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Best Famous Looking Back Poems

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Written by Billy Collins | Create an image from this poem

On Turning Ten

 The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back, but that is because you have forgotten the perfect simplicity of being one and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly against the side of my tree house, and my bicycle never leaned against the garage as it does today, all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself, as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends, time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees.
I bleed.


Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow | Create an image from this poem

The Song of Hiawatha: X

 X.
Hiawatha's Wooing "As unto the bow the cord is, So unto the man is woman, Though she bends him, she obeys him, Though she draws him, yet she follows, Useless each without the other!" Thus the youthful Hiawatha Said within himself and pondered, Much perplexed by various feelings, Listless, longing, hoping, fearing, Dreaming still of Minnehaha, Of the lovely Laughing Water, In the land of the Dacotahs.
"Wed a maiden of your people," Warning said the old Nokomis; "Go not eastward, go not westward, For a stranger, whom we know not! Like a fire upon the hearth-stone Is a neighbor's homely daughter, Like the starlight or the moonlight Is the handsomest of strangers!" Thus dissuading spake Nokomis, And my Hiawatha answered Only this: "Dear old Nokomis, Very pleasant is the firelight, But I like the starlight better, Better do I like the moonlight!" Gravely then said old Nokomis: "Bring not here an idle maiden, Bring not here a useless woman, Hands unskilful, feet unwilling; Bring a wife with nimble fingers, Heart and hand that move together, Feet that run on willing errands!" Smiling answered Hiawatha: "In the land of the Dacotahs Lives the Arrow-maker's daughter, Minnehaha, Laughing Water, Handsomest of all the women.
I will bring her to your wigwam, She shall run upon your errands, Be your starlight, moonlight, firelight, Be the sunlight of my people!" Still dissuading said Nokomis: "Bring not to my lodge a stranger From the land of the Dacotahs! Very fierce are the Dacotahs, Often is there war between us, There are feuds yet unforgotten, Wounds that ache and still may open! Laughing answered Hiawatha: "For that reason, if no other, Would I wed the fair Dacotah, That our tribes might be united, That old feuds might be forgotten, And old wounds be healed forever!" Thus departed Hiawatha To the land of the Dacotahs, To the land of handsome women; Striding over moor and meadow, Through interminable forests, Through uninterrupted silence.
With his moccasins of magic, At each stride a mile he measured; Yet the way seemed long before him, And his heart outran his footsteps; And he journeyed without resting, Till he heard the cataract's laughter, Heard the Falls of Minnehaha Calling to him through the silence.
"Pleasant is the sound!" he murmured, "Pleasant is the voice that calls me!" On the outskirts of the forests, 'Twixt the shadow and the sunshine, Herds of fallow deer were feeding, But they saw not Hiawatha; To his bow be whispered, "Fail not!" To his arrow whispered, "Swerve not!" Sent it singing on its errand, To the red heart of the roebuck; Threw the deer across his shoulder, And sped forward without pausing.
At the doorway of his wigwam Sat his ancient Arrow-maker, In the land of the Dacotahs, Making arrow-heads of jasper, Arrow-heads of chalcedony.
At his side, in all her beauty, Sat the lovely Minnehaha, Sat his daughter, Laughing Water, Plaiting mats of flags and rushes; Of the past the old man's thoughts were, And the maiden's of the future.
He was thinking, as he sat there, Of the days when with such arrows He had struck the deer and bison, On the Muskoday, the meadow; Shot the wild goose, flying southward, On the wing, the clamorous Wawa; Thinking of the great war-parties, How they came to buy his arrows, Could not fight without his arrows.
Ah, no more such noble warriors Could be found on earth as they were! Now the men were all like women, Only used their tongues for weapons! She was thinking of a hunter, From another tribe and country, Young and tall and very handsome, Who one morning, in the Spring-time, Came to buy her father's arrows, Lingered long about the doorway, Sat and rested in the wigwam, Looking back as he departed.
She had heard her father praise him, Praise his courage and his wisdom; Would he come again for arrows To the Falls of Minnehaha? On the mat her hands lay idle, And her eyes were very dreamy.
Through their thoughts they heard a footstep, Heard a rustling in the branches, And with glowing cheek and forehead, With the deer upon his shoulders, Suddenly from out the woodlands Hiawatha stood before them.
