The HyperTexts

Poems of Consolation

This page includes some of the most consoling poems in the English language, plus a few that I have written myself over the course of a lifetime. Writers of great consoling poems include W. H. Auden, William Blake, Sam Cooke, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Edward Arlington Robinson, Rumi, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Shakespeare, Sara Teasdale, Dylan Thomas, William Wordsworth and James Wright.Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts

For what it's worth, these are my top ten poems, hymns and songs of consolation:

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Paul Simon
"It is Well with My Soul" by Horatio G. Spafford
"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye
"A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever" by John Keats
"If I Speak with the Tongues of Men and of Angels" by Saint Paul
"Music When Soft Voices Die" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

"A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" by Dylan Thomas
"Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas
"Imagine" by John Lennon
"A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke

Honorable Mention: "Let It Be" by Paul McCartney, "Here Comes the Sun" by George Harrison, "You've Got a Friend" by Carole King, "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, "You’ll Never Walk Alone" by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II, "since feeling is first" by e. e. cummings, "A Blessing" by James Wright, "Lullaby" by W. H. Auden, "The Divine Image" by William Blake, "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold" by William Wordsworth, "Hope Is A Thing With Feathers" by Emily Dickinson, "Peace" by Sara Teasdale, "Credo" by Edward Arlington Robinson, "Heaven-Haven" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" by William Shakespeare, "23rd Psalm" by King David

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 star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

The poem above is sometimes called "I Am" due to its repetition of the phrase. Was the poem inspired? The Hebrew name for God, YHWH, means "I am" or "I am that I am." And there does seem to be something magical about the poem, as it was written by a woman who, to our knowledge, had never written a poem before. Mary Elizabeth Frye was an orphan with no formal education. In 1932 she and her husband hosted a young Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was fleeing the Holocaust. When she received news that her mother had died in Germany, the heartbroken houseguest told Frye in despair that she had never had the chance to "stand by my mother's grave and shed a tear." Frye found herself composing the poem above on a ripped-off section of a brown paper shopping bag. She said the words "just came to her." In a 1996 Bookworm poll, "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" was voted one of Great Britain's most popular poems despite not even being nominated by critics for the list. There were around 30,000 write-in votes for the mysterious elegy.

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Its loveliness increases; it will never
pass into nothingness ...
―John Keats

Happiness is like a butterfly:
the more you chase it, the more it will elude you.
But if you turn your attention to other things,
it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.
—Henry David Thoreau

I like not only to be loved but also to be told that I am loved.
The realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.
This is the world of light and speech.
And I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear.
—George Eliot

I expect to pass this way but once;
any good therefore that I can do,
or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature,
let me do it now.
Let me not defer or neglect it,
for I shall not pass this way again.
—Etienne Griellet

It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before,
to test your limits,
to break through barriers.
And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
—Anaïs Nin

Oh God of dust and rainbows, help us see
that without dust the rainbow would not be.
—Langston Hughes

Love calls, everywhere and always.
We're sky bound.
Are you coming?

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold
by William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

by Edward Arlington Robinson

I cannot find my way: there is no star
In all the shrouded heavens anywhere;
And there is not a whisper in the air
Of any living voice but one so far
That I can hear it only as a bar
Of lost, imperial music, played when fair
And angel fingers wove, and unaware,
Dead leaves to garlands where no roses are.

No, there is not a glimmer, nor a call,
For one that welcomes, welcomes when he fears,
The black and awful chaos of the night;
For through it all—above, beyond it all—
I know the far sent message of the years,
I feel the coming glory of the light.

Music When Soft Voices Die (To )
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

Here is a prayer-poem that I wrote in a burst of compassion during a very dark time in my life:

I Pray Tonight
by Michael R. Burch

I pray tonight
the starry light
surround you.

I pray
by day
that, come what may,
no dark thing confound you.

I pray ere the morrow
an end to your sorrow.
May angels' white chorales
sing, and astound you.

Silently observing
the bottomless mountain lake:
water lilies
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London
by Dylan Thomas

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

Hope Is A Thing With Feathers
by Emily Dickinson

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

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

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

by Sara Teasdale

Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies,—
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.

The births of all things are weak and tender, therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.
—Michel de Montaigne

A Blessing
by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels sing. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
—Anton Chekov

it is at moments after i have dreamed
by e. e. cummings

it is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when(being fool to fancy)i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
at moments when the glassy darkness holds
the genuine apparition of your smile
(it was through tears always)and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while;
moments when my once more illustrious arms
are filled with fascination,when my breast
wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
—turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep.

The mountain violets have broken the rocks.
—Tennessee Williams (slightly paraphrased)

Here are my translations of Cherokee blessings, which I gave to my father when he chose to enter hospice and end his life by refusing dialysis:

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing I
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I will extract the thorns from your feet.
For a little while, let us walk life's sun-lit paths together.
I will love you like my own blood, my dear brother.
When you are disconsolate, I will wipe the tears from your eyes.
And when you are too sad to live, I will put your aching heart to rest.

