I call the following collection of my favorite poems ‘Natural Selections,’ because these are among the poems that have survived in me; they are part of my sacred literature because they speak to me, they nurture my spirit. A recording of all of these poems is available on request.
Table of Contents:
- The Pasture
- Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
- The Road Not Taken
- Mending Wall
- After Apple Picking
- Death of the Hired Man
- Two Tramps in Mud Time
- Home Burial
- Primer Lesson
- Southern Pacific
- Prayers of Steel
- Windy City
- from The People, Yes
- “so you want to divide…”
- “I’m holding my own…”
- “A father sees a son…”
- Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz
- Stars, Songs, Faces
e e cummings:
- maggie and millie and molly and may
- when god decided
- hello is what a mirror says
- i thank You god
- when faces called flowers float
- when serpents bargain
- dying is fine
- why must itself up
- little tree
- be of love a little
- rain or hail
- sweet spring
- i am a little church
- One’s-Self I Sing
- To You
- Thou Reader
- from ‘A Song of the Rolling Earth’
- from ‘Song of Myself’
- O Captain! My Captain!
- from ‘Song of the Open Road’
T. S. Eliot
Edna St. Vincent Millay
E. B. White
Edgar Allen Poe
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan’t be gone long. — You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan’t be gone long. — You come too.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone really find us out.
‘Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.
But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.
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.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or herd them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance;
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more;
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple tress will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade o9f trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter of fact about the ice storm,
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of consideration,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’ the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,
She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage
To meet him in the doorway with the news
And put him on his guard. ‘Silas is back.’
She pushed him outward with her through the door
And shut it after her. “Be kind,’ she said.
She took the market things from Warren’s arms
And set them on the porch, then drew him down
To sit beside her on the wooden steps.
‘When was I ever anything but kind to him?
But I’ll not have the fellow back,’ he said.
‘I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
“If he left then,” I said, “that ended it.”
What good is he? Who else will harbour him
At his age for the little he can do?
What help he is there’s no depending on.
Off he goes always when I need him most.
‘He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,
Enough at least to buy tobacco with,
won’t have to beg and be beholden.”
“All right,” I say “I can’t afford to pay
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.”
“Someone else can.”
“Then someone else will have to.
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself
If that was what it was. You can be certain,
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money, —
In haying time, when any help is scarce.
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.’
‘Shh I not so loud: he’ll hear you,’ Mary said.
‘I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late.’
‘He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove.
When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here,
Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep,
A miserable sight, and frightening, too-
You needn’t smile — I didn’t recognize him-
I wasn’t looking for him- and he’s changed.
Wait till you see.’
‘Where did you say he’d been?
‘He didn’t say. I dragged him to the house,
And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke.
I tried to make him talk about his travels.
Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off.’
‘What did he say? Did he say anything?’
‘Anything? Mary, confess
He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for me.’
‘But did he? I just want to know.’
‘Of course he did. What would you have him say?
Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man
Some humble way to save his self-respect.
He added, if you really care to know,
He meant to clear the upper pasture, too.
That sounds like something you have heard before?
Warren, I wish you could have heard the way
He jumbled everything. I stopped to look
Two or three times — he made me feel so queer–
To see if he was talking in his sleep.
He ran on Harold Wilson — you remember –
The boy you had in haying four years since.
He’s finished school, and teaching in his college.
Silas declares you’ll have to get him back.
He says they two will make a team for work:
Between them they will lay this farm as smooth!
The way he mixed that in with other things.
He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft
On education — you know how they fought
All through July under the blazing sun,
Silas up on the cart to build the load,
Harold along beside to pitch it on.’
‘Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot.’
‘Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream.
You wouldn’t think they would. How some things linger!
Harold’s young college boy’s assurance piqued him.
After so many years he still keeps finding
Good arguments he sees he might have used.
I sympathize. I know just how it feels
To think of the right thing to say too late.
Harold’s associated in his mind with Latin.
He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying
He studied Latin like the violin
Because he liked it — that an argument!
He said he couldn’t make the boy believe
He could find water with a hazel prong–
Which showed how much good school had ever done
him. He wanted to go over that. ‘But most of all
He thinks if he could have another chance
To teach him how to build a load of hay –‘
‘I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment.
He bundles every forkful in its place,
And tags and numbers it for future reference,
So he can find and easily dislodge it
In the unloading. Silas does that well.
He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests.
You never see him standing on the hay
He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.’
