Favourite Poems

“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.”

— W. S. Merwin

Bouquet

Gather quickly
Out of darkness
All the songs you know
And throw them at the sun
Before they melt
Like snow.

Langston Hughes, USA (1902-1967)

She Was A Phantom Of Delight

She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment’s ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin-liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food,
Fro transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

And now I see with eyes serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill,
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.

William Wordsworth, England (1770-1850)

The Pride That Comes After

It knows it all, it knows it all,
The world of groans and laughter,
It sneers of pride before a fall,
But the bitter pride comes after:
So leave me and I’ll seek you not,
So seek me and you’ll find me—
But till I know your hand-grip’s true
I’ll stand with hands behind me.

It knows it all, it knows it all,
The world of lies and sorrow—
It prates of pride before a fall,
And of the humble morrow;
But shame and blame are but a name,
Oh, heart that’s hurt past curing!
We’ll drink to-night the sinner’s pride,
The pride that’s most enduring.

They know it all, they know it all,
The curs that pass the sentence.
They preach of pride before a fall
And bitter black repentance:
So leave me when my star is set,
I’ll glory that you leave me,
While one has pride to love me yet
There’s nought on earth shall grieve me.

Henry Lawson, Australia (1867-1922)

Auguries of Innocence (Excerpt)

The poison of the honey-bee
Is the artist’s jealousy.
The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

William Blake, England (1757-1857)

The Listeners

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Walter de la Mare, England (1873-1958)

The Negro Mother

Children, I come back today
To tell you a story of the long dark way
That I had to climb, that I had to know
In order that the race might live and grow.
Look at my face — dark as the night —
Yet shining like the sun with love’s true light.
I am the dark girl who crossed the red sea
Carrying in my body the seed of the free.
I am the woman who worked in the field
Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield.
I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave —
Children sold away from me, I’m husband sold, too.
No safety , no love, no respect was I due.

Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth .
God put a dream like steel in my soul.
Now, through my children, I’m reaching the goal.

Now, through my children, young and free,
I realized the blessing deed to me.
I couldn’t read then. I couldn’t write.
I had nothing, back there in the night.
Sometimes, the valley was filled with tears,
But I kept trudging on through the lonely years.
Sometimes, the road was hot with the sun,
But I had to keep on till my work was done:
I had to keep on! No stopping for me —
I was the seed of the coming Free.
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother
Deep in my breast — the Negro mother.
I had only hope then , but now through you,
Dark ones of today, my dreams must come true:
All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow —
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver’s track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life —
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs —
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro Mother.

Langston Hughes, USA (1902-1967)

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You

I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.
I love you only because it’s you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.
Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.
In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

Pablo Neruda, Chile (1904-1973)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A free bird leaps on the back
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange suns rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, USA

An Evening

A sunset’s mounded cloud;
A diamond evening-star;
Sad blue hills afar;
Love in his shroud.

Scarcely a tear to shed;
Hardly a word to say;
The end of a summer day;
Sweet Love dead.

Gwendolyn Brooks, USA (1917-2000)

A Lullaby

In the bay the boats danced
A lullaby, in the evening
Accompanied by the waves
Happily rocking under a shining moon.

From the high cliffs above
I was enchanted by these dancers
While the tolling of the bell
Broke the stillness of the evening.

And I longed to be once more
Cuddled like a new born
And fall into a sweet slumber
In the arms of poetry

Charles Casha, Malta

Life in a Bottle

Escape me?
Never—
Beloved!
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again,—
So the chace takes up one’s life, that’s all.
While, look but once from your farthest bound
At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me—
Ever
Removed!

Robert Browning, England (1812-1889)

There is Another Sky

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields –
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

Emily Dickinson, USA (1830-1886)

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Audene, England (1907-1973)

In the Morning of Life

In the morning of life, when its cares are unknown,
And its pleasures in all their new lustre begin,
When we live in a bright-beaming world of our own,
And the light that surrounds us is all from within;
Oh ‘tis not, believe me, in that happy time
We can love, as in hours of less transport we may; —
Of our smiles, of our hopes, ‘tis the gay sunny prime,
But affection is truest when these fade away.

When we see the first glory of youth pass us by,
Like a leaf on the stream that will never return,
When our cup, which had sparkled with pleasure so high,
First tastes of the other, the dark-flowing urn;
Then, then in the time when affection holds sway
With a depth and a tenderness joy never knew;
Love, nursed among pleasures, is faithless as they,
But the love born of Sorrow, like Sorrow, is true.

In climes full of sunshine, though splendid the flowers,
Their sighs have no freshness, their odour no worth;
‘Tis the cloud and the mist of our own Isle of showers
That call the rich spirit of fragrancy forth.
So it is not ‘mid splendour, prosperity, mirth,
That the depth of Love’s generous spirit appears;
To the sunshine of smiles it may first owe its birth,
But the soul of its sweetness is drawn out by tears.