Straight the ancient Arrow-maker Looked up gravely from his labor, Laid aside the unfinished arrow, Bade him enter at the doorway, Saying, as he rose to meet him, "Hiawatha, you are welcome!" At the feet of Laughing Water Hiawatha laid his burden, Threw the red deer from his shoulders; And the maiden looked up at him, Looked up from her mat of rushes, Said with gentle look and accent, "You are welcome, Hiawatha!" Very spacious was the wigwam, Made of deer-skins dressed and whitened, With the Gods of the Dacotahs Drawn and painted on its curtains, And so tall the doorway, hardly Hiawatha stooped to enter, Hardly touched his eagle-feathers As he entered at the doorway.
Then uprose the Laughing Water, From the ground fair Minnehaha, Laid aside her mat unfinished, Brought forth food and set before them, Water brought them from the brooklet, Gave them food in earthen vessels, Gave them drink in bowls of bass-wood, Listened while the guest was speaking, Listened while her father answered, But not once her lips she opened, Not a single word she uttered.
Yes, as in a dream she listened To the words of Hiawatha, As he talked of old Nokomis, Who had nursed him in his childhood, As he told of his companions, Chibiabos, the musician, And the very strong man, Kwasind, And of happiness and plenty In the land of the Ojibways, In the pleasant land and peaceful.
"After many years of warfare, Many years of strife and bloodshed, There is peace between the Ojibways And the tribe of the Dacotahs.
" Thus continued Hiawatha, And then added, speaking slowly, 'That this peace may last forever, And our hands be clasped more closely, And our hearts be more united, Give me as my wife this maiden, Minnehaha, Laughing Water, Loveliest of Dacotah women! And the ancient Arrow-maker Paused a moment ere he answered, Smoked a little while in silence, Looked at Hiawatha proudly, Fondly looked at Laughing Water, And made answer very gravely: "Yes, if Minnehaha wishes; Let your heart speak, Minnehaha!" And the lovely Laughing Water Seemed more lovely as she stood there, Neither willing nor reluctant, As she went to Hiawatha, Softly took the seat beside him, While she said, and blushed to say it, "I will follow you, my husband!" This was Hiawatha's wooing! Thus it was he won the daughter Of the ancient Arrow-maker, In the land of the Dacotahs! From the wigwam he departed, Leading with him Laughing Water; Hand in hand they went together, Through the woodland and the meadow, Left the old man standing lonely At the doorway of his wigwam, Heard the Falls of Minnehaha Calling to them from the distance, Crying to them from afar off, "Fare thee well, O Minnehaha!" And the ancient Arrow-maker Turned again unto his labor, Sat down by his sunny doorway, Murmuring to himself, and saying: "Thus it is our daughters leave us, Those we love, and those who love us! Just when they have learned to help us, When we are old and lean upon them, Comes a youth with flaunting feathers, With his flute of reeds, a stranger Wanders piping through the village, Beckons to the fairest maiden, And she follows where he leads her, Leaving all things for the stranger!" Pleasant was the journey homeward, Through interminable forests, Over meadow, over mountain, Over river, hill, and hollow.
Short it seemed to Hiawatha, Though they journeyed very slowly, Though his pace he checked and slackened To the steps of Laughing Water.
Over wide and rushing rivers In his arms he bore the maiden; Light he thought her as a feather, As the plume upon his head-gear; Cleared the tangled pathway for her, Bent aside the swaying branches, Made at night a lodge of branches, And a bed with boughs of hemlock, And a fire before the doorway With the dry cones of the pine-tree.
All the travelling winds went with them, O'er the meadows, through the forest; All the stars of night looked at them, Watched with sleepless eyes their slumber; From his ambush in the oak-tree Peeped the squirrel, Adjidaumo, Watched with eager eyes the lovers; And the rabbit, the Wabasso, Scampered from the path before them, Peering, peeping from his burrow, Sat erect upon his haunches, Watched with curious eyes the lovers.
Pleasant was the journey homeward! All the birds sang loud and sweetly Songs of happiness and heart's-ease; Sang the bluebird, the Owaissa, "Happy are you, Hiawatha, Having such a wife to love you!" Sang the robin, the Opechee, "Happy are you, Laughing Water, Having such a noble husband!" From the sky the sun benignant Looked upon them through the branches, Saying to them, "O my children, Love is sunshine, hate is shadow, Life is checkered shade and sunshine, Rule by love, O Hiawatha!" From the sky the moon looked at them, Filled the lodge with mystic splendors, Whispered to them, "O my children, Day is restless, night is quiet, Man imperious, woman feeble; Half is mine, although I follow; Rule by patience, Laughing Water!" Thus it was they journeyed homeward; Thus it was that Hiawatha To the lodge of old Nokomis Brought the moonlight, starlight, firelight, Brought the sunshine of his people, Minnehaha, Laughing Water, Handsomest of all the women In the land of the Dacotahs, In the land of handsome women.
Written by Wystan Hugh (W H) Auden | Create an image from this poem

