The HyperTexts

The Best Unknown Poets

Who are the best unknown poets of all time? Who are the most underappreciated poets, the most undervalued poets? Who are the poets who deserve to be remembered by the future, even if they have been forgotten by the present and the past?

compiled by Michael R. Burch



William Blake's "Ancient of Days"

Who are the best unknown poets who wrote in the English language? The term "unknown" seems misleading, because if poets were really unknown, no one would know who they are. So I will go with "undervalued" instead: Who are the most undervalued poets who wrote in the English language? Here is my admittedly subjective list:

(#10) Edward Arlington Robinson: "Luke Havergal," "Mr. Flood's Party," "The Mill," "Eros Turannos," "Richard Corey"
          The Archpoet was a medieval Latin poet who may have had to keep his identity hidden in order to escape the Inquisition: esp. for "His Confession"
          Philip Larkin: "Church Going," "The Witsun Weddings," "Aubade"
          Anne Reeve Aldrich is a virtually unknown American poet who rivals Sappho, Christine Rossetti and Emily Dickinson in her best poems: "Servitude," "Souvenirs," "A Little Parable"
          Edward Thomas: "Adelstrop," "Rain," "The Owl," "But These Things Also," "Lob," "Old Man," "In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)"
          Ono no Komachi is one of the very best female oriental poets, a master of the waka (tanka) poetic form: "As I Slept in Isolation," "Watching Wan Moonlight," "Submit to You?"
(#9) Richard Moore: "In the Dark Season," "Depths," "The Veil," "The Playground," "The Mouse Whole"
(#8) Elinor Wylie: "The Eagle and the Mole," "Cold-Blooded Creatures," "Ophelia," "Let No Charitable Hope"
(#7) Edna St. Vincent Millay, a master of the modern sonnet: "Love is not all," "Not in a silver casket cool with pearls," "I, being born a woman, and distressed," "Recurdo," "First Fig"
(#6) Elizabeth Bishop: "The Fish," "The Armadillo," "One Art," "Cirque D'Hiver"
(#5) Conrad Aiken: "Bread and Music" and the Senlin poems
        Robert Hayden: "Those Winter Sundays," "Middle Passage," "Monet's Waterlilies," "The Whipping," "Soledad," "Full Moon," "Frederick Douglass"
(#4) Ernest Dowson: "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae," "Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare longam," "A Last Word"
(#3) Louise Bogan: "Song for the Last Act," "After the Persian," "Juan's Song"
(#2) Wilfred Owen: "Dulce et Decorum Est," "The Unreturning" and many other superb anti-war poems
        Oscar Wilde: esp. for his lovely "Requiescat" (Wilde is justly famous for other things, not so much for his poetry)
        Thomas Gray: esp. for his "Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard," which may be the most picture-perfect long poem in the English language
(#1) Thomas Chatterton (the "marvelous boy" who became a published poet at age 10 and died at age 17; no one would believe a child was able to write such poems and he was accused of fraud and forgery, which led to his suicide)

While Oscar Wilde is far from unknown, he is primarily known as a wit and epigrammatist, and for his play The Importance of Being Earnest and his novella The Picture of Dorian Gray. However, if we read his lovely and intensely moving poem "Requiescat," it becomes apparent that Wilde was also a poet of rare talent and ingenuity. Thomas Chatterton is more famous as a "forger" and "fraud" than as a poet today, but if you click his hyperlinked name, I explain why the accusations make absolutely no sense.

Special Mention: While they are not exactly "unknown," I believe these two major poets are tremendously undervalued, because their best poems have not been read by the majority of readers today:

Hart Crane: esp. his magnificent poems "Voyages I, II and III," "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge," "The Broken Tower," "At Melville's Tomb," and other superb poems
Wallace Stevens: "Sunday Morning," "The Idea of Order at Key West," "The Snow Man," and many other superb poems

High Honorable Mentions: Matthew Arnold (esp. "Dover Beach"), Hillaire Belloc, John Berryman, Robert Bridges, Harry Chapin, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sam Cooke, Countee Cullen, e. e. cummings, James Dickey, William Dunbar, Dan Fogelberg, Allen Ginsberg (esp. "Howl"), Seamus Heaney, Langston Hughes, Randall Jarrell, Robinson Jeffers, James Weldon Johnson, James Joyce, Walter Savage Landor, Louis MacNeice (esp. "Bagpipe Music"), Archibald MacLeish (esp. "You, Andrew Marvell" and "Memorial Rain"), Walter De La Mare (esp. "The Listeners"), Vachel Lindsay, Adah Isaacs Menken, Marianne Moore, Ogden Nash, Howard Nemerov, Charles D'Orleans, Dorothy Parker, Henry Reed (esp. "Naming of Parts"), Christina Rossetti, Anne Sexton, John Skelton, W. D. Snodgrass (esp. "April Inventory"), Algernon Charles Swinburne, Sara Teasdale, Chidiock Tichborne (for his amazing elegy to himself), Henry Vaughn, Edmund Waller (esp. for "Go, Lovely Rose"), Richard Wilbur (esp., "The Death of a Toad"),  James Wright (esp. "A Blessing")

Foreign language poets who should be better known than they are today: the Archpoet, Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Paul Celan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Veronica Franco, Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbāl, Walid Khazindar, Ono no Komachi, Martial, Ovid, Cecile Périn, Miklós Radnóti, Pierre Ronsard, Takaha Shugyo, Wladyslaw Szlengel, Marina Tsvetaeva, Fadwa Tuqan, Renee Vivien

Best one-hit wonders: Edmund Waller ("Go, Lovely Rose"), Mary Elizabeth Frye ("Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep"), Chidiock Tichborne (his famous elegy to himself), Alfred Noyes ("The Highwayman"), Henry Reed ("Naming of Parts"), King Solomon ("The Song of Solomon")

I have also included poems by a number of contemporary poets who qualify on the basis of being almost completely unknown despite having written poetic gems; they include Greg Alan Brownderville, Jack Butler, Jared Carter, Ann Drysdale, Rina P. Espaillat, Annie Finch, R. S. (Sam) Gwynn, Zyskandar Jaimot, X. J. Kennedy, Leslie Mellichamp, Tom Merrill, Robert Mezey, John Marcus Powell, Mary Rae, Kevin N. Roberts and A. E. (Alicia) Stallings.