Thomas Moore, Ireland (1779-1852)

Happiness

Happiness, to some, elation;
Is, to others, mere stagnation.
Days of passive somnolence,
At its wildest, indolence.
Hours of empty quietness,
No delight, and no distress.
Happiness to me is wine,
Effervescent, superfine.
Full of tang and fiery pleasure,
Far too hot to leave me leisure
For a single thought beyond it.
Drunk! Forgetful! This the bond: it
Means to give one’s soul to gain
Life’s quintessence. Even pain
Pricks to livelier living, then
Wakes the nerves to laugh again,
Rapture’s self is three parts sorrow.
Although we must die to-morrow,
Losing every thought but this;
Torn, triumphant, drowned in bliss.
Happiness: We rarely feel it.
I would buy it, beg it, steal it,
Pay in coins of dripping blood
For this one transcendent good.

Amy Lowell, USA (1874-1925)

Fishbones Dreaming

Fishbones lay in the smelly bin.
He was a head, a backbone and a tail.
Soon the cats would be in for him.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was fat, and hot on a plate.
Beside green beans, with lemon juice
squeezed on him. And a man with a knife
and fork raised, about to eat him.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was frozen in the freezer.
With lamb cutlets and minced beef and prawns.
Three month he was in there.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was squirming in a net,
with thousands of other fish, on the deck
of a boat. And the rain falling
Wasn’t wet enough to breathe in.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was darting through the sea,
past crabs and jellyfish, and others
likes himself. Or surfacing to jump for flies
And feel the sun on his face.

He liked to be this way.
He dreamed hard to try and stay there.

Matthew Sweeney, Ireland

Breakfast

Two forks, two spoons, two knives,
Coffee perking, bacon frying,
The breakfasts of our life beginning
Midst promises of love undying.

Three forks, three spoons, three knives,
Three heads are bowed for grace.
An impish cherub, golden haired,
In our hearts now fills a place.

Four forks, four spoons, four knives,
A happy hubbub starts our day.
Four voices blend in breakfast chatter,
Then off to work and school and play.

Off to work and school and play,
Breakfasts pass, and children grow.
The little birds must make new nests;
Breakfasts pass, and children go.

Each day still dawns with promise new,
And breakfast starts our daily lives.
But it’s quieter now at breakfast time —
Two forks, two spoons, two knives.

Anna Jean Allen

A Man Young And Old: III. The Mermaid

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

William Butler Yeats, Ireland (1865-1939)

Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats, Ireland (1865-1939)

Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth, England (1770-1850)

Life is Fine

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.

But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.

But it was High up there! It was high!

So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love—
But for livin’ I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

Langston Hughes, USA (1902-1967)

The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

small, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving
you are arriving.

David Whyte, England

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon, England (1869-1943)

I Taught Myself To Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life’s decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.

Anna Akhmatova, Russia (1889-1966)

The Room of My Life

Here,
in the room of my life
the objects keep changing.
Ashtrays to cry into,
the suffering brother of the wood walls,
the forty-eight keys of the typewriter
each an eyeball that is never shut,
the books, each a contestant in a beauty contest,
the black chair, a dog coffin made of Naugahyde,
the sockets on the wall
waiting like a cave of bees,
the gold rug
a conversation of heels and toes,
the fireplace
a knife waiting for someone to pick it up,
the sofa, exhausted with the exertion of a whore,
the phone
two flowers taking root in its crotch,
the doors
opening and closing like sea clams,
the lights
poking at me,
lighting up both the soil and the laugh.
The windows,
the starving windows
that drive the trees like nails into my heart.
Each day I feed the world out there
although birds explode
right and left.
I feed the world in here too,
offering the desk puppy biscuits.
However, nothing is just what it seems to be.
My objects dream and wear new costumes,
compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands
and the sea that bangs in my throat.

Anne Sexton, USA (1928-1974)

Who Ever Loved That Loved Not at First Sight?

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;

And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

Christopher Marlowe, England (1563-1593)

The Passionate Shepherd To His Love

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
And all the craggy mountain yields.

There we will sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses,
With a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool,
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

Christopher Marlowe, England (1563-1593)

Camomile Tea

Outside the sky is light with stars;
There’s a hollow roaring from the sea.
And, alas! for the little almond flowers,
The wind is shaking the almond tree.

How little I thought, a year ago,
In the horrible cottage upon the Lee
That he and I should be sitting so
And sipping a cup of camomile tea.

Light as feathers the witches fly,
The horn of the moon is plain to see;
By a firefly under a jonquil flower
A goblin toasts a bumble-bee.