In Memory of Sigmund Freud


When there are so many we shall have to mourn,
when grief has been made so public, and exposed
to the critique of a whole epoch
the frailty of our conscience and anguish,
of whom shall we speak? For every day they die
among us, those who were doing us some good,
who knew it was never enough but
hoped to improve a little by living.
Such was this doctor: still at eighty he wished
to think of our life from whose unruliness
so many plausible young futures
with threats or flattery ask obedience,
but his wish was denied him: he closed his eyes
upon that last picture, common to us all,
of problems like relatives gathered
puzzled and jealous about our dying.
For about him till the very end were still
those he had studied, the fauna of the night,
and shades that still waited to enter
the bright circle of his recognition
turned elsewhere with their disappointment as he
was taken away from his life interest
to go back to the earth in London,
an important Jew who died in exile.
Only Hate was happy, hoping to augment
his practice now, and his dingy clientele
who think they can be cured by killing
and covering the garden with ashes.
They are still alive, but in a world he changed
simply by looking back with no false regrets;
all he did was to remember
like the old and be honest like children.
He wasn't clever at all: he merely told
the unhappy Present to recite the Past
like a poetry lesson till sooner
or later it faltered at the line where
long ago the accusations had begun,
and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
how rich life had been and how silly,
and was life-forgiven and more humble,
able to approach the Future as a friend
without a wardrobe of excuses, without
a set mask of rectitude or an
embarrassing over-familiar gesture.
No wonder the ancient cultures of conceit
in his technique of unsettlement foresaw
the fall of princes, the collapse of
their lucrative patterns of frustration:
if he succeeded, why, the Generalised Life
would become impossible, the monolith
of State be broken and prevented
the co-operation of avengers.
Of course they called on God, but he went his way
down among the lost people like Dante, down
to the stinking fosse where the injured
lead the ugly life of the rejected,
and showed us what evil is, not, as we thought,
deeds that must be punished, but our lack of faith,
our dishonest mood of denial,
the concupiscence of the oppressor.
If some traces of the autocratic pose,
the paternal strictness he distrusted, still
clung to his utterance and features,
it was a protective coloration
for one who'd lived among enemies so long:
if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
to us he is no more a person
now but a whole climate of opinion
under whom we conduct our different lives:
Like weather he can only hinder or help,
the proud can still be proud but find it
a little harder, the tyrant tries to
make do with him but doesn't care for him much:
he quietly surrounds all our habits of growth
and extends, till the tired in even
the remotest miserable duchy
have felt the change in their bones and are cheered
till the child, unlucky in his little State,
some hearth where freedom is excluded,
a hive whose honey is fear and worry,
feels calmer now and somehow assured of escape,
while, as they lie in the grass of our neglect,
so many long-forgotten objects
revealed by his undiscouraged shining
are returned to us and made precious again;
games we had thought we must drop as we grew up,
little noises we dared not laugh at,
faces we made when no one was looking.
But he wishes us more than this.
To be free
is often to be lonely.
He would unite
the unequal moieties fractured
by our own well-meaning sense of justice,
would restore to the larger the wit and will
the smaller possesses but can only use
for arid disputes, would give back to
the son the mother's richness of feeling:
but he would have us remember most of all
to be enthusiastic over the night,
not only for the sense of wonder
it alone has to offer, but also
because it needs our love.
With large sad eyes
its delectable creatures look up and beg
us dumbly to ask them to follow:
they are exiles who long for the future
that lives in our power, they too would rejoice
if allowed to serve enlightenment like him,
even to bear our cry of 'Judas',
as he did and all must bear who serve it.
One rational voice is dumb.
Over his grave
the household of Impulse mourns one dearly loved:
sad is Eros, builder of cities,
and weeping anarchic Aphrodite.
Written by Vernon Scannell | Create an image from this poem