Capable poets who are well-known for other things, not so much for their poetry today, include Michelangelo, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, John Updike, Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Nimoy, Leonard Cohen, James Stewart, Herschel Walker and Muhammad Ali.

Requiescat
by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life's buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

"Requiescat" is the first word in the Latin prayer "Requiescat in pace" (meaning "Rest in peace"). The phrase is the original source of the acronym R.I.P., which has appeared in many an obituary and on many a tombstone. While the Divine Oscar Wilde is better known today as a novelist, playwright, wit and epigrammist, he was also a poet of considerable talent, as this lovely, touching elegy attests.

Bread and Music
by Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovčd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

In his best poems Conrad Aiken rivals W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane as masters of modern English poetic meter. Aiken's "Bread and Music" is one of my favorite poems, regardless of era.

Mary Elizabeth Frye is, perhaps, the most mysterious poet who appears on this page, and perhaps in the annals of poetry. Rather than spoiling the mystery, I will present her poem first, then provide the details ...

Do not stand at my grave and weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.

This consoling elegy had a very mysterious genesis, as it was written by Mary Elizabeth Frye, a Baltimore housewife who lacked a formal education, having been orphaned at age three. She had never written poetry before. Frye wrote the poem on a ripped-off piece of a brown grocery bag, in a burst of compassion for a Jewish girl who had fled the Holocaust only to receive news that her mother had died in Germany. The girl was weeping inconsolably because she couldn't visit her mother's grave to share her tears of love and bereavement. When the poem was named Britain's most popular poem in a 1996 Bookworm poll, with more than 30,000 call-in votes despite not having been one of the critics' nominations, an unlettered orphan girl had seemingly surpassed all England's many cultured and degreed ivory towerists in the public's estimation. Although the poem's origin was disputed for some time (it had been attributed to Native American and other sources), Frye's authorship was confirmed in 1998 after investigative research by Abigail Van Buren, the newspaper columnist better known as "Dear Abby." The poem has also been called "I Am" due to its rather biblical repetitions of the phrase. Frye never formally published or copyrighted the poem, so we believe it is in the public domain and can be shared, although we recommend that it not be used for commercial purposes, since Frye never tried to profit from it herself.

Song For The Last Act
by Louise Bogan

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Louise Bogan is a major poet, in my opinion. Hopefully the rest of the reading world will soon catch on. Please be sure to read her other poems on this page, especially "After the Persian."

Luke Havergal
by Edward Arlington Robinson

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
And in the twilight wait for what will come.
The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
But go, and if you listen, she will call.
Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;
But there, where western glooms are gathering
The dark will end the dark, if anything:
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—
In eastern skies.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
That flames upon your forehead with a glow
That blinds you to the way that you must go.
Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
Out of a grave I come to tell you this—
To tell you this.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There are the crimson leaves upon the wall,
Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—
Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
But go, and if you trust her she will call.
There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

"Luke Havergal" is like a ghost story in which the reader becomes one with the ghost. When we recognize our affinity with the poem's protagonist, the poem becomes all the more terrifying.

Depths
by Richard Moore

Once more home is a strange place: by the ocean a
big house now, and the small houses are memories,
   once live images, vacant
        thoughts here, sinking and vanishing.

Rough sea now on the shore thundering brokenly
draws back stones with a roar out into quiet and
    far depths, darkly to lie there
         years, yearsthere not a sound from them.

New waves out of the night's mist and obscurity
lunge up high on the beach, spending their energy,
    each wave angrily dying,
        all shapes endlessly altering,

yet out there in the depths nothing is modified.
Earthquakes won't even moveno, nor the hurricane
    one stone there, nor a glance of
         sun's light stir its identity.

This is a wonderfully haunting poem by the poet Richard Moore, who lived in a dilapidated mansion close by the sea, until his death.

from Word from the Hills
a sonnet sequence in four movements
by Richard Moore

11
You were so solid, father, cold and raw
as these north winters, where your angry will
first hardened, as the earth when the long chill
deepensas is this country's cruel law
yet under trackless snow, without a flaw
covering meadow, road, and stubbled hill,
the springs and muffled streams were running still,
dark until spring came, and the awful thaw.
In your decay a gentleness appears
I hadn't guessedwhen, gray as rotting snow,
propped in your chair, your face will run with tears,
trying to speak, and your hand, stiff and slow,
will touch my childwho, sensing the cold years
in your eyes, cries until you let her go.

This poem about the poet's father and daughter proves that real life can be darker and more frightening than any horror story.

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae
by Ernest Dowson

"I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cynara"—Horace

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to you, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long;
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

Ernest Dowson wrote a small handful of poems that are among the strongest in the English language. I consider him one of the very best "unknown" or "under-known" major poets, along with Louise Bogan. The poem above should make him forever immortal, unless readers lose their ears and their senses.

Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" appears in Horace's Odes. The "old lie" means: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." Wilfred Owen stands at the vanguard of the great anti-war poets and singer-songwriters. "Dulce Et Decorum Est" may be the most important poem in the English language: one that eventually leads to the abolition of war. But in any case, Wilfred Owen was undoubtedly a major poet, and one of the first great truly modern English poets. He died just before the armistice that ended World War I. There's no telling what he might have accomplished if he had lived, but he left behind a good number of immortal poems: all of them penned within the short period of time between his enlistment and death.

The Eagle and the Mole
by Elinor Wylie

Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.

The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps above the clouds
His cliff inviolate.

When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.

If in the eagle's track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.

If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole:
Go burrow underground.

And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.

This is wonderfully scary poem by a poet who is under-known and under-appreciated today. One can seldom trust the "advice" of poets. If I apprehend the wily Wylie correctly, it seems she offers us three options: (1) the dubious warmth of the reeking herd, (2) the alien loneliness of the aloof eagle, or (3) the blind burrowing of the velvet mole.

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare longam
by Ernest Dowson

"The brevity of life forbids us to entertain hopes of long duration" —Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dowson died at age 32 and is only known for a few poems today, but his best poems are highly memorable. He's one of my favorite lesser-known poets.

