Category Archives: Poetry Month 2010

Six Sonnets at a Time -23-

Happy 445th to the Bard!


Here are a few of our most beloved sonnets

 by William Shakespeare.




Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.



Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’



When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.



Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,
A closet never pierc’d with crystal eyes,
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To ‘cide this title is impannelled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart;
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye’s moiety, and the dear heart’s part:
As thus: mine eye’s due is thine outward part,
And my heart’s right, thine inward love of heart.



My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.



To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.



Which sonnets not included here make your heart sing?

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Two Poems at a Time -22-

As far as I’m concerned, the first poem below is as much an ode to Mother Earth as anything can be. But, just for fun, and for your reading pleasure, please find the second, in honor of Earth Day!



Doesn’t this poem make you want to marry a surrealist? (Nevermind the fact that Breton married 3 times…)



Freedom of Love
by Andre Breton
(Included in 99 Poems in Translation, edited by Harold Pinter)
(Translated from the French by Edouard Roditi)

My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with the lips of a cockade and of a bunch of stars of the last magnitude
With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth
With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass
My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host
With the tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
With the tongue of an unbelievable stone
My wife with the eyelashes of strokes of a child’s writing
With brows of the edge of a swallow’s nest
My wife with the brow of slates of a hothouse roof
And of steam on the panes
My wife with shoulders of champagne
And of a fountain with dolphin-heads beneath the ice
My wife with wrists of matches
My wife with fingers of luck and ace of hearts
With fingers of mown hay
My wife with armpits of marten and of beechnut
And of Midsummer Night
Of privet and of an angelfish nest
With arms of seafoam and of riverlocks
And of a mingling of the wheat and the mill
My wife with legs of flares
With the movements of clockwork and despair
My wife with calves of eldertree pith
My wife with feet of initials
With feet of rings of keys and Java sparrows drinking
My wife with a neck of unpearled barley
My wife with a throat of the valley of gold
Of a tryst in the very bed of the torrent
With breasts of night
My wife with breasts of a marine molehill
My wife with breasts of the ruby’s crucible
With breasts of the rose’s spectre beneath the dew
My wife with the belly of an unfolding of the fan of days
With the belly of a gigantic claw
My wife with the back of a bird fleeing vertically
With a back of quicksilver
With a back of light
With a nape of rolled stone and wet chalk
And of the drop of a glass where one has just been drinking
My wife with hips of a skiff
With hips of a chandelier and of arrow-feathers
And of shafts of white peacock plumes
Of an insensible pendulum
My wife with buttocks of sandstone and asbestos
My wife with buttocks of swans’ backs
My wife with buttocks of spring
With the sex of an iris
My wife with the sex of a mining-placer and of a platypus
My wife with a sex of seaweed and ancient sweetmeat
My wife with a sex of mirror
My wife with eyes full of tears
With eyes of purple panoply and of a magnetic needle
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water to he drunk in prison
My wife with eyes of wood always under the axe
My wife with eyes of water-level of level of air earth and fire




There is very little left to say about the state of our planet… That its moods know their twins inside our own veins is a truth. That the earth’s sorrows are our own is an irrefutable truth. That we are nothing, that our existence is rendered obsolete without a kind sun and an environment in harmony– well, read this poem

It is also a truth that no action for the greater good is taken by an individual unless it’s one understood in personal terms. To me, personally, nature functions as a kind of weaver of memories. As someone who has forgotten so much, a rainy day, a dewy morning, a scorching afternoon all serve to stop me. Make me remember. Without weather I would have no memories.




Rain, by Claribel Alegria (translated by Margaret S. Peden)

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
a voracious
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.



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One Poem at a Time -21-

We’ve all read this poem time and time again. It is, perhaps, one of the best known poems in all of American history. But sometimes we can forget how important it is. Whenever I get to feeling I’m not much like the guy next door and wonder what’s wrong with me, I read this over and remember: there’s nothing really amiss. I’m just on that road not taken much.



The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


[Listen to audio clip of today’s poetry selection from]

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One Poem at a Time -20-

This poem (spell? mantra?) was composed (received as revelation?) sometime between 400 and 100 B.C. by Amhairghin, wordmaster to the “Sons of Mil”, the ancient Celtic conquerer/founders of Ireland. If you read this and are able to take it as truth rather than romance, then it’ll save you having to read “The Tao of Physics“, “The Dancing Wu Li Masters“, or “Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics“.



A Song of Amhairghin

I am an estuary into the sea
I am a wave of the sea
I am the sound of the sea
I am a powerful ox
I am a hawk on a cliff
I am a dewdrop in the sun
I am a plant of beauty
I am a boar of valor
I am a salmon in a pool
I am a lake in a plain
I am the strength of art



 [Listen to an audio clip of Czeslaw Milosz reading “Magpiety.”]

