Tag Archives: MondayPoem

MondayPoem: Lines: The Cold Earth Slept Below

Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_ClintIt’s been rather cold across much of the United States recently — even in areas of the South that rarely see below zero on a thermometer. So, how better to honor the cold than to soak in Shelley’s chillingly beautiful Lines.

By Percy Bysshe Shelley:

 Lines: The cold earth slept below

The cold earth slept below;
         Above the cold sky shone;
                And all around,
                With a chilling sound,
From caves of ice and fields of snow
The breath of night like death did flow
                Beneath the sinking moon.

The wintry hedge was black;
         The green grass was not seen;
                The birds did rest
                On the bare thorn’s breast,
Whose roots, beside the pathway track,
Had bound their folds o’er many a crack
                Which the frost had made between.

Thine eyes glow’d in the glare
         Of the moon’s dying light;
                As a fen-fire’s beam
                On a sluggish stream
Gleams dimly—so the moon shone there,
And it yellow’d the strings of thy tangled hair,
                That shook in the wind of night.

The moon made thy lips pale, beloved;
         The wind made thy bosom chill;
                The night did shed
                On thy dear head
Its frozen dew, and thou didst lie
Where the bitter breath of the naked sky
                Might visit thee at will.

Poem courtesy of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Image: Percy Bysshe Shelley, portrait by Alfred Clint (1819).

Percy Bysshe Shelley

MondayPoem: Death of a Naturalist

Seamus Heaney, poet, Nobel Laureate and above all observer of the Irish condition passed away last week.

He is widely recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest poets; and was famous both for his critical acclaim and for being so widely read. He will be missed. Luckily for the rest of us, Heaney left behind a wonderful swathe of work, which current and future generations will come to cherish.

By Seamus Heaney

– Death of A Naturalist

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

Read more about Seamus Heaney here.

Image: Seamus Heaney. Courtesy: Murdo Macleod / Guardian.

MondayPoem: Wild Nights – Wild Nights!

Emily Dickinson has been much written about, but still remains enigmatic. Many of her peers thought her to be eccentric and withdrawn. Only after her death did the full extent of her prolific writing become apparent. To this day, her unique poetry is regarded as having ushered in a new era of personal observation and expression.

By Emily Dickinson

– Wild Nights – Wild Nights!

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
In thee!

[div class=attrib]Image: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. Courtesy of the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University.[end-div]

MondayPoem: End of Summer

A month in to fall and it really does now seem like Autumn — leaves are turning and falling, jackets have reappeared, brisk morning walks are now shrouded in darkness.

So, we turn to the first Poet Laureate of the United States of the new millenium — Stanley Kunitz, to remind us of Summer’s end. Kunitz was anointed Laureate at the age of ninety-five, and died six years later. His published works span almost eight decades of thoughtful creativity.

By Stanley Kunitz

– End of Summer

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

MondayPoem: McDonalds Is Impossible

According to Chelsea Martin’s website, “chelsea martin ‘studied’ art and writing at california college of the arts (though she holds no degree because she owes $300 in tuition)”.

[div]From Poetry Foundation:[end-div]

Chelsea Martin was 23 when she published her first collection, Everything Was Fine until Whatever (2009), a genre-blurring book of short fiction, nonfiction, prose, poetry, sketches, and memoir. She is also the author, most recently, of The Real Funny Thing about Apathy (2010).