A Last Word
by Ernest Dowson

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
Laughter or tears, for we have only known
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
Find end of labour, where's rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.

Dowson's influence on the language and other writers can be seen in phrases like "gone with the wind" and "the days of wine and roses." His work certainly influenced T. S. Eliot, who said that certain lines of Dowson's "have always run in my head."

The Unreturning
by Wilfred Owen

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled,
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men's sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering Wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

This is another powerful poem by one of the very best modern poets.

Juan's Song
by Louise Bogan

When beauty breaks and falls asunder
I feel no grief for it, but wonder.
When love, like a frail shell, lies broken,
I keep no chip of it for token.
I never had a man for friend
Who did not know that love must end.
I never had a girl for lover
Who could discern when love was over.
What the wise doubt, the fool believes
Who is it, then, that love deceives?

This is a wonderfully honest and ironical poem about love, from a woman's perspective. I believe Bogan may give men too much credit (most men are just as susceptible to the myths of love as most women are), but perhaps it avails nothing for anyone to be "wise" in matters of love.

Love Is Not All

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote some damn strong poems, and should also be recognized as one of the first female poets to write honestly (and perhaps sometimes brag) about the power of her sexuality over men.

Cold-Blooded Creatures
by Elinor Morton Wylie

Man, the egregious egoist
(In mystery the twig is bent)
Imagines, by some mental twist,
That he alone is sentient

Of the intolerable load
That on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of his eyes.

He asks no questions of the snake,
Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a nightmare doom.

This is another scary poem by the wily Wylie. If the bent twig refers to the garden of Eden myth, as I suspect, Wylie may be making the point that since cold-blooded creatures understand evil (death), man was taken to the cleaners by his "god" or his religion, or both, since he got nothing of value from the "forbidden fruit."

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

This is one of the best (and cleverest) villanelles in the English poetic tradition. Elizabeth Bishop and Louise Bogan are the two best contemporary female poets to write in English, in my opinion.

Anthem For Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen is one of my favorite poets; no one has ever exceeded or even rivaled him as an anti-war poet. If the human race ever has the good sense to abandon war, Owen will have been one of the first causes.

Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge
by Hart Crane

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day ...

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn ...
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon ... Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,—

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year ...

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

Hart Crane has long been one of my favorite poets. Few poets can rival his strongest poems. He and Wallace Stevens wrote some of the most fluid rhythms to be found in modern English poetry.

The Broken Tower
by Hart Crane

The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn
Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell
Of a spent day to wander the cathedral lawn
From pit to crucifix, feet chill on steps from hell.

Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps
Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway
Antiphonal carillons launched before
The stars are caught and hived in the sun's ray?

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;
And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score
Of broken intervals ... And I, their sexton slave!

Oval encyclicals in canyons heaping
The impasse high with choir. Banked voices slain!
Pagodas, campaniles with reveilles out leaping
O terraced echoes prostrate on the plain! ...

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.

My word I poured. But was it cognate, scored
Of that tribunal monarch of the air
Whose thighs embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word
In wounds pledged once to hope cleft to despair?

The steep encroachments of my blood left me
No answer (could blood hold such a lofty tower
As flings the question true?) or is it she
Whose sweet mortality stirs latent power?

And through whose pulse I hear, counting the strokes
My veins recall and add, revived and sure
The angelus of wars my chest evokes:
What I hold healed, original now, and pure ...

And builds, within, a tower that is not stone
(Not stone can jacket heaven) but slip
Of pebbles, visible wings of silence sown
In azure circles, widening as they dip

The matrix of the heart, lift down the eyes
That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower ...
The commodious, tall decorum of that sky
Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.

Readers may need a certain degree of "negative capability" to enjoy Crane's more difficult poems, but I find them easy enough to like.

At Melville's Tomb
by Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death's bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Crane might have prophetically written "This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps" about himself, since he committed suicide by leaping from the deck of an ocean liner into the Atlantic Ocean.

Cirque d'Hiver
by Elizabeth Bishop

Across the floor flits the mechanical toy,
fit for a king of several centuries back.
A little circus horse with real white hair.
His eyes are glossy black.
He bears a little dancer on his back.

She stands upon her toes and turns and turns.
A slanting spray of artificial roses
is stitched across her skirt and tinsel bodice.
Above her head she poses
another spray of artificial roses.

His mane and tail are straight from Chirico.
He has a formal, melancholy soul.
He feels her pink toes dangle toward his back
along the little pole
that pierces both her body and her soul

and goes through his, and reappears below,
under his belly, as a big tin key.
He canters three steps, then he makes a bow,
canters again, bows on one knee,
canters, then clicks and stops, and looks at me.

The dancer, by this time, has turned her back.
He is the more intelligent by far.
Facing each other rather desperately—
his eye is like a star—
we stare and say, "Well, we have come this far."

This is another of Elizabeth Bishop's finely crafted poems, in which every image and word seem perfectly aligned.

Advice to a Girl
by Sara Teasdale

No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.

Sara Teasdale was another of the more liberated female poets who seemed to find equal footing with male poets. She certainly wrote better than most of them.

The Solitary
by Sara Teasdale

My heart has grown rich with the passing of years,
   I have less need now than when I was young
To share myself with every comer
   Or shape my thoughts into words with my tongue.
It is one to me that they come or go
   If I have myself and the drive of my will,
And strength to climb on a summer night
   And watch the stars swarm over the hill.
Let them think I love them more than I do,
   Let them think I care, though I go alone;
If it lifts their pride, what is it to me
   Who am self-complete as a flower or a stone.

I especially like "the drive of my will" and the closing lines of this poem. Millay and Teasdale seemed to have the wisdom to take what they could from lovers, without losing themselves in the process. They seemed to doubt that their lovers had the same capability.

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

I believe Robert Hayden became an immortal poet with this poem. I wonder how many children will read it and suddenly realize how much of their lives their parents sacrificed to their upbringing.

For Her Surgery
by Jack Butler

I
Over the city the moon rides in mist,
scrim scarred with faint rainbow.
Two days till Easter. The thin clouds run slow, slow,
the wind bells bleed the quietest
of possible musics to the dark lawn.
All possibility we will have children is gone.