‘He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be
Some good perhaps to someone in the world.
He hates to see a boy the fool of books.
Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.’
Part of a moon was filling down the west,
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
As if she played unheard the tenderness
That wrought on him beside her in the night.
‘Warren,’ she said, ‘he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’
‘Home,’ he mocked gently.
‘Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
then was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’
Warren leaned out and took a step or two,
Picked up a little stick, and brought it back
And broke it in his hand and tossed it by.
‘Silas has better claim on’ us, you think,
Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles
As the road winds would bring him to his door.
Silas has walked that far no doubt to-day.
Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich,
A somebody- director in the bank.’
‘He never told us that.’
‘We know it though.’
‘I think his brother ought to help, of course.
I’ll see to that if there is need. He ought of right
To take him in, and might be willing to-=
He may be better than appearances.
But have some pity on Silas. Do you think
If he’d had any pride in claiming kin
Or anything he looked for from his brother,
He’d keep so still about him all this time?’
‘I wonder what’s between them.’
‘I can tell you.
Silas is what he is — we wouldn’t mind him–
But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide.
He never did a thing so very bad.
He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good
As anyone. He won’t be made ashamed
To please his brother, worthless though he is.’
‘I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone.’
‘No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.
He wouldn’t let me put him on the lounge.
You must go in and see what you can do.
I made the bed up for him there to-night.
You’ll be surprised at him — how much he’s broken.
His working days are done; I’m sure of it.’
‘I’d not be in a hurry to say that.’
‘I haven’t been. Go, look, see for yourself.
But, Warren, please remember how it is:
He’ come to help you ditch the meadow.
He has a plan, You mustn’t laugh at him.
He may not speak of it, and then he may.
I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud
Will hit or miss the moon.’
It hit the moon.
Then there were three there, making a dim row,
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.
Warren returned– too soon, it seemed to her,
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.
‘Warren?’ she questioned.
‘Dead,’ was all he answered.
Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.
Good blocks of beech it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.
The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.
The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.
Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.
Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see
From up there always — for I want to know.’
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see?’
Mounting until she cowered under him.
‘I will find out now — you must tell me, dear.’
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and a while he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, ‘Oh’ and again, ‘Oh.’
‘What is it — what?’ she said.
‘Just that I see.’
‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’
‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it — that’s the reason.’
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound –‘
‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
‘Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’
‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’
‘Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.’
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
‘There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.’
‘You don’t know how to ask it.’
‘Help me, then.’
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
‘My words are nearly always an offence.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how,
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ‘twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t — don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably- in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied –‘
‘There you go sneering now!’
‘I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’
‘You can’t because you don’t know how.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand–how could you?–his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’
‘I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’
I can repeat the very words you were saying ,
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.”
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlour?
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretence of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t’
‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up?
Amyl There’s someone coming down the road!’
‘You –oh, you think the talk is all. I must go-
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you –‘
‘If–you — do!’ She was opening the door wider.
‘Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will! –‘
Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967
Look out how you use proud words.
When you let proud words go, it is
not easy to call them back.
They wear long boots, hard boots; they
walk off proud; they can’t hear you
Look out how you use proud words.
Huntington sleeps in a house six feet long.
Huntington dreams of railroads he built and owned.
Huntington dreams of ten thousand men saying: Yes, sir.
Blithery sleeps in a house six feet long.
Blithery dreams of rails and ties he laid.
Blithery dreams of saying to Huntington: Yes, sir.
Blithery, sleep in houses six feet long.
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue
nights into white stars.
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
I asked professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me
what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work
of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile
as though I was trying to fool with them.
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the
Des Plaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children
and a keg of beer and an accordion.
Put the city up; tear the city down;
put it up again; let us find a city.
Let us remember the little violet-eyed
man who gave all, praying, “Dig and
dream, dream and hammer, till
you city comes.”
Every day the people sleep and the city dies;
every day the people shake loose, awake and
build the city again.
The city is a tool chest opened every day,
a time clock punched every morning,
a shop door, bunkers and overalls
counting every day.
The city is a balloon and a bubble plaything
shot to the sky every evening, whistled in
a ragtime jig down the sunset.
The city is made, forgotten, and made again,
trucks hauling it away haul it back
steered by drivers whistling ragtime
against the sunsets.
Every day the people get up and carry the city,
carry the bunkers and balloons of the city,
lift it and put it down.
“So you want to divide all the money there is
and give every man his share?”