By Chelsea Martin

– McDonalds is Impossible

Eating food from McDonald’s is mathematically impossible.
Because before you can eat it, you have to order it.
And before you can order it, you have to decide what you want.
And before you can decide what you want, you have to read the menu.
And before you can read the menu, you have to be in front of the menu.
And before you can be in front of the menu, you have to wait in line.
And before you can wait in line, you have to drive to the restaurant.
And before you can drive to the restaurant, you have to get in your car.
And before you can get in your car, you have to put clothes on.
And before you can put clothes on, you have to get out of bed.
And before you can get out of bed, you have to stop being so depressed.
And before you can stop being so depressed, you have to understand what depression is.
And before you can understand what depression is, you have to think clearly.
And before you can think clearly, you have to turn off the TV.
And before you can turn off the TV, you have to free your hands.
And before you can free your hands, you have to stop masturbating.
And before you can stop masturbating, you have to get off.
And before you can get off, you have to imagine someone you really like with his pants off, encouraging you to explore his enlarged genitalia.
And before you can imagine someone you really like with his pants off encouraging you to explore his enlarged genitalia, you have to imagine that person stroking your neck.
And before you can imagine that person stroking your neck, you have to imagine that person walking up to you looking determined.
And before you can imagine that person walking up to you looking determined, you have to choose who that person is.
And before you can choose who that person is, you have to like someone.
And before you can like someone, you have to interact with someone.
And before you can interact with someone, you have to introduce yourself.
And before you can introduce yourself, you have to be in a social situation.
And before you can be in a social situation, you have to be invited to something somehow.
And before you can be invited to something somehow, you have to receive a telephone call from a friend.
And before you can receive a telephone call from a friend, you have to make a reputation for yourself as being sort of fun.
And before you can make a reputation for yourself as being sort of fun, you have to be noticeably fun on several different occasions.
And before you can be noticeably fun on several different occasions, you have to be fun once in the presence of two or more people.
And before you can be fun once in the presence of two or more people, you have to be drunk.
And before you can be drunk, you have to buy alcohol.
And before you can buy alcohol, you have to want your psychological state to be altered.
And before you can want your psychological state to be altered, you have to recognize that your current psychological state is unsatisfactory.
And before you can recognize that your current psychological state is unsatisfactory, you have to grow tired of your lifestyle.
And before you can grow tired of your lifestyle, you have to repeat the same patterns over and over endlessly.
And before you can repeat the same patterns over and over endlessly, you have to lose a lot of your creativity.
And before you can lose a lot of your creativity, you have to stop reading books.
And before you can stop reading books, you have to think that you would benefit from reading less frequently.
And before you can think that you would benefit from reading less frequently, you have to be discouraged by the written word.
And before you can be discouraged by the written word, you have to read something that reinforces your insecurities.
And before you can read something that reinforces your insecurities, you have to have insecurities.
And before you can have insecurities, you have to be awake for part of the day.
And before you can be awake for part of the day, you have to feel motivation to wake up.
And before you can feel motivation to wake up, you have to dream of perfectly synchronized conversations with people you desire to talk to.
And before you can dream of perfectly synchronized conversations with people you desire to talk to, you have to have a general idea of what a perfectly synchronized conversation is.
And before you can have a general idea of what a perfectly synchronized conversation is, you have to watch a lot of movies in which people successfully talk to each other.
And before you can watch a lot of movies in which people successfully talk to each other, you have to have an interest in other people.
And before you can have an interest in other people, you have to have some way of benefiting from other people.
And before you can have some way of benefiting from other people, you have to have goals.
And before you can have goals, you have to want power.
And before you can want power, you have to feel greed.
And before you can feel greed, you have to feel more deserving than others.
And before you can feel more deserving than others, you have to feel a general disgust with the human population.
And before you can feel a general disgust with the human population, you have to be emotionally wounded.
And before you can be emotionally wounded, you have to be treated badly by someone you think you care about while in a naive, vulnerable state.
And before you can be treated badly by someone you think you care about while in a naive, vulnerable state, you have to feel inferior to that person.
And before you can feel inferior to that person, you have to watch him laughing and walking towards his drum kit with his shirt off and the sun all over him.
And before you can watch him laughing and walking towards his drum kit with his shirt off and the sun all over him, you have to go to one of his outdoor shows.
And before you can go to one of his outdoor shows, you have to pretend to know something about music.
And before you can pretend to know something about music, you have to feel embarrassed about your real interests.
And before you can feel embarrassed about your real interests, you have to realize that your interests are different from other people’s interests.
And before you can realize that your interests are different from other people’s interests, you have to be regularly misunderstood.
And before you can be regularly misunderstood, you have to be almost completely socially debilitated.
And before you can be almost completely socially debilitated, you have to be an outcast.
And before you can be an outcast, you have to be rejected by your entire group of friends.
And before you can be rejected by your entire group of friends, you have to be suffocatingly loyal to your friends.
And before you can be suffocatingly loyal to your friends, you have to be afraid of loss.
And before you can be afraid of loss, you have to lose something of value.
And before you can lose something of value, you have to realize that that thing will never change.
And before you can realize that that thing will never change, you have to have the same conversation with your grandmother forty or fifty times.
And before you can have the same conversation with your grandmother forty or fifty times, you have to have a desire to talk to her and form a meaningful relationship.
And before you can have a desire to talk to her and form a meaningful relationship, you have to love her.
And before you can love her, you have to notice the great tolerance she has for you.
And before you can notice the great tolerance she has for you, you have to break one of her favorite china teacups that her mother gave her and forget to apologize.
And before you can break one of her favorite china teacups that her mother gave her and forget to apologize, you have to insist on using the teacups for your imaginary tea party. And before you can insist on using the teacups for your imaginary tea party, you have to cultivate your imagination.
And before you can cultivate your imagination, you have to spend a lot of time alone.
And before you can spend a lot of time alone, you have to find ways to sneak away from your siblings.
And before you can find ways to sneak away from your siblings, you have to have siblings.
And before you can have siblings, you have to underwhelm your parents.
And before you can underwhelm your parents, you have to be quiet, polite and unnoticeable.
And before you can be quiet, polite and unnoticeable, you have to understand that it is possible to disappoint your parents.
And before you can understand that it is possible to disappoint your parents, you have to be harshly reprimanded.
And before you can be harshly reprimanded, you have to sing loudly at an inappropriate moment.
And before you can sing loudly at an inappropriate moment, you have to be happy.
And before you can be happy, you have to be able to recognize happiness.
And before you can be able to recognize happiness, you have to know distress.
And before you can know distress, you have to be watched by an insufficient babysitter for one week.
And before you can be watched by an insufficient babysitter for one week, you have to vomit on the other, more pleasant babysitter.
And before you can vomit on the other, more pleasant babysitter, you have to be sick.
And before you can be sick, you have to eat something you’re allergic to.
And before you can eat something you’re allergic to, you have to have allergies.
And before you can have allergies, you have to be born.
And before you can be born, you have to be conceived.
And before you can be conceived, your parents have to copulate.
And before your parents can copulate, they have to be attracted to one another.
And before they can be attracted to one another, they have to have common interests.
And before they can have common interests, they have to talk to each other.
And before they can talk to each other, they have to meet.
And before they can meet, they have to have in-school suspension on the same day.
And before they can have in-school suspension on the same day, they have to get caught sneaking off campus separately.
And before they can get caught sneaking off campus separately, they have to think of somewhere to go.
And before they can think of somewhere to go, they have to be familiar with McDonald’s.
And before they can be familiar with McDonald’s, they have to eat food from McDonald’s.
And eating food from McDonald’s is mathematically impossible.