II
I raise a glass half water, half alcohol,
to that light come full again.
Inside, you sleep, somewhere below the pain.
Down at the river, there is a tall
ghost tossing flowers to dark water—
jessamine, rose, and daisy, salvia lyrata . . .

III
Oh goodbye, goodbye to bloom in the white blaze
of moon on the river, goodbye
to creek joining the creek joining the river, the axil, the Y,
goodbye to the Yes of two Ifs in one phrase . . .
Children bear children. We are grown,
and time has thrown us free under the timeless moon.

This has long been one of my favorite poems by a contemporary poet. When people bemoan the "state of the art," I think of poems like this one and find scant cause for concern.

Friday
by Ann Drysdale

The print of a bare foot, the second toe
A little longer than the one which is
Traditionally designated "great".
Praxiteles would have admired it.

You must have left in haste; your last wet step
Before boarding your suit and setting sail,
Outlined in talcum on the bathroom floor
Mocks your habitual fastidiousness.

There is no tide here to obliterate
Your oversight. Unless I wipe or sweep
Or suck it up, it will not go away.
The thought delights me. I will keep the footprint.

Too slight, too simply human to be called
Token or promise; I am keeping it
Because it is a precious evidence
That on this island I am not alone.

Ann Drysdale is one of the better contemporary poets I've had the honor and pleasure of publishing. Her poem "Friday" evinces a keen eye, irony, humor and something of a child's sense of wonder.

Come Lord and Lift
by T. Merrill

Come Lord, and lift the fallen bird
   Abandoned on the ground;
The soul bereft and longing so
   To have the lost be found.

The heart that cries—let it but hear
   Its sweet love answering,
Or out of ether one faint note
   Of living comfort wring.

This poem (the poet is an atheist) seems to be both an earnest, heartfelt prayer and a condemnation of religion's dubious "God." Why doesn't he have compassion on fallen birds, one wonders, and use all his lauded superpowers to help them? . . .

Plea
by Leslie Mellichamp

O singer, sing to me—
I know the world's awry—
I know how piteously
The hungry children cry—

But I bleed warm and near,
And come another dawn
The world will still be here
When home and hearth are gone.

Formal poetry lost a staunch advocate when Leslie Mellichamp died on December 18, 2001. Editor of The Lyric, the oldest magazine in North America devoted to traditional poetry, he was the author of scores of poems, essays, and short stories that appeared in the 1950s and '60s in such places as the Atlantic, New York Times, Saturday Review, Ladies' Home Journal, and the Georgia Review. Believing with the gifted contributors who have kept The Lyric alive since 1921 that the roots of a living poetry lie in music and the common life, rather than in the fragmented bizarre, and that rhyme, structure, and lucidity are timeless attributes of enduring poetry, he offered his own lyrics as tributes to life's ancient ironies, the earth's patient resilience, the impudence of lovers, the wondrous eyes of children, and the cunning of that soft-shoed thief, Time. Below are a few of Leslie Mellichamp's poems, would that there had been more.

Rondel
by Kevin N. Roberts

Our time has passed on swift and careless feet,
With sighs and smiles and songs both sad and sweet.
Our perfect hours have grown and gone so fast,
And these are things we never can repeat.
Though we might plead and pray that it would last,
Our time has passed.

Like shreds of mist entangled in a tree,
Like surf and sea foam on a foaming sea,
Like all good things we know can never last,
Too soon we'll see the end of you and me.
Despite the days and realms that we amassed,
Our time has passed.

Kevin Nicholas Roberts [1969-2008] was a poet, fiction writer and professor of English Literature. He died on December 10, 2008. Kevin had lived and studied all over the United States and had also spent three years in the English countryside of Suffolk writing Romantic poetry and studying the Romantic Masters beside the North Sea. His poetry has been compared to that of Swinburne, one of his major influences. Kevin was born on the 4th of April in the United States, which, accounting for the hour of his birth and the time zone difference, just happened to be Swinburne's birthdate, April the 5th, in England. And he told me once that he believed he was the reincarnation of Swinburne.

First Confession
by X. J. Kennedy

Blood thudded in my ears. I scuffed,
Steps stubborn, to the telltale booth
Beyond whose curtained portal coughed
The robed repositor of truth.

The slat shot back. The universe
Bowed down his cratered dome to hear
Enumerated my each curse,
The sip snitched from my old man's beer,

My sloth pride envy lechery,
The dime held back from Peter's Pence
with which I'd bribed my girl to pee
That I might spy her instruments.

Hovering scale-pans when I'd done
Settled their balance slow as silt
While in the restless dark I burned
Bright as a brimstone in my guilt

Until as one feeds birds he doled
Seven our Fathers and a Hail
Which I to double-scrub my soul
Intoned twice at the altar rail

Where Sunday in seraphic light
I knelt, as full of grace as most,
And stuck my tongue out at the priest:
A fresh roost for the Holy Ghost.

I have absolutely loved this poem by X. J. Kennedy since the day I first read it. I agonized with the boy during his shameful forced confession and delighted at his truant tongue's triumphant revenge.

The Lovemaker
by Robert Mezey

I see you in her bed,
Dark, rootless epicene,
Where a lone ghost is laid
And other ghosts convene;

And hear you moan at last
Your pleasure in the deep
Haven of her who kissed
Your blind mouth into sleep.

But body, once enthralled,
Wakes in the chains it wore,
Dishevelled, stupid, cold,
And famished as before,

And hears its paragon
Breathe in the ghostly air,
Anonymous carrion
Ravished by despair.

Lovemaker, I have felt
Desire take my part,
But lacked your constant fault
And something of your art,

And would not bend my knees
To the unmantled pride
That left you in that place,
Forever unsatisfied.

This is another of my favorite poems by a contemporary poet. Other poems by Robert Mezey appear elsewhere on this page.

Miscarried
by Rhina P. Espaillat

Blind little fish baffled but not quite
caught in the net of our need, what did you taste
in us that compelled you to cheat the tide
of our biography? Minutest beast

caged by our blood’s unwisdom, what clever
stratagem so undid you that, done out
of you, we stand at the coast of Never
to bid you this farewell? Least cosmonaut

loosed from the look of us as from a suit
of time’s weaving, in what pure alien form
did you slip home again across those mute
light years to nothing, missing and still warm?

