Favorite poems 1


The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats


I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.



So This Is How It Is

by Melissa Stein


So this is how it is,
sitting alone at the kitchen table
under a dim light, eating a salted tomato,
reading some short story or other,
and it hits you – inside skin of the tomato
like the inside of her lips, underside of her tongue –
and you sit amazed by loss.
The warmth like folding into dough
into fullness. Honey sinking into honey.
When you want to you can’t reach that memory,
only just trace its fluid outlines before it recedes.
But this is how it hits you
all unaware and peaceful.
I could write letters. I could write
long letters. I could write her long letters
about the silence now, about the rain,
about the cacti and sand,
candles and blackberries, cool wood floors,
about telling the truth and sleeping all curled over,
cooking large soups and filling an empty room
with the living smell of bread.
Could, but won’t. Would, but can’t.
So this is how we trust each other,
how we love each other.
So this is how it is.



Unclothed, You Are True, Like One of Your Hands

by Pablo Neruda


Unclothed, you are true, like one of your hands,
lissome, terrestrial, slight, complete, translucent,
with curves of moon, and paths of apple-wood:
Unclothed you are as slender as a nude ear of corn.
Undressed you are blue as Cuban nights,
with tendrils and stars in your hair,
undressed you are wide and amber,
like summer in its chapel of gold.
Naked you are tiny as one of your fingertips,
shaped, subtle, reddening till light is born,
and you leave for the subterranean worlds,
as if down a deep tunnel of clothes and chores:
your brightness quells itself, quenches itself, strips itself down
turning, again, to being a naked hand.


The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver


Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?



Next Time

by Mary Oliver


Next time what I’d do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I’d stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.

When anyone talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I’d watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice.

And for all, I’d know more—the earth
bracing itself and soaring, the air
finding every leaf and feather over
forest and water, and for every person
the body glowing inside the clothes
like a light.


The Last Haiku of Matsuo Basho


Traveling sick;
My dreams roam
On a withered moor.




by Kyoshi Takahama

I look at the river.
A banana skin
Falls from my hand.




by Kyoshi Takahama


I caught a petal fallen from cherry tree in my hand.
Opening the fist
I find nothing there.



Interior Portrait

by Rainer Maria Rilke


You don’t survive in me
because of memories;
nor are you mine because
of a lovely longing’s strength.
What does make you present
is the ardent detour
that a slow tenderness
traces in my blood.
I do not need
to see you appear;
being born sufficed for me
to lose you a little less.


The Bagel

by David Ignatow


I stopped to pick up the bagel
rolling away in the wind,
annoyed with myself
for having dropped it
as if it were a portent.
Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.


Lost Childhood

by David Ignatow

How was it possible, I a father

yet a child of my father. I

grew panicky and thought

of running away but knew

I would be scorned for it

by my father. I stood

and listened to myself

being called Dad.

How ridiculous it sounded,

but in front of me, asking

for attention—how could I

a child, ignore this child's plea?

I lifted him into my arms

and hugged him as I would have

wanted my father to hug me,

and it was as though satisfying

my own lost childhood.



Revelation Must Be Terrible

by David Whyte


Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.

Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor

of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.

Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world

you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now

and the world steps in
to test the calm fluidity of your body
from moment to moment

as if it believed you could join
its vibrant dance
of fire and calmness and final stillness.

As if you were meant to be exactly
where you are, as if
like the dark branch of a desert river

you could flow on without a speck
of guilt and everything
everywhere would still be just as it should be.

As if your place in the world mattered
and the world could
neither speak nor hear the fullness of

its own bitter and beautiful cry
without the deep well
of your body resonating in the echo.

Knowing that it takes only 
that one, terrible
word to make the circle complete,

revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.



The Opening of Eyes

by David Whyte


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 have before 
Life is no passing memory of what has been 
Nor the remaining pages of 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

The Holy Longing

by Johann Wolfgang von Goeth (translated by Robert Bly)


Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive, 
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying, 
and finally, insane for the light, 
you are the butterfly and you are gone. 
And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, 
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.




by Fleur Adcock, Poems 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 200)


Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.


I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty,

nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy

men who need to be seen with passable women.

But now that I am in love with a place

which doesn't care how I look, or if I'm happy,


happy is how I look, and that's all.

My hair will turn grey in any case,

my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken,

and the years of work all their usual changes.