MondayPoem: The Snow Is Deep on the Ground

We celebrate the arrival of winter to the northern hemisphere with an evocative poem by Kenneth Patchen.

[div class=attrib]From Poetry Foundation:[end-div]

An inspiration for the Beat Generation and a true “people’s poet,” Kenneth Patchen was a prolific writer, visual artist and performer whose exuberant, free-form productions celebrate spontaneity and attack injustices, materialism, and war.

By Kenneth Patchen

– The Snow Is Deep on the Ground

The snow is deep on the ground.
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.

The snow is beautiful on the ground.
And always the lights of heaven glow
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

[div class=attrib]Image: Kenneth Patchen. Courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Frederick Douglass

Robert Hayden is generally accepted as one of the premier authors of African American poetry. His expertly crafted poems focusing on the black historical experience earned him numerous awards.

Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975. From 1976 – 1978, he was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the first African American holder of that post). He died in 1980.

By Robert Hayden

– Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

[div class=attrib]Image: Robert Hayden. Courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Inferno – Canto I

Dante Alighieri is held in high regard in Italy, where he is often referred to as il Poeta, the poet. He is best known for the monumental poem La Commedia, later renamed La Divina Commedia – The Divine Comedy. Scholars consider it to be the greatest work of literature in the Italian language. Many also consider Dante to be symbolic father of the Italian language.

[div class=attrib]According to Wikipedia:[end-div]

He wrote the Comedy in a language he called “Italian”, in some sense an amalgamated literary language mostly based on the regional dialect of Tuscany, with some elements of Latin and of the other regional dialects. The aim was to deliberately reach a readership throughout Italy, both laymen, clergymen and other poets. By creating a poem of epic structure and philosophic purpose, he established that the Italian language was suitable for the highest sort of expression. In French, Italian is sometimes nicknamed la langue de Dante. Publishing in the vernacular language marked Dante as one of the first (among others such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio) to break free from standards of publishing in only Latin (the language of liturgy, history, and scholarship in general, but often also of lyric poetry). This break set a precedent and allowed more literature to be published for a wider audience—setting the stage for greater levels of literacy in the future.

By Dante Alighieri

(translated by the Rev. H. F. Cary)

– Inferno, Canto I

In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discover’d there.
How first I enter’d it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dullness in that instant weigh’d
My senses down, when the true path I left,
But when a mountain’s foot I reach’d, where clos’d
The valley, that had pierc’d my heart with dread,
I look’d aloft, and saw his shoulders broad
Already vested with that planet’s beam,
Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.

Then was a little respite to the fear,
That in my heart’s recesses deep had lain,
All of that night, so pitifully pass’d:
And as a man, with difficult short breath,
Forespent with toiling, ‘scap’d from sea to shore,
Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands
At gaze; e’en so my spirit, that yet fail’d
Struggling with terror, turn’d to view the straits,
That none hath pass’d and liv’d.  My weary frame
After short pause recomforted, again
I journey’d on over that lonely steep,

The hinder foot still firmer.  Scarce the ascent
Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light,
And cover’d with a speckled skin, appear’d,
Nor, when it saw me, vanish’d, rather strove
To check my onward going; that ofttimes
With purpose to retrace my steps I turn’d.

The hour was morning’s prime, and on his way
Aloft the sun ascended with those stars,
That with him rose, when Love divine first mov’d
Those its fair works: so that with joyous hope
All things conspir’d to fill me, the gay skin
Of that swift animal, the matin dawn
And the sweet season.  Soon that joy was chas’d,
And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion came, ‘gainst me, as it appear’d,

With his head held aloft and hunger-mad,
That e’en the air was fear-struck.  A she-wolf
Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem’d
Full of all wants, and many a land hath made
Disconsolate ere now.  She with such fear
O’erwhelmed me, at the sight of her appall’d,
That of the height all hope I lost.  As one,
Who with his gain elated, sees the time
When all unwares is gone, he inwardly
Mourns with heart-griping anguish; such was I,
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
Who coming o’er against me, by degrees
Impell’d me where the sun in silence rests.

While to the lower space with backward step
I fell, my ken discern’d the form one of one,
Whose voice seem’d faint through long disuse of speech.
When him in that great desert I espied,
“Have mercy on me!”  cried I out aloud,
“Spirit! or living man! what e’er thou be!”

He answer’d: “Now not man, man once I was,
And born of Lombard parents, Mantuana both
By country, when the power of Julius yet
Was scarcely firm.  At Rome my life was past
Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time
Of fabled deities and false.  A bard
Was I, and made Anchises’ upright son
The subject of my song, who came from Troy,
When the flames prey’d on Ilium’s haughty towers.
But thou, say wherefore to such perils past
Return’st thou?  wherefore not this pleasant mount
Ascendest, cause and source of all delight?”
“And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring,
From which such copious floods of eloquence
Have issued?”  I with front abash’d replied.
“Glory and light of all the tuneful train!
May it avail me that I long with zeal
Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
Have conn’d it o’er.  My master thou and guide!
Thou he from whom alone I have deriv’d
That style, which for its beauty into fame
Exalts me.  See the beast, from whom I fled.
O save me from her, thou illustrious sage!

