's lotus drench'd¡ª
The memory of ages quench'd¡ª
Give them again to shine;
Let wine repair what this undid;
And where the infection slid 60
A dazzling memory revive;
Refresh the faded tints
Recut the ag¨¨d prints
And write my old adventures with the pen
Which on the first day drew 65
Upon the tablets blue
The dancing Pleiads and eternal men.
Phillis Wheatley |
From dark abodes to fair etherial light
Th' enraptur'd innocent has wing'd her flight;
On the kind bosom of eternal love
She finds unknown beatitude above.
This known, ye parents, nor her loss deplore,
She feels the iron hand of pain no more;
The dispensations of unerring grace,
Should turn your sorrows into grateful praise;
Let then no tears for her henceforward flow,
No more distress'd in our dark vale below,
Her morning sun, which rose divinely bright,
Was quickly mantled with the gloom of night;
But hear in heav'n's blest bow'rs your Nancy fair,
And learn to imitate her language there.
"Thou, Lord, whom I behold with glory crown'd,
"By what sweet name, and in what tuneful sound
"Wilt thou be prais'd? Seraphic pow'rs are faint
"Infinite love and majesty to paint.
"To thee let all their graceful voices raise,
"And saints and angels join their songs of praise.
Perfect in bliss she from her heav'nly home
Looks down, and smiling beckons you to come;
Why then, fond parents, why these fruitless groans?
Restrain your tears, and cease your plaintive moans.
Freed from a world of sin, and snares, and pain,
Why would you wish your daughter back again?
Let hope your grief control,
And check the rising tumult of the soul.
Calm in the prosperous, and adverse day,
Adore the God who gives and takes away;
Eye him in all, his holy name revere,
Upright your actions, and your hearts sincere,
Till having sail'd through life's tempestuous sea,
And from its rocks, and boist'rous billows free,
Yourselves, safe landed on the blissful shore,
Shall join your happy babe to part no more.
Galway Kinnell |
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks are very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.
Shel Silverstein |
Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers.
How did it go?
How did it go?
Barry Tebb |
Quarter to three: I wake again at the hour of his birth
Thirty years ago and now he paces corridors of dark
In nightmares of self-condemnation where random thoughts
Besiege his fevered imagination – England’s
Imminent destruction, his own, the world’s…
Sixty to eighty cigarettes a day, unavailing depot injections,
Failed abscondings, failed everything: Eton and Balliol
Hold no sway on ward one, nor even being
‘A six language master,’ on PICU madness is the only qualification.
There was the ‘shaving incident’ at school, which
Made him ready to walk out at fifteen, the alcohol
Defences at Oxford which shut us out then petered out
During the six years in India, studying Bengali at Shantiniketan.
He tottered from the plane, penniless and unshaven,
To hide away in the seediest bedsit Beeston could boast
Where night turned to day and vaguely he applied
For jobs as clerk and court usher and drank in pubs with yobs.
When the crisis came – "I feel my head coming off my body’ –
I was ready and unready, making the necessary calls
To get a bed, to keep him on the ward, to visit and reassure
Us both that some way out could be found.
The ‘Care Home’ was the next disaster, trying to cure
Schizophrenia with sticking plaster: "We don’t want
Carers’ input, we call patients ‘residents’ and insist on chores
Not medication", then the letters of terrible abuse, the finding of a flat,
‘The discharge into the community.
His ‘keyworker’ was the keyworker from hell: the more
Isaiah’s care fell apart the more she encouraged
Him to blame us and ‘Make his life his own’, vital signs
Of decline ignored or consigned to files, ‘confidentiality’ reigned supreme.
Insidiously the way back to the ward unveiled
Over painful months, the self-neglect, the inappropriate remarks
In pubs, the neglected perforated eardrum, keeping
Company with his feckless cousins between their bouts in prison.
The pointless team meetings he was patted through,
My abrupt dismissal as carer at the keyworker’s instigation,
The admission we knew nothing of, the abscondings we were told of
And had to sort out, then the phone call from the ASW.
"We are about to section your son for six months, have you
Any comment?" Then the final absconding to London
From a fifteen minute break on PICU, to face his brother’s
Drunken abuse, the police were kindness itself as they drove him to the secure unit.
Two nurses came by taxi from Leeds the next day to collect him
The Newsam Centre’s like a hotel – Informality and first class treatment
Behind the locked doors he freezes before and whispers
"Daddy, I was damned in hell but now I am God’s friend.
Note: PICU- Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit
Beeston- An inner city area of Leeds
ASW- Approved Social Worker
Margaret Atwood |
The rest of us watch from beyond the fence
as the woman moves with her jagged stride
into her pain as if into a slow race.
We see her body in motion
but hear no sounds, or we hear
sounds but no language; or we know
it is not a language we know
We can see her clearly
but for her it is running in black smoke.
The cluster of cells in her swelling
like porridge boiling, and bursting,
like grapes, we think.
Or we think of
explosions in mud; but we know nothing.
All around us the trees
and the grasses light up with forgiveness,
so green and at this time
of the year healthy.
We would like to call something
out to her.
Some form of cheering.
There is pain but no arrival at anything.
Wystan Hugh (W H) Auden |
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.