They Did Not Expect This

 They did not expect this.
Being neither wise nor brave And wearing only the beauty of youth's season They took the first turning quite unquestioningly And walked quickly without looking back even once.
It was of course the wrong turning.
First they were nagged By a small wind that tugged at their clothing like a dog; Then the rain began and there was no shelter anywhere, Only the street and the rows of houses stern as soldiers.
Though the blood chilled, the endearing word burnt the tongue.
There were no parks or gardens or public houses: Midnight settled and the rain paused leaving the city Enormous and still like a great sleeping seal.
At last they found accommodation in a cold Furnished room where they quickly learnt to believe in ghosts; They had their hope stuffed and put on the mantelpiece But found, after a while, that they did not notice it.
While she spends many hours looking in the bottoms of teacups He reads much about association football And waits for the marvellous envelope to fall: Their eyes are strangers and they rarely speak.
They did not expect this.
Written by Henry Vaughan | Create an image from this poem

The Retreat

 1 Happy those early days, when I
2 Shin'd in my angel-infancy!
3 Before I understood this place
4 Appointed for my second race,
5 Or taught my soul to fancy ought
6 But a white, celestial thought;
7 When yet I had not walk'd above
8 A mile or two from my first love,
9 And looking back (at that short space)
10 Could see a glimpse of his bright face;
11 When on some gilded cloud or flow'r
12 My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
13 And in those weaker glories spy
14 Some shadows of eternity;
15 Before I taught my tongue to wound
16 My conscience with a sinful sound,
17 Or had the black art to dispense,
18 A sev'ral sin to ev'ry sense,
19 But felt through all this fleshly dress
20 Bright shoots of everlastingness.
21 O how I long to travel back, 22 And tread again that ancient track! 23 That I might once more reach that plain, 24 Where first I left my glorious train, 25 From whence th' enlighten'd spirit sees 26 That shady city of palm trees.
27 But ah! my soul with too much stay 28 Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
29 Some men a forward motion love, 30 But I by backward steps would move; 31 And when this dust falls to the urn, 32 In that state I came, return.
Written by Alec Derwent (A D) Hope | Create an image from this poem

Observation Car

 To be put on the train and kissed and given my ticket, 
Then the station slid backward, the shops and the neon lighting, 
Reeling off in a drunken blur, with a whole pound note in my pocket 
And the holiday packed with Perhaps.
It used to be very exciting.
The present and past were enough.
I did not mind having my back To the engine.
I sat like a spider and spun Time backward out of my guts - or rather my eyes - and the track Was a Now dwindling off to oblivion.
I thought it was fun: The telegraph poles slithered up in a sudden crescendo As we sliced the hill and scattered its grazing sheep; The days were a wheeling delirium that led without end to Nights when we plunged into roaring tunnels of sleep.
But now I am tired of the train.
I have learned that one tree Is much like another, one hill the dead spit of the next I have seen tailing off behind all the various types of country Like a clock running down.
I am bored and a little perplexed; And weak with the effort of endless evacuation Of the long monotonous Now, the repetitive, tidy Officialdom of each siding, of each little station Labelled Monday, Tuesday - and goodness ! what happened to - Friday ? And the maddening way the other passengers alter: The schoolgirl who goes to the Ladies' comes back to her seat A lollipop blonde who leads you on to assault her, And you've just got her skirts round her waist and her pants round her feet When you find yourself fumbling about the nightmare knees Of a pink hippopotamus with a permanent wave Who sends you for sandwiches and a couple of teas, But by then she has whiskers, no teeth and one foot in the grave.
I have lost my faith that the ticket tells where we are going.
There are rumours the driver is mad - we are all being trucked To the abattoirs somewhere - the signals are jammed and unknowing We aim through the night full speed at a wrecked viaduct.
But I do not believe them.
The future is rumour and drivel; Only the past is assured.
From the observation car I stand looking back and watching the landscape shrivel, Wondering where we are going and just where the hell we are, Remembering how I planned to break the journey, to drive My own car one day, to have choice in my hands and my foot upon power, To see through the trumpet throat of vertiginous perspective My urgent Now explode continually into flower, To be the Eater of Time, a poet and not that sly Anus of mind the historian.
It was so simple and plain To live by the sole, insatiable influx of the eye.
But something went wrong with the plan: I am still on the train.
Written by Erica Jong | Create an image from this poem