We might be fifty, we might be five,
So snug, so compact, so wise are we!
Under the kitchen-table leg
My knee is pressing against his knee.

Our shutters are shut, the fire is low,
The tap is dripping peacefully;
The saucepan shadows on the wall
Are black and round and plain to see.

Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand (1888-1923)

Love is Enough

Love is enough: though the world be a-waning,
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,
And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter:
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.

William Morris, England (1834-1896)

Life Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes, USA (1902-1967)

Nationality

I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate,
My son is still my son.

All men at God’s round table sit,
and all men must be fed;
But this loaf in my hand,
This loaf is my son’s bread.

Dame Mary Gilmore, Australia (1865-1962)

My Country

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die-
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold-
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land-
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand-
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

Dorothea Mackellar, Australia (1885-1968)

The Instinct of Hope

Is there another world for this frail dust
To warm with life and be itself again?
Something about me daily speaks there must,
And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?
‘Tis nature’s prophesy that such will be,
And everything seems struggling to explain
The close sealed volume of its mystery.
Time wandering onward keeps its usual pace
As seeming anxious of eternity,
To meet that calm and find a resting place.
E’en the small violet feels a future power
And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,
And surely man is no inferior flower
To die unworthy of a second spring?

John Clare, England (1793-1864)

In the Desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

Stephen Crane, USA (1871-1900)

Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

Louis MacNeice, Ireland (1907-1963)

To Be In Love

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.

Gwendolyn Brooks, USA (1917-2000)

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

D.H. Lawrence, England (1885-1930)

The Fish

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled and barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Elizabeth Bishop, USA (1911-1979)

The Poor Children

Take heed of this small child of earth;
He is great; he hath in him God most high.
Children before their fleshly birth
Are lights alive in the blue sky.

In our light bitter world of wrong
They come; God gives us them awhile.
His speech is in their stammering tongue,
And his forgiveness in their smile.

Their sweet light rests upon our eyes.
Alas! their right to joy is plain.
If they are hungry Paradise
Weeps, and, if cold, Heaven thrills with pain.

The want that saps their sinless flower
Speaks judgment on sin’s ministers.
Man holds an angel in his power.
Ah! deep in Heaven what thunder stirs,

When God seeks out these tender things
Whom in the shadow where we sleep
He sends us clothed about with wings,
And finds them ragged babes that weep!

Victor Hugo, France (1802-1885)

When the Children Come Home

On a lonely selection far out in the West
An old woman works all the day without rest,
And she croons, as she toils ‘neath the sky’s glassy dome,
`Sure I’ll keep the ould place till the childer come home.’

She mends all the fences, she grubs, and she ploughs,
She drives the old horse and she milks all the cows,
And she sings to herself as she thatches the stack,
`Sure I’ll keep the ould place till the childer come back.’

It is five weary years since her old husband died;
And oft as he lay on his deathbed he sighed
`Sure one man can bring up ten children, he can,
An’ it’s strange that ten sons cannot keep one old man.’

Whenever the scowling old sundowners come,
And cunningly ask if the master’s at home,
`Be off,’ she replies, `with your blarney and cant,
Or I’ll call my son Andy; he’s workin’ beyant.’

‘Git out,’ she replies, though she trembles with fear,
For she lives all alone and no neighbours are near;
But she says to herself, when she’s like to despond,
That the boys are at work in the paddock beyond.

Ah, none of her children need follow the plough,
And some have grown rich in the city ere now;
Yet she says: `They might come when the shearing is done,
And I’ll keep the ould place if it’s only for one.’

Henry Lawson, Australia (1867-1922)

Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson, USA (1830-1886)

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Edward Lear, England (1812-1888)

As One Listens to the Rain

Listen to me as one listens to the rain,
not attentive, not distracted,
light footsteps, thin drizzle,
water that is air, air that is time,
the day is still leaving,
the night has yet to arrive,
figurations of mist
at the turn of the corner,
figurations of time
at the bend in this pause,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
without listening, hear what I say
with eyes open inward, asleep
with all five senses awake,
it’s raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables,
air and water, words with no weight:
what we are and are,
the days and years, this moment,
weightless time and heavy sorrow,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
wet asphalt is shining,
steam rises and walks away,
night unfolds and looks at me,
you are you and your body of steam,
you and your face of night,
you and your hair, unhurried lightning,
you cross the street and enter my forehead,
footsteps of water across my eyes,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the asphalt’s shining, you cross the street,
it is the mist, wandering in the night,
it is the night, asleep in your bed,
it is the surge of waves in your breath,
your fingers of water dampen my forehead,
your fingers of flame burn my eyes,
your fingers of air open eyelids of time,
a spring of visions and resurrections,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the years go by, the moments return,
do you hear the footsteps in the next room?
not here, not there: you hear them
in another time that is now,
listen to the footsteps of time,
inventor of places with no weight, nowhere,
listen to the rain running over the terrace,
the night is now more night in the grove,
lightning has nestled among the leaves,
a restless garden adrift-go in,
your shadow covers this page.