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One Poem at a Time -19-

One of my favorite things about working at the bookstore is when I notice young customers browsing our antiquarian books.  There is the hesitant, respectful way they will pick up a poetry volume. They marvel at the gilt pages, the exquisite plates, illustrations. They’ll read a few lines, and as the magic of Shelley or Tennyson or Browning reels them in, they’ll put their backpacks down, then lean against the wall, unable to stop reading.  I smile to myself:  Welcome to the Rabbit Hole…


I Held a Shelley Manuscript

My hands did numb to beauty
as they reached into Death and tightened!

O sovereign was my touch
upon the tan-inks’s fragile page!

Quickly, my eyes moved quickly,
sought for smell for dust for lace
for dry hair!

I would have taken the page
breathing in the crime!
For no evidence have I wrung from dreams–
yet what triumph is there in private credence?

Often, in some steep ancestral book,
when I find myself entangled with leopard-apples
and torched-skin mushrooms,
my cypressean skein outreaches the recorded age
and I, as though tipping a pitcher of milk,
pour secrecy upon the dying page.




[Listen to an audio clip of W.H. Auden reading “On Reading a Child’s Guide to Modern Physics”]


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One Poem at a Time -18-

“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” is a stellar example of a poem about poetry.  Upon the death of William Butler Yeats, Auden wrote this as a eulogy analyzing the relationship between the poet and the world, and, to some extent, it speaks to the question of what the value of poetry is. Auden presents poetry as an invocation of joy and reconciliation, able to transcend harsh political realities and the sterility of the intellect.  Juxtaposing the horrors of the Second World War with the image of happy Yeats being received into the earth, Auden reminds us that the poet’s duty is to teach men to rejoice and be hopeful, even in times when all seems dark.
In Memory of W.B. Yeats



He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

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One Poem at a Time -17-

Knowing what we know about Sylvia Plath, I guess you could read this as ominous, or read a lot into the homophonic double entendre of the title, but I can’t help but read it as a singular moment of joy, in a life that probably saw precious little of it.

Morning Song
from Ariel


Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.  New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety.  We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses.  I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s.  The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars.  And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.




[Listen to an audio clip of James Merrill reading “To a Butterfly”]

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One Poem at a Time -16-

My sister-in-law, Liz Klise, a poet herself, just sent me this. A while back she had to sell her most glorious four-story town house in Brooklyn Heights and it tore her apart for sometime. And then she read this…   



“69” by Philip Schultz

This morning I’m tired of the same newspapers and arguments._
I’m tired of sticking the same legs into the same pants,_
the same hands poking out of the same sleeves, going west_
and then east, heating up the same tea, watching the same sun_
rise over the same horizon, the same trees shedding the same leaves._
Tired of climbing the same stairs to look out the same window_
at the same street, tired of shaking the same hands, opening and_
closing the same doors, dreaming the same dreams, saying hello_
good morning happy birthday I’m so sorry please forgive me.



[Listen to an audio clip of Robert Pinsky reading “Street Music”]

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One Poem at a Time -15-

Parkinson’s disease made my Godfather look like he was bending down to listen to a shy child. He was slim and tall — 6’5″. He truly understood people, especially the “difficult ones” like me.  He was a source of comfort and strength when my parents passed away.  My protector.  And then one day he followed them into the beyond… My first reaction was to panic, until I realized he had given me the tools so that I could now make it on my own. I came across this poem and I keep it next to his picture on my dresser.  This one’s for you, Uncle Jud…




Sunflower and Speedwell by Henry F. Weaver

A sunflower tall in a garden grew,
Bold and strong was his head,
And he grew by day, and he grew
by night,
He widened his stem and he lengthened
his height
And said, “I’ll never be dead.”

Yet a wind sprang up and shivered
his leaves —
It whispered a kindly tone —
Then it blew all day and it blew all
And twisted his stem and shortened
his height
Till he lay in the garden prone.

Then every bloom in the garden saw
The sunflower broken and low,
And the snapdragon cried, “How quickly
he died!”
While a grub ate a hole in the stem’s
When the wind had ceased to blow —

But a speedwell blue by the footpath
Piped a small speedwell eye,
For he knew when the heat of the
day was great
No more would the head of his big
tall mate
Come between him and the sky.




[Listen to an audio clip of Robert Duncan reading “Structure of Rime IV”]

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One Poem at a Time -14-

This poem always brings a smile to my face and adds a twinkle to my day. OMG!
Oh, My God!
Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days.
Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe.
Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips.

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