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Category: Favorite Poems/Poets


Sympathy

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
    When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
    When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
    Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
    And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
***
Poetry notes:
Paul Laurence. Dunbar, "“Sympathy.”" from The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, )
Source: Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2004)

A Smile To Remember | Charles Bukowski
1920-1994

we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, "be happy Henry!"
and she was right: it's better to be happy if you
can
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn't
understand what was attacking him from within.my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: "Henry, smile!
why don't you ever smile?"

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
smiled

***

Charles Bukowski [1920-1994] was one of the most famous of the American poets of his time. He was first published in his 20s, but gave up serious writing for the world of work and bars. He spent a lot of time roaming from job to job living in rooming houses from the East coast to the West coast before joining the United States Postal Service in Los Angeles. His life at that time bordered on insanity and death, two prevalent themes in his writing.

***


Eve Remembering | Toni Morrison
1931-2019

1

I tore from a limb fruit that had lost its green.
My hands were warmed by the heat of an apple
Fire red and humming.
I bit sweet power to the core.
How can I say what it was like?
The taste! The taste undid my eyes
And led me far from the gardens planted for a child
To wildernesses deeper than any master’s call.

2

Now these cool hands guide what they once caressed;
Lips forget what they have kissed.
My eyes now pool their light
Better the summit to see.

3

I would do it all over again:
Be the harbor and set the sail,
Loose the breeze and harness the gale,
Cherish the harvest of what I have been.
Better the summit to scale.
Better the summit to be.


***

Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. She received a BA from Howard University in 1953 and an MA from Cornell University in 1955. She was the author of one volume of poetry, Five Poems (Rainmaker Editions, 2002), which features poems alongside illustrations by Kara Walker. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. She died on August 5, 2019 in New York.

***


Jabberwocky | Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe. 

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought. 

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came! 

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

 “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy. 

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


***

Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky appeared in 1871 when Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There was published.  Many of the words in the poem are nonsense words of Carroll’s own invention, such as “galumphing.”  Many of us share Alice’s impression after reading it:

“It seems very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand!  Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”

Illustration credit:  "Beware the Jabberwock, my Son" by John Tenniel

***


Denunciation | Marie Under

I cry aloud with all my people’s mouths,
our land is smitten by a plague of fear and lead,
our land is shadowed by the gallows tree
our land   a common graveyard, huge with dead.

Who’ll come to help? Right here, at present, now!
Because the patient’s weak, has lost his hold.
But, like the call of birds, my shouting fades
in emptiness: the world is arrogant and cold.

The sighing of the old, the baby’s cry —
do they all run to sand, illusion, fail?
Men, women groan like wounded deer
to those in power all this is just a fairy-tale.

Dark is the world’s eye, its ear is deaf,
the powerful lost in madness or stupidity.
Compassion’s only felt by those whom suffering breaks,
and sufferers alone have hearts like you and me.

***

Marie Under was one of the greatest Estonian poets ever lived;  EstonianWorld.com publishes six of her poems in full.

Who was Marie Under and why is she so important for Estonians? Like many Estonian cultural greats of the turbulent 20th century, who lived during the oppressive Soviet occupation, her story is full both of joy and sadness.

Born into the family of a teacher from Hiiumaa in 1883, she showed a talent for literature from an early age, starting to read at four and write her first poems at fourteen. She studied German, French and Russian in her early years at a private German Language School (her education later helped her translate German poetry and drama into Estonian).

After brief stints working at the newspaper Teataja and filling her free time writing poetry in German (which, at the time, was considered the most important language in Estonia, due to the country’s history), she got married in 1902 and lived in Moscow for four years. During this period, it was the Estonian artist, Ants Laikmaa, who convinced her to start writing her poetry in Estonian. It is also believed that Laikmaa fell in love with her and he also painted many portraits of the poetess.  -estonianworld.com

Cover: Marie Under (portrait by Ants Laikmaa).


Dead Drift | by Jude Nutter

Water shelving off into darkness and the mind,
which accepts the river’s depth, is perplexed
by the eyes’ denial. Flat as shadow

on grass you lie, watching the mouth
of the net held close to the bank, waiting
for a wide-open, astonished eye, for a wedge
of head to cohere out of silt and present
itself, as all beings born into time
do, with defiance and out of matter
both moving and held
motionless in suspension. Then the quick

veer, the glint-thrill, the solid, flexed silm
of a body at the surface as it turns. After that,
the backwash, a sluggish roil, the vane of a tail

receding. Where was I, you think, before I
was suddenly here – cleaved cell, a gyre

of code unlocked? In the net’s uneasy
alchemy each brown trout
rests, finning in place, nose to the current,
until your father, who caught each fish and slipped
each hook and holds the net, submerges