“For every vein and pulse throughout my frame
She hath made tremble.”  He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answer’d, “Thou must needs
Another way pursue, if thou wouldst ‘scape
From out that savage wilderness.  This beast,
At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none
To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death:
So bad and so accursed in her kind,
That never sated is her ravenous will,
Still after food more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy
Her with sharp pain.  He will not life support
By earth nor its base metals, but by love,
Wisdom, and virtue, and his land shall be
The land ‘twixt either Feltro.  In his might
Shall safety to Italia’s plains arise,
For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure,
Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell.
He with incessant chase through every town
Shall worry, until he to hell at length
Restore her, thence by envy first let loose.
I for thy profit pond’ring now devise,
That thou mayst follow me, and I thy guide
Will lead thee hence through an eternal space,
Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke
A second death; and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire, for that they hope to come,
Whene’er the time may be, among the blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T’ ascend, a spirit worthier then I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne.  O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!” I to him in few:
“Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore,
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape) to lead me, where thou saidst,
That I Saint Peter’s gate may view, and those
Who as thou tell’st, are in such dismal plight.”

Onward he mov’d, I close his steps pursu’d.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire poem here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Dante Alighieri, engraving after the fresco in Bargello Chapel, painted by Giotto di Bondone. Courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

MondayPoem: First Thanksgiving

A chronicler of the human condition and deeply personal emotion, poet Sharon Olds is no shrinking violet. Her contemporary poems have been both highly praised and condemned for their explicit frankness and intimacy.

[div class=attrib]From Poetry Foundation:[end-div]

In her Salon interview, Olds addressed the aims of her poetry. “I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker. I am not a…How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It’s not really simple, I don’t think, but it’s about ordinary things—feeling about things, about people. I’m not an intellectual. I’m not an abstract thinker. And I’m interested in ordinary life.” She added that she is “not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.”

Olds has won numerous awards for her work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Widely anthologized, her work has also been published in a number of journals and magazines. She was New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at New York University.

By Sharon Olds

– First Thanksgiving

When she comes back, from college, I will see
the skin of her upper arms, cool,
matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
soupy chest against her breasts,
I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
her sleep like an untamed, good object,
like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
second great arrival, after him, fresh
from the other world—which lay, from within him,
within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep,
week after week, the moon rising,
and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
in a slow blur, around our planet.
Now she doesn’t need love like that, she has
had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
to have her in that room again,
behind that door! As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.

[div class=attrib]Image: Sharon Olds. Courtesy of squawvalleywriters.org.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Voyager

Poet, essayist and playwright Todd Hearon grew up in North Carolina. He earned a PhD in editorial studies from Boston University. He is winner of a number of national poetry and playwriting awards including the 2007 Friends of Literature Prize and a Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin.

By Todd Hearon

– Voyager

We’ve packed our bags, we’re set to fly
no one knows where, the maps won’t do.
We’re crossing the ocean’s nihilistic blue
with an unborn infant’s opal eye.

It has the clarity of earth and sky
seen from a spacecraft, once removed,
as through an amniotic lens, that groove-
lessness of space, the last star by.

We have set out to live and die
into the interstices of a new
nowhere to be or be returning to

(a little like an infant’s airborne cry).
We’ve set our sights on nothing left to lose
and made of loss itself a lullaby.

[div class=attrib]Todd Hearon. Image courtesy of Boston University.[end-div]

MondayPoem: When the World Ended as We Knew It

Joy Harjo is an acclaimed poet, musician and noted teacher. Her poetry is grounded in the United States’ Southwest and often encompasses Native American stories and values.

As Poetry Foundation remarks:

Consistently praised for the depth and thematic concerns in her writings, Harjo has emerged as a major figure in contemporary American poetry.

She once commented, “I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings. In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.” Harjo’s work is largely autobiographical, informed by her love of the natural world and her preoccupation with survival and the limitations of language.

By Joy Harjo

– When the World Ended as We Knew It

We were dreaming on an occupied island at the farthest edge
of a trembling nation when it went down.

Two towers rose up from the east island of commerce and touched
the sky. Men walked on the moon. Oil was sucked dry
by two brothers. Then it went down. Swallowed
by a fire dragon, by oil and fear.
Eaten whole.

It was coming.

We had been watching since the eve of the missionaries in their
long and solemn clothes, to see what would happen.

We saw it
from the kitchen window over the sink
as we made coffee, cooked rice and
potatoes, enough for an army.

We saw it all, as we changed diapers and fed
the babies. We saw it,
through the branches
of the knowledgeable tree
through the snags of stars, through
the sun and storms from our knees
as we bathed and washed
the floors.

The conference of the birds warned us, as the flew over
destroyers in the harbor, parked there since the first takeover.
It was by their song and talk we knew when to rise
when to look out the window
to the commotion going on—
the magnetic field thrown off by grief.

We heard it.
The racket in every corner of the world. As
the hunger for war rose up in those who would steal to be president
to be king or emperor, to own the trees, stones, and everything
else that moved about the earth, inside the earth
and above it.