Octavio Paz, Mexico (1914-1998)

Dream Land

Where sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep,
She sleeps a charmed sleep:
Awake her not.
Led by a single star,
She came from very far
To seek where shadows are
Her pleasant lot.
She left the rosy morn,
She left the fields of corn,
For twilight cold and lorn
And water springs.
Through sleep, as through a veil,
She sees the sky look pale,
And hears the nightingale
That sadly sings.
Rest, rest, a perfect rest
Shed over brow and breast;
Her face is toward the west,
The purple land.
She cannot see the grain
Ripening on hill and plain;
She cannot feel the rain
Upon her hand.
Rest, rest, for evermore
Upon a mossy shore;
Rest, rest at the heart’s core
Till time shall cease:
Sleep that no pain shall wake;
Night that no morn shall break
Till joy shall overtake
Her perfect peace

Christina Rossetti, England (1830-1894)

On the Ning Nang Nong

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can’t catch ‘em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

Spike Milligan, British India (1918-2002)

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

John Keats, England (1795-1821)

Somewhere Friendly

Somewhere friendly
the old dog staggers to his feet
and the mange leaves him forever,
quits his hide like a dream,
and his cataracted eyeballs quicken and shine
wall flower-velvet-brown
and the youthful saliva returns
and rolls like quicksilver in the dust by the road’s-edge
and his teeth glisten bonewards.

Somewhere friendly
the curséd child rolls over
and his stumps shoot forth hands like the frangipani tree
and his hands unspiral like petals, only more deeply perfumed,
and he breaks out of his bottle with a glad cry,
rises up in his resurrected wholeness from the pages of the pathology text-book, saying:
Mum, it’s me, me

Somewhere friendly
the bride on whom the sun
feels her eye-lids waver and open
and she brushes the pebbled glass from her brow
and slips out of the rustling wreckage, humming, remembering
what morning it is and with whom and why
and she takes out the torn gown and assumes it,
and he smiles in the mirror at her over his shoulder
and she never thinks it unlucky.

Bruce Dawe, Australia

Romance

Romance, who loves to nod and sing
With drowsy head and folded wing
Among the green leaves as they shake
Far down within some shadowy lake,
To me a painted paroquet
Hath been—most familiar bird—
Taught me my alphabet to say,
To lisp my very earliest word
While in the wild wood I did lie,
A child—with a most knowing eye.

Of late, eternal condor years
So shake the very Heaven on high
With tumult as they thunder by,
I have no time for idle cares
Through gazing on the unquiet sky;
And when an hour with calmer wings
Its down upon my spirit flings,
That little time with lyre and rhyme
To while away—forbidden things—
My heart would feel to be a crime
Unless it trembled with the strings.

Edgar Allan Poe, USA (1809-1849)

Happiness

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Raymond Carver, USA (1938-1988)

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou, USA

A Dog Has Died

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Pablo Neruda, Chile (1904-1973)

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

John Keats, England (1795-1821)

Whispering in Wattle–Boughs

OH, gaily sings the bird! and the wattle-boughs are stirred
And rustled by the scented breath of Spring;
Oh, the dreary wistful longing! Oh, the faces that are thronging!
Oh, the voices that are vaguely whispering!

Oh, tell me, father mine, ere the good ship crossed the brine,
On the gangway one mute handgrip we exchanged,
Do you, past the grave, employ, for your stubborn reckless boy,
Those petitions that in life were ne’er estranged?

Oh, tell me, sister dear—parting word and parting tear
Never passed between us: let me bear the blame—
Are you living, girl, or dead? bitter tears since then I’ve shed
For the lips that lisped with mine a mother’s name.

Oh, tell me, ancient friend, ever ready to defend
In our boyhood, at the base of life’s long hill,
Are you waking yet or sleeping? Have you left this vale of weeping,
Or do you, like your comrade, linger still?

Oh, whisper, buried love, is there rest and peace above?—
There is little hope or comfort here below;
On your sweet face lies the mould, and your bed is strait and cold—
Near the harbour where the sea-tides ebb and flow.

All silent—they are dumb—and the breezes go and come
With an apathy that mocks at man’s distress;
Laugh, scoffer, while you may! I could bow me down and pray
For an answer that might stay my bitterness.

Oh, harshly screams the bird, and the wattle-bloom is stirred;
There’s a sullen weird-like whisper in the bough:
‘Aye, kneel and pray and weep, but HIS BELOVED SLEEP
CAN NEVER BE DISTURBED BY SUCH AS THOU!’

Adam Lindsay Gordon, Australia (1904-1973)

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