Rhina Espaillat is that rarest of creatures: a good poet who is an even better person.

The Missionary's Position
by Joseph S. Salemi

I maintain it all was for the best
We hacked our way through jungle and sought out
These savage children, painted and half-dressed,
To set their minds at ease, and dispel doubt.

Concerning what? Why, God's immense design,
And how it governs all we do and see.
Before, they had no sense of the divine
Beyond the sticks and bones of sorcery.

Granted, they are more somber and subdued,
Knowing that lives are watched, and judged, and weighed.
Subject to fits of melancholy mood,
They look upon the cross, and are afraid.

What would you have me say? We preached the Word
Better endured in grief than left unheard.

This is a poem that ought to cure "Christian" missionaries of their evangelistic zeal, if only they had hearts capable of compassion for the children they terrorize, and brains capable of reason. I have long admired this powerful poem, written by a contemporary Catholic poet.

The Examiners
by John Whitworth

Where the house is cold and empty and the garden’s overgrown,
They are there.
Where the letters lie unopened by a disconnected phone,
They are there.
Where your footsteps echo strangely on each moonlit cobblestone,
Where a shadow streams behind you but the shadow’s not your own,
You may think the world’s your oyster but it’s bone, bone, bone:
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They can parse a Latin sentence; they’re as learned as Plotinus,
They are there.
They’re as sharp as Ockham’s razor, they’re as subtle as Aquinas,
They are there.
They define us and refine us with their beta-query-minus,
They’re the wall-constructing Emperors of undiscovered Chinas,
They confine us, then malign us, in the end they undermine us,
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They assume it as an impost or they take it as a toll,
They are there.
The contractors grant them all that they incontinently stole,
They are there.
They will shrivel your ambition with their quality control,
They will desiccate your passion, then eviscerate your soul,
Wring your life out like a sponge and stuff your body down a hole,
They are there, they are there, they are there.

In the desert of your dreaming they are humped behind the dunes,
They are there.
On the undiscovered planet with its seven circling moons,
They are there.
They are ticking all the boxes, making sure you eat your prunes,
They are sending secret messages by helium balloons,
They are humming Bach cantatas, they are playing looney tunes,
They are there, they are there, they are there

They are there, they are there like a whisper on the air,
They are there.
They are slippery and soapy with our hope and our despair,
They are there.
So it’s idle if we bridle or pretend we never care,
If the questions are superfluous and the marking isn’t fair,
For we know they’re going to get us, we just don’t know when or where,
They are there, they are there, they are there.

According to one appreciative critic, "John Whitworth's poems are as smart and full of fun as a pair of glazed tap shoes. He is a wise rueful virtuoso." Having read "The Examiners," how can we fail to agree?

The Poem of Poems
by Greg Alan Brownderville

A boy passes ghost-like through a curtain of weeping willow.
In rainbow-stained apparel, birds are singing a cappella.
Suddenly I sense it, in the birds and in the child:
The world is a poem growing wild.

A dewdrop on a blade of grass soon slips from where it clung
Like a perfect word that gathers on the tip of a poet's tongue.
And men are merely characters to love and be defiled.
God is a poem growing wild.

This is a fine contemporary poem in the mystic tradition of Blake and Whitman. Jack Butler and Greg Brownderville are both "Arkansas" boys . . . there must be something in the water down there, or perhaps it's in the mayhaw jelly.

Madame LaBouche
by T. Merrill

Her ears pricked up so much, Madame
LaBouche,
decrying all disturbance
Insisted sounds around be less
City-like and more suburban.

One bistro gave Madame no rest
Until it was at last subdued,
And vexed by yakky cabbies next,
She finally got their stand removed.

Yet still, some night-owl might abort
The dreamshift of LaBouche's week,
And pop her prized unconsciousness
By passing with a piercing shriek,

Or other nuisances emerge—
But when, for my part, out a window
I spot Madame surveying things,
Hard eye a-gleam, arms set akimbo

All poised to nail some passerby
With shrill bursts from her magic flute—
I see the sole noisemaker I
Have lately dreamed of going mute.

Tom Merrill is one of my favorite contemporary poets. Like Ann Drysdale, he has a keen eye for detail and a wonderful sense of irony. He also has something of a Swiftian loathing for fools and hypocrites (especially the "Christian" kind, who so often seem more concerned about other people's morals than their own).

Development
by Maryann Corbett

This is your deed. Its words
impose restrictions.
You leave behind unruly nether worlds
of noisy rental neighborhoods,
landlords, evictions,

leave the wheezings of pipes, the fluorescent hummings,
the homeless houseplants on the fire escape,
the boots on stairs, the goings at all hours
(and, through thin walls, the comings).
You leave the crime-scene tape

for greater safety. Here the Association
will help you set the tone we all depend on
for distancing the stranger.
Let us design your plantings: rhododendron,
white iris, blue hydrangea.

Clotheslines? No. Dismiss the metaphor
of linen angel-visions buoyed with air,
first light gilding their raiment.
Keep to this earth (set forth hereinbefore),
this mortgage payment.

Why such resistance?
Peace has a certain cost. What we demand
does not pass understanding; understand
perspective that maintains a middle distance.
Seize what you can

of Order, its exterior colors pale,
historically correct, Augustan, cool.
See how it sets its face
implacably against the threatening weather.
Its covenants are righteous altogether.

Sign here. And keep your name inside the space.

Maryann Corbett is the author of two chapbooks, Dissonance and Gardening in a Time of War. She is a co-winner of the 2009 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, and her poems, essays, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in River Styx, Atlanta Review, The Evansville Review, Measure, The Lyric, Candelabrum, First Things, Blue Unicorn, The Raintown Review, Christianity and Literature, The Dark Horse, The Barefoot Muse, Unsplendid, and other journals in print and online. Since 2008 she has served as the administrator of Eratosphere, a popular online forum for poets, especially those specializing in metrical verse.

Roger Kelley
by T. S. Kerrigan

They placed us alphabetically
In history and math;
you sat between Bob Katz and me.

You’d been expelled from other schools,
For truancy and theft,
And bragged you’d broken all the rules.