We knew it was coming, tasted the winds who gathered intelligence
from each leaf and flower, from every mountain, sea
and desert, from every prayer and song all over this tiny universe
floating in the skies of infinite

And then it was over, this world we had grown to love
for its sweet grasses, for the many-colored horses
and fishes, for the shimmering possibilities
while dreaming.

But then there were the seeds to plant and the babies
who needed milk and comforting, and someone
picked up a guitar or ukulele from the rubble
and began to sing about the light flutter
the kick beneath the skin of the earth
we felt there, beneath us

a warm animal
a song being born between the legs of her;
a poem.

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of PBS.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Water

This week, theDiagonal focuses its energies on that most precious of natural resources — water.

In his short poem “Water”, Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us of its more fundamental qualities.

Emerson published his first book, Nature, in 1836, in which he outlined his transcendentalist philosophy. As Poetry Foundation elaborates:

His manifesto stated that the world consisted of Spirit (thought, ideas, moral laws, abstract truth, meaning itself ) and Nature (all of material reality, all that atoms comprise); it held that the former, which is timeless, is the absolute cause of the latter, which serves in turn to express Spirit, in a medium of time and space, to the senses. In other words, the objective, physical world—what Emerson called the “Not-Me”—is symbolic and exists for no other purpose than to acquaint human beings with its complement—the subjective, ideational world, identified with the conscious self and referred to in Emersonian counterpoint as the “Me.” Food, water, and air keep us alive, but the ultimate purpose for remaining alive is simply to possess the meanings of things, which by definition involves a translation of the attention from the physical fact to its spiritual value.

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

– Water

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons.[end-div]

MondayPoem: And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Ushering in our week of articles focused mostly on death and loss is a classic piece by Welshman, Dylan Thomas. Although Thomas’ literary legacy is colored by his legendary drinking and philandering, many critics now seem to agree that his poetry belongs in the same class as that of W.H. Auden.

By Dylan Thomas:

– And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

MondayPoem: Further In

Tomas Tranströmer is one of Sweden’s leading poets. He studied poetry and psychology at the University of Stockholm. Tranströmer was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.

By Tomas Tranströmer:

– Further In
On the main road into the city
when the sun is low.
The traffic thickens, crawls.
It is a sluggish dragon glittering.
I am one of the dragon’s scales.
Suddenly the red sun is
right in the middle of the windscreen
streaming in.
I am transparent
and writing becomes visible
inside me
words in invisible ink
which appear
when the paper is held to the fire!
I know I must get far away
straight through the city and then
further until it is time to go out
and walk far in the forest.
Walk in the footprints of the badger.
It gets dark, difficult to see.
In there on the moss lie stones.
One of the stones is precious.
It can change everything
it can make the darkness shine.
It is a switch for the whole country.
Everything depends on it.
Look at it, touch it…

MondayPoem: Immortal Autumn

The Autumnal Equinox finally ushers in some cooler temperatures for the northern hemisphere, and with that we reflect on this most human of seasons courtesy of a poem by Archibald MacLeish.

By Archibald MacLeish:

– Immortal Autumn

I speak this poem now with grave and level voice
In praise of autumn, of the far-horn-winding fall.

I praise the flower-barren fields, the clouds, the tall
Unanswering branches where the wind makes sullen noise.

I praise the fall: it is the human season.

No more the foreign sun does meddle at our earth,
Enforce the green and bring the fallow land to birth,
Nor winter yet weigh all with silence the pine bough,

But now in autumn with the black and outcast crows
Share we the spacious world: the whispering year is gone:
There is more room to live now: the once secret dawn
Comes late by daylight and the dark unguarded goes.

Between the mutinous brave burning of the leaves
And winter’s covering of our hearts with his deep snow
We are alone: there are no evening birds: we know
The naked moon: the tame stars circle at our eaves.

It is the human season. On this sterile air
Do words outcarry breath: the sound goes on and on.
I hear a dead man’s cry from autumn long since gone.

I cry to you beyond upon this bitter air.

MondayPoem: When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be

This week’s poem courtesy of the great romantic John Keats delves into the subject of time and brevity on this Earth. Although Keats was frequently scorned by critics during his lifetime, death transformed him into one of England’s most loved poets.

By John Keats:

– When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.


[div class=attrib]Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton. National Portrait Gallery, London, courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Mathematics Considered as a Vice

A poem by Anthony Hecht this week. On Hecht, Poetry Foundation remarks, “[o]ne of the leading voices of his generation, Anthony Hecht’s poetry is known for its masterful use of traditional forms and linguistic control.”

Following Hecht’s death in 2004 the New York Times observed:

It was Hecht’s gift to see into the darker recesses of our complex lives and conjure to his command the exact words to describe what he found there. Hecht remained skeptical about whether pain and contemplation can ultimately redeem us, yet his ravishing poems extend hope to his readers that they can.

By Anthony Hecht:

– Mathematics Considered as a Vice

I would invoke that man
Who chipped for all posterity an ass
(The one that Jesus rode)
Out of hard stone, and set its either wing
Among the wings of the most saintly clan
On Chartres Cathedral, and that it might sing
The praise to all who pass
Of its unearthly load,
Hung from its neck a harp-like instrument.
I would invoke that man
To aid my argument.