Autumn Perspective

 Now, moving in, cartons on the floor,
the radio playing to bare walls,
picture hooks left stranded
in the unsoiled squares where paintings were,
and something reminding us
this is like all other moving days;
finding the dirty ends of someone else's life,
hair fallen in the sink, a peach pit,
and burned-out matches in the corner;
things not preserved, yet never swept away
like fragments of disturbing dreams
we stumble on all day.
.
.
in ordering our lives, we will discard them, scrub clean the floorboards of this our home lest refuse from the lives we did not lead become, in some strange, frightening way, our own.
And we have plans that will not tolerate our fears-- a year laid out like rooms in a new house--the dusty wine glasses rinsed off, the vases filled, and bookshelves sagging with heavy winter books.
Seeing the room always as it will be, we are content to dust and wait.
We will return here from the dark and silent streets, arms full of books and food, anxious as we always are in winter, and looking for the Good Life we have made.
I see myself then: tense, solemn, in high-heeled shoes that pinch, not basking in the light of goals fulfilled, but looking back to now and seeing a lazy, sunburned, sandaled girl in a bare room, full of promise and feeling envious.
Now we plan, postponing, pushing our lives forward into the future--as if, when the room contains us and all our treasured junk we will have filled whatever gap it is that makes us wander, discontented from ourselves.
The room will not change: a rug, or armchair, or new coat of paint won't make much difference; our eyes are fickle but we remain the same beneath our suntans, pale, frightened, dreaming ourselves backward and forward in time, dreaming our dreaming selves.
I look forward and see myself looking back.


Written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox | Create an image from this poem

Thanksgiving

 We walk on starry fields of white
And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight To crown our lives with splendor, And quite ignore our daily store Of pleasures sweet and tender.
Our cares are bold and push their way Upon our thought and feeling.
They hang about us all the day, Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy We pass by and forget it, But worry strives to own our lives And conquers if we let it.
There's not a day in all the year But holds some hidden pleasure, And looking back, joys oft appear To brim the past's wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold, Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise While living hearts can hear us.
Full many a blessing wears the guise Of worry or of trouble.
Farseeing is the soul and wise Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength To thank his God for sorrow Has found a joy without alloy To gladden every morrow.
We ought to make the moments notes Of happy, glad Thanksgiving; The hours and days a silent phrase Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow As weeks and months pass o'er us, And rise sublime at this good time, A grand Thanksgiving chorus.
Written by Henry Van Dyke | Create an image from this poem

America for Me

 'Tis fine to see the Old World and travel up and down 
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown, 
To admire the crumblyh castles and the statues and kings 
But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.
So it's home again, and home again, America for me! My heart is turning home again and there I long to be, In the land of youth and freedom, beyond the ocean bars, Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.
Oh, London is a man's town, there's power in the air; And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair; And it's sweet to dream in Venice, and it's great to study Rome; But when it comes to living there is no place like home.
I like the German fir-woods in green battalions drilled; I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing foutains filled; But, oh, to take your had, my dear, and ramble for a day In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her sway! I know that Europe's wonderful, yet something seems to lack! The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free-- We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.
Oh, it's home again, and home again, America for me! I want a ship that's westward bound to plough the rolling sea, To the blessed Land of Room Enough, beyond the ocean bars, Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.
Written by Joyce Kilmer | Create an image from this poem

The House with Nobody in It

 Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.
I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things; That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted, and I wish it were, I do; For it wouldn't be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.
This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass, And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied; But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside.
If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid I'd put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I'd buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be And I'd find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free.
Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door, Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there's nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone For the lack of something within it that it has never known.
But a house that has done what a house should do, a house that has sheltered life, That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife, A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet, Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.
So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back, Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart, For I can't help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.
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