By spring we heard you faced arrest
For unpaid traffic fines;
Your brand new Ford was repossessed.

It’s ages since we saw your face,
Or read your name in print,
But who’d forget that time and place?

The week they took the Ford away,
To get to Mexico,
You panicked, stole a Chevrolet.

The owner tried to intervene,
A teacher from the school.
You shot her twice and fled the scene.

The day I read they gave you life,
I swore I’d rather die
Than live without a girl or wife.

Yet even grief wears off at last;
We spoke about you less,
Tried not to think about the past.

But social workers called one day
To see Bob Katz and me,
Then shook their heads and went away.

You’d named us each your closest friend,
Two kids you swore to them
"Would back you to the very end,"

Acquaintances you’d only met
Back then by happenstance,
Contingent on the alphabet.

T. S. Kerrigan, aka Tom Kerrigan, is a much-published contemporary poet. Former Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur has described Kerrigan's  poetry as "full of life, authority, playfulness, and good rhythms." X.J. Kennedy, former poetry editor of Paris Review, has hailed his work as a "rich and vivid collection admirable for the verve of its language-handling."

Thou Art Weighed in the Balances...
by Quincy R. Lehr

This is the story of a bunny—
add batteries and watch him go
in every unforeseen direction.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



Someone whispers on my shoulder.
Angel? Devil? I don’t know.
Signs and wonders? Choices, choices!
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



Dream of graphs that rise like mountains—
settle for a slight plateau.
It’s all downhill; the lift is broken.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



Fireworks and a beer-soaked picnic,
Auld Lang Syne, hung mistletoe.
Same old headache in the morning.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



This bunny’s not a mere digression,
a rude eruption of the flow
leading to your show’s resumption.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



Pick a designated driver.
Use protection. No means no.
This is the blood of…Christ, go figure.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



Another loophole in the system.
Bombs explode. Volcanoes glow.
Markets plunge. There goes the weekend.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.



That pink-furred prick is always drumming,
pushing onward, to-and-fro.
Mene mene tekel upharsin.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

This is my favorite poem by Quincy R. Lehr, to date, of the ones I've read. It makes me smile every time I read it.

Part 6 from The Dark Side of the Deity: Interlude
by Joe M. Ruggier

When Satan hurled, before the Dawn,
 defiance at the Lord of History;
and Michael stood, and Glory shone,
 Whose hand controlled the timeless Mystery?
        Who but the Insult was the leveler;
        Deliverer and bedeviler?

When Athens, sung in verse and prose,
 caught all the World's imagination;
when Ilion fell, and Rome arose,
 and Time went on like pagination:
      Who but the Insult was the leveler;
      Deliverer and bedeviler?

When books, in numberless infinities,
  cross-fertilize the teeming brain,
and warring, vex the Soul with Vanities,
  and Insults hurtle, Insults rain:
      Who but the Insult is the leveler;
      Deliverer and bedeviler?

And when we too shall cease to be,
  like all the Kingdoms of the Past,
and groaning, gasping, wrenching free,
  we bite, at last, alone, the dust:
      Who but the Insult is the leveler;
      Deliverer and bedeviler?

When church‑bells fill the wandering fields
          with Love and Fear,
the Flesh and Blood of Jesus yields
          deliverance dear,
to them who believe in the Compliment Sinsear.

Joe Ruggier is quite a story, having sold over 20,000 books by going door-to-door. He is a Maltese poet who now lives in British Columbia.

The Idiot
by Leo Yankevich

Whenever I sit with the village idiot,
it's always with genuine reverence and a bit
of suspicion. Usually we just stare at the rooks,
and he sips my beer without asking, then looks
deranged as if to say he's sorry. He knows enough
about me to know I like diamonds in the rough.
And, strangely, he and I always notice the same things:
hieroglyphs in the snow, tiny holes in our fillings.
When he's not around, my wife says he's a blackguard
and a parasite, a charlatan, and a drunkard;
and I try to explain that he's just the village idiot,
and that once in a while it's necessary to sit
with him and share a pint. Later, when she falls asleep,
out of pity and out of love, I allow him to sneak
into her bed and fondle her thin white thighs,
and, if she doesn't protest, to spend the night.

Many of the best poems tell stories, and this poem tells a compelling story with nice touches of compassion and irony.

Du
by Janet Kenny

A wisp of old woman,
curved like a scythe,
tottered to me as she
fussed her shopping,
her walking stick hooked
on her chopstick wrist.

She spoke to me then
in a dried leaf voice.
Inaudible there
in that busy street,
swept by rude gales
from passing trucks.

I leaned closer to hear:
Mein eyes not gut.
time for bus, ven comes it?
“Which bus do you want?”

She smiled, shook her head
then sang to herself
—and somebody else,
in—not German. Yiddish?
“Which bus?”
She leaned towards me,
her tiny claw reached
to stroke my face.
Du she said.

Du

This is a wonderful bit of storytelling by a contemporary poet. "Du" is the more intimate German word for "you," so the elderly woman seems to be greeting the poet more like a long-lost friend or family member than as a stranger.

Say, Shantih
by Philip Quinlan

for Paul Christian Stevens
 
These latitudes are falsified;
wrecked deadening has done for us.
 
We compass the meridian,
but who will stop the sun for us?
 
Our sextant-blinded eyes bleed brine;
no times or tides still stay for us.
 
All sheets, all shrouds are cut and dried;
our cleats cannot belay for us.
 
In sympathy at distances:
we navigate by hunger, thirst.
 
Noon shadows say our will be last.
Shall stern or bow go under first?
 
We cross the line with rituals:
traversal which will be reversed.
 
We’ll Easter home at empty sail,
our mark be missed. We fare the worst.
 
Good Friday, 2013

This is a remarkable elegy by Philip Quinlan to his friend and fellow poet Paul Christian Stevens.

The Skeleton's Defense of Carnality
by Jack Foley

Truly I have lost weight, I have lost weight,
grown lean in love’s defense,
in love’s defense grown grave.
It was concupiscence that brought me to the state:
all bone and a bit of skin
to keep the bone within.
Flesh is no heavy burden for one possessed of little
and accustomed to its loss.
I lean to love, which leaves me lean, till lean turn into lack.
A wanton bone, I sing my song
and travel where the bone is blown
and extricate true love from lust
as any man of wisdom must.
Then wherefore should I rage
against this pilgrimage
from gravel unto gravel?
Circuitous I travel
from love to lack / and lack to lack,
from lean to lack
and back.