The ass smiles on us all,
Being astonished that an ass might rise
To such sure eminence
Not merely among asses but mankind,
Simpers, almost, upon the western wall
In praise of folly, who midst sow and kine,
Saw with its foolish eyes
Gold, Myrrh, and Frankincense
Enter the stable door, against all odds.
The ass smiles on us all.
Our butt at last is God’s.

That man is but an ass—
More perfectly, that ass is but a man
Who struggles to describe
Our rich, contingent and substantial world
In ideal signs: the dunged and pagan grass,
Misted in summer, or the mother-of-pearled
Home of the bachelor-clam.
A cold and toothless tribe
Has he for brothers, who would coldly think.
That man is but an ass
Who smells not his own stink.

For all his abstract style
Speaks not to our humanity, and shows
Neither the purity
Of heaven, nor the impurity beneath,
And cannot see the feasted crocodile
Ringed with St. Francis’ birds to pick its teeth,
Nor can his thought disclose
To normal intimacy,
Siamese twins, the double-beasted back,
For all his abstract style
Utters our chiefest lack.

Despite his abstract style,
Pickerel will dawdle in their summer pools
Lit by the flitterings
Of light dashing the gusty surfaces,
Or lie suspended among shades of bile
And lime in fluent shift, for all he says.
And all the grey-haired mules,
Simple and neuter things,
Will bray hosannas, blessing harp and wing.
For all his abstract style,
The ass will learn to sing.

MondayPoem: A Little Language

This week theDiagonal triangulates its sights on the topic of language and communication. So, we introduce an apt poem by Robert Duncan. Of Robert Duncan, Poetry Foundation writes:

Though the name Robert Duncan is not well known outside the literary world, within that world it has become associated with a number of superlatives. Kenneth Rexroth, writing in Assays, names Duncan “one of the most accomplished, one of the most influential” of the postwar American poets.


By Robert Duncan:

– A Little Language
I know a little language of my cat, though Dante says
that animals have no need of speech and Nature
abhors the superfluous.   My cat is fluent.   He
converses when he wants with me.   To speak
is natural.   And whales and wolves I’ve heard
in choral soundings of the sea and air
know harmony and have an eloquence that stirs
my mind and heart—they touch the soul.   Here
Dante’s religion that would set Man apart
damns the effluence of our life from us
to build therein its powerhouse.
It’s in his animal communication Man is
true, immediate, and
in immediacy, Man is all animal.
His senses quicken in the thick of the symphony,
old circuits of animal rapture and alarm,
attentions and arousals in which an identity rearrives.
He hears
particular voices among
the concert, the slightest
rustle in the undertones,
rehearsing a nervous aptitude
yet to prove his. He sees the flick
of significant red within the rushing mass
of ruddy wilderness and catches the glow
of a green shirt
to delite him in a glowing field of green
—it speaks to him—
and in the arc of the spectrum color
speaks to color.
The rainbow articulates
a promise he remembers
he but imitates
in noises that he makes,
this speech in every sense
the world surrounding him.
He picks up on the fugitive tang of mace
amidst the savory mass,
and taste in evolution is an everlasting key.
There is a pun of scents in what makes sense.
Myrrh it may have been,
the odor of the announcement that filld the house.
He wakes from deepest sleep
upon a distant signal and waits
as if crouching, springs
to life.
[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons.[end-div]

MondayPoem: A Sunset of the City

Labor Day traditionally signals the end of summer. A poem by Gwendolyn Brooks sets the mood. She was the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.
[div class=attrib]By Gwendolyn Brooks:[end-div]

A Sunset of the City —

Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it? Somebody wanted to joke.

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Poetry Foundation.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Silence

A poem by Billy Collins ushers in another week. Collins served two terms as the U.S. Poet Laureate, from 2001-2003. He is known for poetry imbued with leftfield humor and deep insight.

[div]By Billy Collins:[end-div]

Silence —

There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the floor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Poetry Foundation.[end-div]

MondayPoem: The Brain — is wider than the Sky

Ushering in this week’s focus on the brain and the cognitive sciences is an Emily Dickinson poem.

Born is Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, Emily Dickinson is often characterized as having lead a very private and eccentric life. While few of her poems were published during her lifetime, Emily Dickinson is now regarded as a major American poet for her innovative, pre-modernist poetry.
[div class=attrib]By Emily Dickinson:[end-div]

The Brain is wider than the Sky

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —
For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —
And they will differ — if they do —
As Syllable from Sound —

More on Emily Dickinson from the Poetry Foundation.

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University.[end-div]

MondayPoem: Three Six Five Zero

A poignant, poetic view of our relationships, increasingly mediated and recalled for us through technology. Conor O’Callaghan’s poem ushers in this week’s collection of articles at theDiagonal focused on technology.

Conor O’Callaghan is an Irish poet. He teaches at Wake Forest University and Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom.

[div class=attrib]By Conor O’Callaghan, courtesy of Poetry Foundation:[end-div]

Three Six Five Zero

I called up tech and got the voicemail code.
It’s taken me this long to find my feet.
Since last we spoke that evening it has snowed.

Fifty-four new messages. Most are old
and blinking into a future months complete.
I contacted tech to get my voicemail code

to hear your voice, not some bozo on the road
the week of Thanksgiving dubbing me his sweet
and breaking up and bleating how it snowed

the Nashville side of Chattanooga and slowed
the beltway to a standstill. The radio said sleet.
The kid in tech sent on my voicemail code.