If my face is to be weather-beaten as well


that's little enough lost, a fair bargain

for a year among lakes and fells, when simply

to look out of my window at the high pass

makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what

my soul may wear over its new complexion.



The Swan

by Rainer Maria Rilke


This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying—to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day—
is like anxiously letting himself fall


into waters, which receive him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draw back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.




by Rachel Sherwood


The man who told me about war
said, it's the only thing
that keeps us busy.
I thought of your fingers
on my back
counting the vertebrae
one by one.

The only thing?




by M. L. Williams


No, not the Vermeer who painted a woman,
Head tilted into the light as she pours light
Into a milkbowl beside bread, not the Vermeer
Who painted the young woman you walk toward,
Her eyes wide, lips parted, because she wants you
To come closer so you can see yourself
In the shining globe of her earring dangling,
Not the Vermeer whose uncertain young woman
Dressed in red silk seeks your advice
About the wine a man urges her to drink
While brooding Temperance looks on.
Drink the wine, you say. But this isn’t about
The Vermeer of Delft. This is about
The Vermeer of Pella, Iowa, the Vermeer
Of trenchers and tree chippers and stump cutters,
The Vermeer of tub grinders and power mulchers,
Of hay balers and core saws and rock drills,
The Vermeer sitting yellow and abandoned,
Glistening beside the highway Sunday
As you speed past, the Vermeer on Monday
Hard at work when traffic stalls
And you crawl past close and she
Adjusts her hardhat and looks right at you
As the branch she releases becomes,
In this beatific morning light, dust.

That Vermeer.




by M. L. Williams


Where once you bent to lift a paperwhite
from the current after we lay together, dark
now holds along the bank and in the willow’s
damp beard. It could be the low moon brushes
the air with its breath, and it could be the slow
tune of its light braids the grey course
of the river. It could be. Or it could be you,
and my eyes have yet to find a place for you
gone, this dark held now along the bank,
under branches burdened with these late desires.



High Flight

by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.


Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.



After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

by Galway Kinnell


For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music 
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper 
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing 
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run – as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears – in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small 
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder 
about the mental capacity of baseball players –
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child. 


In the half darkness we look at each other 
and smile 
and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body –
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, 
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, 
this blessing love gives again into our arms.



If You Knew

by Ellen Bass


What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs, 
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen, 
reckless, pinned against time?



After Ritsos

by Malena Mörling


You know that moment in the summer dusk
when the sunbathers have all gone home to mix drinks
and you are alone on the beach

when the waves begin to nibble 
on the abandoned sand castles—
And further out, over the erupted face

of the water stained almost pink
there are a few clouds that hold
entire rooms inside of them—rooms where no one lives—

in the hair
of the light that soon will go
grey and then black. It is the moment

when even the man who mops the floor
in the execution room of the prison
stops to look up into the silence

that grows like smoke or the dusk itself.
And your mind becomes almost visible
and you know there is nothing


that is not mysterious. And that no moment
is less important than this moment.
And that imprisonment is not possible.



If For Each of Us

by James Ragan


a rope could swing us
long and light across a widening trough
of all that fails us in our lives,
I would want to land upon the Isle of Echo,
lush with repetition, green with being
original in birth and twice the twin
a wave might dance along the skerry.
I would want a canyon tall for hawks to carry
long the deep tattoo of voices on the air.
I would want an ear to hear 
what words to read again to memory,
what verse to carol, thoughts to root
before the sparrow’s flight the mind has taken
comes to rest on truth. I would want
to hear a vowel repeat in consonance
with alliteration’s frothy throat. 
And should the landing fail its footing,
I would want to know what inspiration
in shorter flight one syllable might repeat
as in the swash the flat-stone makes
to skip across the light in water
or the voice a wind gives to birch and linden.
I would want the distance to all understanding
to narrow just enough to fail at failure.
I would want a melody of chances
to learn to love again what first I dreamed,
free as wonder, soft as touch,
and of all things simple 
to care again for them as much.



Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost


Whose woods these are I think I know. 
His house is in the village though; 
He will not see me stopping here 
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 


My little horse must think it queer 
To stop without a farmhouse near 
Between the woods and frozen lake 
The darkest evening of the year. 


He gives his harness bells a shake 
To ask if there is some mistake. 
The only other sound’s the sweep 
Of easy wind and downy flake. 


The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 
But I have promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.