I love this wicked little poem by the contemporary poet Jack Foley. The male skeleton is missing an important "member" required for lovemaking, so "lean" really does "turn into lack" when the "bone is blown."

After the Rain
by Jared Carter

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different viewthe glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

I admire this poem by the contemporary poet Jared Carter, especially its closing lines. This poem capitalizes on the poet's capacity for wonder.

Is there any reward?
by Hillaire Belloc

Is there any reward?
I'm beginning to doubt it.
I am broken and bored,
Is there any reward
Reassure me, Good Lord,
And inform me about it.
Is there any reward?
I'm beginning to doubt it.

It seems the only possible compassionate reactions to the "good news" of Christianity are despair and "foxhole humor." Belloc resorts to wry good humor.

N. W.
by Robert Mezey

On a certain street there is a certain door,
Unyielding, around which rockroses rise,
Charged with the scent of a lost paradise,
Which in the evening sunlight opens no more,
Or not to me.  Once, in a better light,
Dearly awaited arms would wait for me
And in the impatient fading of the day
The joy and peace of the embracing night.
No more of that.  Now, a day breaks and dies,
Releasing empty hours and impure
Fantasies, and the abuse of literature,
The lawless images and artful lies,
And pointless tears, and the envy of other men.
And then the longing for oblivion.
                                                  after Borges

This is a wonderful poem about loss, by a contemporary poet.

Evening Wind
by Robert Mezey

One foot on the floor, one knee in bed,
Bent forward on both hands as if to leap
Into a heaven of silken cloud, or keep
An old appointment—tryst, one almost said—
Some promise, some entanglement that led
In broad daylight to privacy and sleep,
To dreams of love, the rapture of the deep,
Oh, everything, that must be left unsaid—

Why then does she suddenly look aside
At a white window full of empty space
And curtains swaying inward? Does she sense
In darkening air the vast indifference
That enters in and will not be denied
To breathe unseen upon her nakedness?
                                                             after an etching by Edward Hopper

Although I haven't seen the etching by Hopper, the poem is so wonderfully descriptive it paints a picture that stands by itself.

Memory of My Father
by Eunice de Chazeau

Standing ankle deep in this black river
silted with death, I feel the rush of it
like chains and the cold of it like a collar
of locked iron. I look to the mid-stream lit
only by the pallor of your face that flows
most terribly away; but no lament
is uttered across the water that will close
secretly over you when you are spent.

You, who were always a strong swimmer, would dive,
abhorring the gradual, and skim below
the ripple, while I gasped for fear you would never
come up. Then, like a seal, you would break above
the surface and I would breathe. Sinking now
will you be able to hold your breath forever?

This is the first of three poems by Eunice de Chazeau about her mother and father. Sometimes reading a good poem is like reading a highly condensed novel. I believe this is one such poem.

Memory of My Mother
by Eunice de Chazeau

She saw him, knew, and waited for a year
that he should ask; then gave her perishable body
without vanity. Leaving the rectangular
town and reassurance of deep sod, she
followed him where crag and glacier
stab the sun, and rivers plunging flay
their stones. She lay beside him on sand, her
dreams unsheltered from the Milky Way.

Had she known how quickly days would spill
their splendor, only dregs of time be left
had she known how at last, and by his will,
her ashes and bones would be strewn to drift
with his in troughs of ocean, nevertheless,
eyes wide with fear, she would have answered yes.

There is an interesting interplay of horror and human courage in this poem. If we knew that love would lead us to be bits of ashes and bones strewn in the troughs of an ocean, would we be able to answer, "yes"? A possible consolation might be producing a child able to write such poems.

Man of Many Clocks
by Eunice de Chazeau

He chose them for a chime
or possibly a face.
Once a whispering chain
won him. He loved their gears
and the intricate brass
of their interiors.

He had a leaning toward
the elaborate, often
approving one that wore
a porcelain festoon
of fruits and flowers or took
an interest in the moon.

He never asked the hour,
it being always there;
a syncopated shower
of tickings, whirrs and tocks
to be amonga small
eternity of clocks.

For some reason, this poem makes me think of Einstein, who worked on his equations about the relativity of time and other such peculiar things, even on his deathbed.

Word Made Flesh
by Ann Drysdale

On the broad steps of the Basilica
The feckless hopefully hold out their hands,
Often with some success; the privileged
Lighten their consciences by a few pence
On their way to receive the sacrament.

On the seventeenth step two beggars sit
Paying no regard to the worshippers
Who file past on their way to salvation.
They do not ask for alms. They are engrossed,
Skillfully masturbating one another.

Most who have noticed this pretend they haven’t;
Some of the other beggars wish they wouldn’t.
Poor relief is incumbent on the rich
And by taking things into their own hands
They spoil the scene for everybody else.

Our Lord said, “silver and gold have I none
But such as I have give I thee”. The words
Are here made flesh; with beatific sigh
One gives the other benison, slipping
All that he has into the waiting hand
Of somebody who shares his human need.

The newly shriven filter down the steps
Averting their eyes from the seventeenth,
Where the first beggar, in a state of grace,
Works selflessly towards the second coming.

I absolutely love Ann Drysdale's poem. If only there was a God whose grace extended to beggars masturbating each other on the steps of a Basilica! But then what use would there be for the hellfire-and-brimstone condemners of humankind?

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

This may be the first truly great modern poem, along with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot. Matthew Arnold stopped writing poetry when he could no longer "create joy," but this magnificent poem will undoubtedly remain a joy forever.

The Turtle
by Ogden Nash

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Ogden Nash was a wonderfully clever poet; this is my favorite poem of his, but he wrote any number of poems that are comparable in quality.

The Hippopotamus
by Hillaire Belloc

I shoot the Hippopotamus
With bullets made of platinum,
Because if I use leaden ones
His hide is sure to flatten 'em.