I blew a night on lightening the system’s load,
woke to white enveloping the trees, the street
that’s blanked out by my leaving. It had snowed.

Lately others’ pasts will turn me cold.
I heard out every message, pressed delete.
I’d happily forget my voice, the mail, its code.
We spoke at last that evening. Then it snowed.

MondayPoem: Life Cycle of Common Man

Twice Poet Laureate of the United States, Howard Nemerov, catalogs the human condition in his work “Life Cycle of Common Man”.

[div class=attrib]By Howard Nemerov, courtesy of Poetry Foundation:[end-div]

Life Cycle of Common Man

Roughly figured, this man of moderate habits,
This average consumer of the middle class,
Consumed in the course of his average life span
Just under half a million cigarettes,
Four thousand fifths of gin and about
A quarter as much vermouth; he drank
Maybe a hundred thousand cups of coffee,
And counting his parents’ share it cost
Something like half a million dollars
To put him through life. How many beasts
Died to provide him with meat, belt and shoes
Cannot be certainly said.
But anyhow,
It is in this way that a man travels through time,
Leaving behind him a lengthening trail
Of empty bottles and bones, of broken shoes,
Frayed collars and worn out or outgrown
Diapers and dinnerjackets, silk ties and slickers.

Given the energy and security thus achieved,
He did . . . ? What? The usual things, of course,
The eating, dreaming, drinking and begetting,
And he worked for the money which was to pay
For the eating, et cetera, which were necessary
If he were to go on working for the money, et cetera,
But chiefly he talked. As the bottles and bones
Accumulated behind him, the words proceeded
Steadily from the front of his face as he
Advanced into the silence and made it verbal.
Who can tally the tale of his words? A lifetime
Would barely suffice for their repetition;
If you merely printed all his commas the result
Would be a very large volume, and the number of times
He said “thank you” or “very little sugar, please,”
Would stagger the imagination. There were also
Witticisms, platitudes, and statements beginning
“It seems to me” or “As I always say.”
Consider the courage in all that, and behold the man
Walking into deep silence, with the ectoplastic
Cartoon’s balloon of speech proceeding
Steadily out of the front of his face, the words
Borne along on the breath which is his spirit
Telling the numberless tale of his untold Word
Which makes the world his apple, and forces him to eat.

[div class=attrib]Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977).[end-div]

MondayPoem: Starlight

Monday’s poem authored by William Meredith, was selected for it is in keeping with our cosmology theme this week.

William Meredith was born in New York City in 1919. He studied English at Princeton University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. His senior thesis focused on the poetry of Robert Frost, a major influence for Meredith throughout his career.
[div class=attrib]By William Meredith, courtesy of Poets.org:[end-div]

Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.

But this is not so. Indeed, we have proved fools
When it comes to myths and images. A few
Old bestiaries, pantheons and tools
Translated to the heavens years ago—
Scales and hunter, goat and horologe—are all
That save us when, time and again, our systems fall.

And what would we do, given a fresh sky
And our dearth of image? Our fears, our few beliefs
Do not have shapes. They are like that astral way
We have called milky, vague stars and star-reefs
That were shapeless even to the fecund eye of myth—
Surely these are no forms to start a zodiac with.

To keep the sky free of luxurious shapes
Is an occupation for most of us, the mind
Free of luxurious thoughts. If we choose to escape,
What venial constellations will unwind
Around a point of light, and then cannot be found
Another night or by another man or from other ground.

As for me, I would find faces there,
Or perhaps one face I have long taken for guide;
Far-fetched, maybe, like Cygnus, but as fair,
And a constellation anyone could read
Once it was pointed out; an enlightenment of night,
The way the pronoun you will turn dark verses bright.

MondayPoem: August 6th

In keeping with our atoms and all things atomic theme this week, Monday’s poem is authored by Sankichi Toge, Japanese poet and peace activist.

Twenty-four-year-old Sankichi Toge was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on his city. Sankichi Toge began writing poems as a teenager; his first collection of poetry entitled, “Genbaku shishu (“Poems of the Atomic Bomb”) was published in 1951. He died at the age of 36 in Hiroshima.

His poem August 6th is named for the day in August 1945 on which the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

August 6th

How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In a moment thirty thousand people ceased to be
The cries of fifty thousand killed
Through yellow smoke whirling into light
Buildings split, bridges collapsed
Crowded trams burnt as they rolled about
Hiroshima, all full of boundless heaps of embers
Soon after, skin dangling like rags
With hands on breasts
Treading upon the spilt brains
Wearing shreds of burnt cloth round their loins
There came numberless lines of the naked
all crying
Bodies on the parade ground, scattered like
jumbled stone images
Crowds in piles by the river banks
loaded upon rafts fastened to shore
Turned by and by into corpses
under the scorching sun
in the midst of flame
tossing against the evening sky
Round about the street where mother and
brother were trapped alive under the fallen house
The fire-flood shifted on
On beds of filth along the Armory floor
Heaps, God knew who they were….
Heaps of schoolgirls lying in refuse
Pot-bellied, one-eyed
with half their skin peeled off, bald
The sun shone, and nothing moved
but the buzzing flies in the metal basins
Reeking with stagnant odor
How can I forget that stillness
Prevailing over the city of three hundred thousand?
Amidst that calm
How can I forget the entreaties
Of the departed wife and child
Through their orbs of eyes
Cutting through our minds and souls?

