Walt Whitman |
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
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.
Raymond Carver |
Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I've been told won't bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children's handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they'll die before I do, and I'll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.
I've said that.
More great poems below...
Robert Herrick |
Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind?
Distinguish all those floods that are
Mixed in that wat'ry theater,
And taste thou them as saltless there,
As in their channel first they were.
Tell me the people that do keep
Within the kingdoms of the deep;
Or fetch me back that cloud again,
Beshivered into seeds of rain.
Tell me the motes, dust, sands, and spears
Of corn, when summer shakes his ears;
Show me that world of stars, and whence
They noiseless spill their influence.
This if thou canst; then show me Him
That rides the glorious cherubim.
Ted Hughes |
The flame-red moon, the harvest moon,
Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing,
A vast balloon,
Till it takes off, and sinks upward
To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.
So people can't sleep,
So they go out where elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush.
The harvest moon has come!
And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep
Stare up at her petrified, while she swells
Filling heaven, as if red hot, and sailing
Closer and closer like the end of the world.
Till the gold fields of stiff wheat
Cry `We are ripe, reap us!' and the rivers
Sweat from the melting hills.
Rabindranath Tagore |
Mother, let us imagine we are travelling, and passing through a
strange and dangerous country.
You are riding in a palanquin and I am trotting by you on a
It is evening and the sun goes down.
The waste of Joradighi
lies wan and grey before us.
The land is desolate and barren.
You are frightened and thinking-"I know not where we have come
I say to you, "Mother, do not be afraid.
The meadow is prickly with spiky grass, and through it runs
a narrow broken path.
There are no cattle to be seen in the wide field; they have
gone to their village stalls.
It grows dark and dim on the land and sky, and we cannot tell
where we are going.
Suddenly you call me and ask me in a whisper, "What light is
that near the bank?"
Just then there bursts out a fearful yell, and figures come
running towards us.
You sit crouched in your palanquin and repeat the names of the
gods in prayer.
The bearers, shaking in terror, hide themselves in the thorny
I shout to you, "Don't be afraid, mother.
I am here.
With long sticks in their hands and hair all wild about their
heads, they come nearer and nearer.
I shout, "Have a care, you villains! One step more and you are
They give another terrible yell and rush forward.
You clutch my hand and say, "Dear boy, for heaven's sake, keep
away from them.
I say, "Mother, just you watch me.
Then I spur my horse for a wild gallop, and my sword and
buckler clash against each other.
The fight becomes so fearful, mother, that it would give you
a cold shudder could you see it from your palanquin.
Many of them fly, and a great number are cut to pieces.
I know you are thinking, sitting all by yourself, that your
boy must be dead by this time.
But I come to you all stained with blood, and say,"Mother, the
fight is over now.
You come out and kiss me, pressing me to your heart, and you
say to yourself,
"I don't know what I should do if I hadn't my boy to escort
A thousand useless things happen day after day, and why
couldn't such a thing come true by chance?
It would be like a story in a book.
My brother would say, "Is it possible? I always thought he was
Our village people would all say in amazement, "Was it not
lucky that the boy was with his mother?"
James Tate |
Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don't hesitate
to cut somebody's heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets,
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don't
forget the good deeds, the charity work,
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there's that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn't:
"And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
our ancestors back from the dead--"
poetrywise it's still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven't scribbled a syllable of it.
You're a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day's extravagant labor.
And yet it's cruel to expect too much.
It's a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream--
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.
Nikki Giovanni |
Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
no matter how young or old you are
Some people don't remember that
listening and laughing and asking
no matter what your age
Few recognize that love is
no fun at all
You and me
John Betjeman |
Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun.
All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes .
it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house,
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.
Robert Frost |
In going from room to room in the dark,
I reached out blindly to save my face,
But neglected, however lightly, to lace
My fingers and close my arms in an arc.
A slim door got in past my guard,
And hit me a blow in the head so hard
I had my native simile jarred.
So people and things don't pair any more
With what they used to pair with before.
Maya Angelou |
The night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.
Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,
I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.
Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,
You couldn't even call out my name.
You were helpless and so was I,
But unfortunately throughout history
You've worn a badge of shame.
I say, the night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark
And the walls have been steep.
But today, voices of old spirit sound
Speak to us in words profound,
Across the years, across the centuries,
Across the oceans, and across the seas.
They say, draw near to one another,
Save your race.
You have been paid for in a distant place,
The old ones remind us that slavery's chains
Have paid for our freedom again and again.
The night has been long,
The pit has been deep,
The night has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.
The hells we have lived through and live through still,
Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.
The night has been long.
This morning I look through your anguish
Right down to your soul.
I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.
I look through the posture and past your disguise,
And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.
I say, clap hands and let's come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let's deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, let's leave the preening
And stop impostering our own history.
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.
The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.
And still we rise.
Poem read at the Million Man March
Ogden Nash |
One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
thus hinder longevity.
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
wold on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
there are great many things.
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.
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.
Gwendolyn Brooks |
I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I'll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.
I'll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I'll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.
And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
"That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.
Ogden Nash |
In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.
Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.
Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
'There isn't any, no there's not!'
The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.
What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.
He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!'
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'
Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'
And suddenly he found he wasn't!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.