I once watched a nature show in which a whole pride of lions was unable to bring down a single hippopotamus, because its hide was so thick their fangs seemed unable to penetrate it. (Being a poet, I can appreciate the advantages of having Thick Skin.)

The Listeners
by Walter De La Mare

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
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.

This is one of my favorite story poems. It rivals "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes as the best ghost story in English poetry.

Bagpipe Music
by Louis MacNeice

It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."

It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.

Louis MacNeice seems like the modern Irish heir of Solomon (wisdom-wise) and Kipling (meter-wise). In any case, this is a wonderfully entertaining poem with a devilish sense of humor.

Naming of Parts
by Henry Reed

"Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine glori"

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
   And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
   Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
   Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
   They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
   For today we have naming of parts.

This is a lovely, ironical poem in which an instructor seems to be lecturing a group of recruits while a daydreaming soul meditates half on his words and half on the goings-on of a spring flower garden.

Time in Eternity
by T. Merrill

When you were as an angel in my arms,
Had laid your bare head just below my chin,
Your length pressed up to mine, entrusting charms
My whole youth's starward longing could not win;
With still the murmur of your love in me,
Miracle-tones of all my lifelong hope,
I wished that there might start eternity
And seal forever that sweet envelope;
And as it did, my thoughts are now for you
As every star is blotted by the sun,
And so the sun itself
Has perished too,
And with it, every dream of mine
But one.

This is a wonderfully tender poem about love and loss.

Resume
by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

It seems that for all man's inventiveness, particularly in matters of mayhem, he still hasn't figured out a really good way to end his own existence.

On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday
by Walter Savage Landor

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife;
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

This is one of the best short poems about aging in the English language.

First Fig
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

This poem packs a lot of "action" into four short lines. Millay may have been referring to bisexuality in the first line. The second line may indicate that she didn't believe in an afterlife. She may have been giving us clues about herself and her beliefs. But in any case it seems clear that she wasn't whistling "This little light of mine" like a good little Christian girl.

The Tomb of the Unknown Boy Scout
by Rob Griffith

            Gilwell Park, London

A colleague mentioned it at lunch, was sure
she had it right. “A cenotaph. Yes.
Or maybe just a grave.” She stirred her soup.
“A small brick plinth, about waist-high and topped
with…something. A buffalo! In bronze, I think.”
She waved her bread knife, its tip still smeared
with butter, and left me wondering why
they’d bury Boy Scouts in a London park.
Some sort of sacrifice to Boy Scout gods?

Perhaps, like Incas, they hollowed out a hill
then threw their victim in and walled him up.
And in this barrow filled with midnight,
the boy would grip his knees and tremble,
disturbing piles of pinewood derby cars,
some books on tying knots, and merit badges
strewn about like wafers from the Eucharist.

Or maybe it’s a shrine to all those boys
who bled for England. In fen-felled keeps,
in drafty great halls packed now with tourists,
tapestries shiver on the walls. And there, picked out
in ochre, gold, and green, long-legged Crusaders
march through wastes, their warhead helms pulled low,
their leather armor creaking in the mind.
But if you look more closely, you’ll see him,
a lone Boy Scout in neckerchief and olive shorts.
He stands among those grim-eyed men-at-arms
and smiles, his apple cheeks cross-stitched in red.

But maybe that’s too early. There are other wars,
of course. I hold a dog-eared black and white,
and in the frame a group of doughboys cringe
against their mud-gut trench. Their eyes are closed,
so they don’t see the flare, don’t see the boy
who stands amid the sludge in kneesocks and stares
at the eldritch light. His mouth a perfect O,
he might be singing campfire songs. He might.

The Highwayman
by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

I
THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
                      Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II
He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
                      His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V
"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
                      Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

VI
He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
                      (Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I
He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
                      Marching—marching—
King George's men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
                      And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now, keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
                      She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
                      Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
                      Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V
The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
                      Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.

VI
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
                      Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
                      Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII
He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
                      Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
                      Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


XI
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


Noyes died the year I was born, 1958, and this has been one of my very favorite poems from my childhood. My mother used to recite it to me and my two sisters, completely from memory.

Morning Song of Senlin
by Conrad Aiken

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Vine-leaves tap my window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
How small and white my face!—
The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
And bathes in a flame of space.
There are houses hanging above the stars
And stars hung under a sea...
And a sun far off in a shell of silence
Dapples my walls for me....

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
Should I not pause in the light to remember God?
Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
To him alone, for him I will comb my hair.
Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence!
I will think of you as I descend the stair.

Vine-leaves tap my window,
The snail-track shines on the stones;
Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree
Repeating two clear tones.

It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening,
I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
Unconcerned, and tie my tie.

There are horses neighing on far-off hills
Tossing their long white manes,
And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
Their shoulders black with rains....
It is morning, I stand by the mirror
And surprise my soul once more;
The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
There are suns beneath my floor....

...It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
And depart on the winds of space for I know not where;
My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
And a god among the stars; and I will go
Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
And humming a tune I know....
Vine-leaves tap at the window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

Conrad Aiken and T. S. Eliot knew each other, if I remember things correctly. Senlin seems like Aiken's Prufrock, and perhaps trumps him in introversion and fastidiousness.

The Armadillo
by Elizabeth Bishop

for Robert Lowell

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! — a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

Robert Lowell wrote a rejoinder, "Skunk Hour," to Bishop's poem. When people moan about the "state of the art," they conveniently forget that a good number of the very best English language poems were written by modern poets like Bishop, Lowell, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Louise Bogan, e. e. cummings and T. S. Eliot.

A Proof of Love
by Joe M. Ruggier

NOW WHEN I was fresh and easy, I would go
to Church ... devotion fill’d my soul with tears.
I guessed not all Gospels could so tiresome grow—
the same words repeated for twice a thousand years.
But middle-aged I have become aware
of all the paranoia, boredom, pain,
where with lame hands I grope ... of empty air
and dust, and chances lost, and littlest gain.
Yet here I am, my God, where I relax
in warmth of heaters, and Thy glowing smile,
where words, repeated, securer are than cheques,
the Love which then I felt, now lost awhile.
Thus We gave God, Whose Love does not change the story,
a proof of Love—seal of eternal glory!

This is a devotional poem with a warm, tender spirit and a nice touch of irony.

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