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing II
translation by Michael R. Burch

Happily may you walk
in the paths of the Rainbow.
and may it always be beautiful before you,
beautiful behind you,
beautiful below you,
beautiful above you,
and beautiful all around you
where in Perfection beauty is finished.

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing III
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May Heaven’s warming winds blow gently there,
where you reside,
and may the Great Spirit bless all those you care for,
this side of the farther tide.

And when you go,
whether the journey is fast or slow,
may your moccasins leave many cunning footprints in the snow.
And when you look over your shoulder,
may you always find the Rainbow.

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
― Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

by W. H. Auden

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm:
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstacy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost.
All the dreaded cards foretell.
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought.
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?
by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

Here's poem I wrote for my mother, Christine Ena Burch:

Mother’s Smile
by Michael R. Burch

There never was a fonder smile
than mother’s smile, no softer touch
than mother’s touch. So sleep awhile
and know she loves you more than “much.”

So more than “much,” much more than “all.”
Though tender words, these do not speak
of love at all, nor how we fall
and mother’s there, nor how we reach
from nightmares in the ticking night
and she is there to hold us tight.

There never was a stronger back
than father’s back, that held our weight
and lifted us, when we were small,
and bore us till we reached the gate,
then held our hands that first bright mile
till we could run, and did, and flew.
But, oh, a mother’s tender smile
will leap and follow after you!

The Divine Image
by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

by Michael R. Burch

See how her hair has thinned: it doesn't seem
like hair at all, but like the airy moult
of emus who outraced the wind and left
soft plumage in their wake. See how her eyes
are gentler now; see how each wrinkle laughs,
and deepens on itself, as though mirth took
some comfort there and burrowed deeply in,
outlasting winter. See how very thin
her features are—that time has made more spare,
so that each bone shows, elegant and rare.

For loveliness remains in her grave eyes,
and courage in her still-delighted looks:
each face presented like a picture book's.
Bemused, she blows us undismayed goodbyes.

Originally published by Writer's Digest's—The Year's Best Writing 2003

He did not say: "You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be afflicted"; but he said: "You will not be overcome."
~ Mother Julian of Norwich 

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
~ Mother Julian of Norwich 

The 23rd Psalm
attributed to King David

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

All is well
by Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)
Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral
Death is nothing at all. 
I have only slipped away into the next room. 
I am I, and you are you. 
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. 
Call me by my old familiar name, 
speak to me in the easy way which you always used. 
Put no difference in your tone, 
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. 
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. 
Pray, smile, think of me, pray for me. 
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, 
let it be spoken without effect, 
without the trace of a shadow on it. 
Life means all that it ever meant. 
It is the same as it ever was; 
there is unbroken continuity. 
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, 
for an interval, 
somewhere very near, 
just round the corner.
All is well.

Sanskrit Proverb

Look to this day,
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

Child of 9-11
by Michael R. Burch

a poem for Christina-Taylor Green, who was born
on September 11, 2001 and died at the age of nine,
shot to death ...

Child of 9-11, beloved,
I bring this lily, lay it down
here at your feet, and eiderdown,
and all soft things, for your gentle spirit.
I bring this psalm — I hope you hear it.

Much love I bring — I lay it down
here by your form, which is not you,
but what you left this shell-shocked world
to help us learn what we must do
to save another child like you.

Child of 9-11, I know
you are not here, but watch, afar
from distant stars, where angels rue
the vicious things some mortals do.
I also watch; I also rue.

And so I make this pledge and vow:
though I may weep, I will not rest
nor will my pen fail heaven's test
till guns and wars and hate are banned
from every shore, from every land.

Child of 9-11, I grieve
your tender life, cut short ... bereaved,
what can I do, but pledge my life
to saving lives like yours? Belief
in your sweet worth has led me here ...

I give my all: my pen, this tear,
this lily and this eiderdown,
and all soft things my heart can bear;
I bear them to your final bier,
and leave them with my promise, here.

Just Smile
by Michael R. Burch

We’d like to think some angel smiling down
will watch him as his arm bleeds in the yard,
ripped off by dogs, will guide his tipsy steps,
his doddering progress through the scarlet house
to tell his mommy "boo-boo!," only two.

We’d like to think his reconstructed face
will be as good as new, will often smile,
that baseball’s just as fun with just one arm,
that God is always Just, that girls will smile,
not frown down at his thousand livid scars,
that Life is always Just, that Love is Just.

We do not want to hear that he will shave
at six, to raze the leg hairs from his cheeks,
that lips aren’t easily fashioned, that his smile’s
lopsided, oafish, snaggle-toothed, that each
new operation costs a billion tears,
when tears are out of fashion.
                                             O, beseech
some poet with more skill with words than tears
to find some happy ending, to believe
that God is Just, that Love is Just, that these
are Parables we live, Life’s Mysteries ...

Or look inside his courage, as he ties
his shoelaces one-handed, as he throws
no-hitters on the first-place team, and goes
on dates, looks in the mirror undeceived
and smiling says, "It’s me I see. Just me."

He smiles, if life is Just, or lacking cures.
Your pity is the worst cut he endures.

The HyperTexts