its rim and decants each life back
into the flow of the river – not a fish, not a trout, no
nameable shape – just a finned smear, a flare
of copper. Then nothing but your own reflection
restored to the water’s surface as the water
restores its mirror. Early evening, a sudden

coolness filming the skin and, as if
some marvellous army has placed its shield wall
to rest, canted sunlight falling
in blazons on the water. Here, for a while, before

humping north to face the tribes
of Caledonia, a small and weary detachment
from the Ninth Legion of Rome did
place their shields and their weapons down,
right here, on the banks of the Wharfe,
and named their settlement Calcaria, meaning
lime. The pale blocks of empire quarried, right here,
by slaves, on territory stolen from the Celtic tribes,
on the great north road to Eboracum.
But before all this – before the Brigantes

and Romans and Vikings and French, before flints
and axes and spear blades; before the age
of long barrows and dolmens; before the first
brattle of war and occupation and everyadvance and obliteration of history, there was stone
and the stone’s own story of molluscs and forams
and corals. Evidence of oceans, of time’s
crushing indifference. Out in that river,

in chest-high waders, your father is loading
his rod for the cast; the loop of the line unfurls
and the fly – a Pale Evening Dun – settles
on a seam where two currents meet and

dead drifts to where eddies mark a trout
sipping mayfly from the surface. Not once
have you asked your father why, when he crimps
the barbs flat against the shank of every hook and files
them smooth and then releases
every fish he fights and fatigues and plays

into the net, he even fishes at all. Perhaps
it has something to do with how the fly
presents itself perfectly on the water; or the line,
a filament of sky come lose, unfurling. No, not the fly,
or the line, but his arm casting. No, not that: not

the casting, but the arm lifting, suddenly,
to set the hook. No not even the arm,
but the whole body reacting. A river
is a closed door that opens everywhere
and always and only into itself and in the long,
continuous lick of its current is a man
standing motionless, braced

for the strike. And before there was pigment,
before the first flute, before fire; and until all the hands
silhouetted in ochre, until the aurochs and ibex
and spotted horses walked out of the mind as the mind
unhooked itself from darkness,
there was this: the whole body reacting – animal,
instinctive. And after, not the reaction,

but the seconds it took – not many, but one; no,
not even one, not the seconds at all,
but that fraction of unmeasurable time in which

whatever was about to be done
remained undone.

Poet's Note: Stanzas 12, 13 and 15 owe a formal debt to Stephanie Brown’s poem Constellation, inspired by a line from Dan Pagis’ poem The Art of Contraction

***

Jude Nutter has won the €10,000 Moth Poetry Prize for her poem Dead Drift at a special event at Poetry Ireland in Dublin last night, as part of the Poetry Day Ireland celebrations.

Nutter, who was born in Yorkshire and grew up in Hannover in Germany, has a family home in Dingle in Kerry, and divides her time between there and Minneapolis, where she has been working since 2000.

Information and image from  The Irish Times


Favorite Poems & Poets | April 2019

Phenomenal Woman | by Maya Angelou

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 for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.  All rights reserved.  Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)


The Moon | by Jorge Luis Borges

       To Maria Kodama

There is such loneliness in that gold.
The moon of the nights is not the moon
Whom the first Adam saw.  The long centuries
Of human vigil have filled her
With ancient lament.  Look at her.
She is your mirror.

*******

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (24 August 1899 – 14 June 1986), was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish-language literature. His best-known books, Ficciones (Fictions) and El Aleph (The Aleph), published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories including dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, philosophy, and religion. His international reputation bloomed in the 1960s, that lead to his works being available in English. He became blind by the age of 55, and since he never learned braille, he became unable to read. Scholars have suggested that his blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination.


Song of Myself (1892 Version, Parts 1-3)
-By Walt Whitman

1
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
2
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
3
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.
To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.
Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.
Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.
Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen,
Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn.
Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age,
Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.
Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.
I am satisfied—I see, dance, laugh, sing;
As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with stealthy tread,
Leaving me baskets cover’d with white towels swelling the house with their plenty,
Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my eyes,
That they turn from gazing after and down the road,
And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent,
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead?
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" from Leaves of Grass (: Norton, 1973)
Source: Leaves of Grass (final "Death-Bed" edition, 1891-2) (David McKay, 1892)
Illustration by Artist Allen Crawford

Into My Heart An Air That Kills
-By Alfred Edward Housman

This poem, taken from A. E. Housman's collection The Shropshire Lad, explores the idea of nostalgia and growing old, and was the inspiration for the tragic and touching Dennis Potter plan, Blue Remembered Hills.

Into My Heart An Air That Kills

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far county blows;

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

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