- Introduction to Poetry
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slideor press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
– Billy Collins, from The Apple that Astonished Paris (University of Arkansas Press, 1988)
When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, ‘Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.’
– Robert Lee Frost, from West-Running Brook (Henry Holt and Co, 1928)
- A Visitor
My father, for example,
who was young once
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell openand I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.
– Mary Oliver, from Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
– Billy Collins, from Questions About Angels (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991)
- The Peace of Wild Things
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day–blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)
- The Opening of Eyes
The Opening of Eyes
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.
– David Whyte, from Songs for Coming Home (Many Rivers Press, 1984)
- Mysteries, Yes
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
– Mary Oliver, from Evidence (Beacon Press, 2009)
- To Be of Use
To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
– Marge Piercy, from Circles on the Water (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)
- Unfold Your Own Myth
Unfold Your Own Myth
Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who like Jacob, blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up a flowing prophet?
Or, like Moses, goes for fire and finds what burns inside the sunrise?
Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there is a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the Prophet and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere.
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
Now there is a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he is wealthy.
But do not be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth,
without complicated explanations,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.
Start walking toward Shams, the teacher, the sun.
Your legs will get heavy and tired.
Then comes a moment of feeling the wings you have grown,
- A Thing of Beauty (Endymion)
A Thing of Beauty (Endymion)
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness 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–darkn’d 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;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
– John Keats
- From Blossoms
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
– Li-Young Lee, from Rose (BOA Editions, 1986)
- God’s Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
- it may not always be so
it may not always be so
it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch
another’s, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another’s face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;
if this should be, i say if this should be–
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that i may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.
– E.E. Cummings, from 100 Selected Poems (Grove Press, 1959)
- My Eyes So Soft
My Eyes So Soft
Dont surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My need of God
- God Says Yes To Me
God Says Yes To Me
I asked God if it was OK to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was OK to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
and is it even OK if I don’t paragraph my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
– Kaylin Haught, from The Palm of Your Hand (Tilbury House Publishers, 1995)
- There is Some Kiss We Want with Our Whole Lives
There is Some Kiss We Want with Our Whole Lives
Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets
that serve to cover, then are taken off.
and the beautiful naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.
The hurt you embrace
Call it to your arms where it can change.