MondayPoem: The Enigma of the Infinitesimal

Monday’s poem comes from Mark Strand over a Slate. Strand was United States Poet Laureate during 1990-91. He won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Blizzard of One”.

The poem is austere and spare yet is simply evocative. Is Strand conjuring the spirits and ghosts of our imagination? Perhaps not. These “[l]overs of the in-between” are more likely to be the creative misfits who shy away from attention and who don’t conform to our societal norms. Bloggers perhaps?

[div class=attrib]By Mark Strand for Slate:[end-div]

You’ve seen them at dusk, walking along the shore, seen them standing in doorways, leaning from windows, or straddling the slow moving edge of a shadow. Lovers of the in-between, they are neither here nor there, neither in nor out. Poor souls, they are driven to experience the impossible. Even at night, they lie in bed with one eye closed and the other open, hoping to catch the last second of consciousness and the first of sleep, to inhabit that no man’s land, that beautiful place, to behold as only a god might, the luminous conjunction of nothing and all.

[div class=attrib]Listen to the author read his poem at theSource here.[end-div]

MondayPoem: If You Forget Me

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)

[div class=attrib]If You Forget Me, Pablo Neruda[end-div]

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

MondayPoem: Let America Be America Again

[div class=attrib]Let America Be America Again, Langston Hughes[end-div]

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

MondayPoem: Morning In The Burned House

[div class=attrib]Morning In The Burned House, Margaret Atwood[end-div]

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can’t see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child’s feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

MondayPoem: The Lie

[div class=attrib]By Robert Pinsky for Slate:[end-div]

Denunciation abounds, in its many forms: snark (was that word invented or fostered in a poem, Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark“?), ranking-out, calling-out, bringing-down, blowing-up, flaming, scorching, trashing, negative campaigning, skepticism, exposure, nailing, shafting, finishing, diminishing, down-blogging. Aggressive moral denunciation—performed with varying degrees of justice and skill in life, in print, on the Web, in politics, on television and radio, in book-reviewing, in sports, in courtrooms and committee meetings—generates dismay and glee in its audience. Sometimes, for many of us, dismay and glee simultaneously, in an uneasy combination.

A basic form of denunciation is indicated by the slightly archaic but useful expression giving the lie.

No one has ever given the lie more memorably, explicitly, and universally than Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) in “The Lie.” The poem, among other things, demonstrates the power of repetition and refrain. The power, too, of plain rather than fancy or arcane words—for example, blabbing.

I remember being enchanted—a bit excessively, I now think—when I first read “The Lie” by a single wonderful image early on: “Say to the court it glows/ And shines like rotten wood.” The mental picture of an opalescent, greenish glow on a moldy softwood plank—that phosphorescent decay—knocked me out (to use an expression from those student days). It was a period when images were highly prized, and my teachers encouraged me to prize images, the deeper the better. Well, though I may have been unreflectingly guided by fashion, at least I had the brains to appreciate this great image of Raleigh’s.

But now that superb rotten wood feels like an incidental or ancillary beauty to me, one moment in a larger force. What propels this poem is not its images but its masterful breaking down of an idea into social and moral components: the brilliant, considered division into hammer-blows of example and refrain while the pace and content vary around that central pulse. “Driving home the point” could not have a more apt demonstration.

Raleigh’s manic, extended thoroughness; his resourceful rhyming; his relentless, wide gaze that takes in love and zeal, wit and wisdom, and, ultimately, also includes his own soul’s “blabbing”—this is form as audible conviction: conviction of a degree and kind attainable only by a poem.

“The Lie”

Go, soul, the body’s guest,
….Upon a thankless arrant;
Fear not to touch the best;
….The truth shall be thy warrant:
….….Go, since I needs must die,
….….And give the world the lie.

Say to the court it glows
….And shines like rotten wood,
Say to the church it shows
….What’s good, and doth no good:
….….If church and court reply,
….….Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates, they live
….Acting, by others’ action;
Not lov’d unless they give;
….Not strong, but by affection.
….….If potentates reply,
….….Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
….That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition;
….Their practice only hate.
….….And if they once reply,
….….Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
….They beg for more by spending,
Who in their greatest cost
….Like nothing but commending.
….….And if they make reply,
….….Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
….Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it meets but motion;
….Tell flesh it is but dust:
….….And wish them not reply,
….….For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
….Tell honour how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
….Tell favour how it falters:
….….And as they shall reply,
….….Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
….In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
….Herself in over-wiseness:
….….And when they do reply,
….….Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
….Tell skill it is prevention;
Tell charity of coldness;
….Tell law it is contention:
….….And as they do reply,
….….So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
….Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
….Tell justice of delay:
….….And if they will reply,
….….Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
….But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
….And stand too much on seeming.
….….If arts and schools reply,
….….Give arts and schools the lie.

Tell faith it’s fled the city;
….Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood, shakes off pity;
….Tell virtue, least preferreth.
….….And if they do reply,
….….Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
….Commanded thee, done blabbing;
Because to give the lie
….Deserves no less than stabbing:
….….Stab at thee, he that will,
….….No stab thy soul can kill!

—Sir Walter Raleigh

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]