“that’s it. Put it all in one big pile and split
it even for everybody.”
“and the land, the gold, silver, oil, copper, you want
that divided up?”
“Sure — an even whack for all of us.”
“Do you mean that to go for horses and cows”
“Sure — why not?”
“And how about pigs?”
“Oh to hell with you — you know I got a couple of
A father sees a son nearing manhood
What shall he tell that son?
Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony
and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
And left them dead years before burial:
The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
Has twisted good enough men
Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat not on the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
And the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.
I wish we never bought a license and a white dress
For you to get married in the day we ran off to a minister
And told him we would love each other and take care of
Always and always long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere.
Yes, I’m wishing now you lived somewhere away from here
And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away
I wish the kids had never come
And rent and coal and clothes to pay for
And a grocery man calling for cash,
Every day cash for beans and prunes.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish to God the kids had never come.
There is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red
Tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this
wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will
not let it go.
There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I
pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and
take sleepers and eat them and hid the feathers … I circle and
loop and double-cross
There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for
eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the
sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not
let it go.
There is a fish in me … I know I came from the salt-blue water-gates …
I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with
porpoises … before land wads … before the water went down …
before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.
There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced …
yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here
are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blonde and blue-
eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to
snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting—I keep
the baboon because the wilderness says so.
There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among
the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-
valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun, Stalingrad.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
Are you happy? It’s the only
way to be, kid.
Yes, be happy, it’s a good nice
way to be.
But not happy-happy, kid, don’t
be too doubled-up doggone happy.
It’s the doubled-up doggone happy-
happy people … bust hard … they
do bust hard … when they bust.
Be happy, kid, go to it, but not too
Gather the stars if you wish it so
Gather the songs and keep them
Gather the faces of women (and men).
Gather for keeping years and years.
Loosen your hands, let go and say good-by.
Let the stars and songs go.
Let the faces and years go.
Loosen your hands and say good-by.
e e cummings
and Maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways blowing bubbles;and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was of
shall and finding only why
smashed it into because
no sunbeam ever lies
Bang is the meaning of a gun
It is a man means No
and (seeing something yes) will grin
with pain You so&so
true wars are never won
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
–it’s april(yes april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)
when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
–alive;we’re alive,dear:it’s(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
(now the mountains are dancing,the mountains)
when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
–it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
(all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)
when every thrush may sing no new moon in
if all screech-owls have not okayed his voice
–and any wave signs on the dotted line
or else an ocean is compelled to close
when the oak begs permission of the birch
to make an acorn-valleys accuse their
mountains of having altitude-and march
denounces april as a saboteur
then we’ll believe in that incredible
unanimal mankind(and not until)
Death if Death
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it,dying
cause dying is
it mildly lively(but
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us.o life!the sin of Death
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer “no”?
quote citizens unquote might otherwise
forget(to err is human;to forgive
divine)that if the quote state unquote says
“kill” killing is an act of Christian love.
“Nothing” in 1944 A D
“can stand against the argument of mil
itary necessity”(generalissimo e)
and echo answers “there is no appeal
from reason”(freud)-you pays your money and
you doesn’t take your choice. Ain’t freedom grand
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
See i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
Oh but you’ll be very proud
And my little sister and i will take hands
And looking up at our beautiful tree
We’ll dance and sing
A trifle less
(merely beyond how very
Nothing,remember love by frequent
Her least never with most
Memory)give entirely each
Forever its freedom
(Dare until a flower,
understanding sizelessly sunlight
Open what thousandth why and
sam was a man
stout as a bridge
rugged as a bear
slickern a weasel
how be you
(sun or snow)
gone into what
like all them kings
you read about
and on him sings
heart was big
as the world aint square
with room for the devil
and his angels too
what may be better
or what may be worse
and what may be clover
sam was a man
grinned his grin
done his chores
laid him down
(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)
lovers go and lovers come
but any two are perfectly
alone there’s nobody else alive
(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
And everybody never breathed
Quite so many kinds of yes)
not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing
(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating
merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)
“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love”
my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness
around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and I wake to a perfect patience of mountains
i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
–i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing
winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)
Walt Whitman, 1819 – 1892
ONES-SELF I SING
One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.
Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the muse,
I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.
Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me,
why should you not speak to me
And why should I not speak to you?
Thou reader throbbest life and pride and love the same as I,
Therefore for thee the following chants.
A song of the rolling earth, and of words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those
upright lines? Those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.
Were you thinking that those were the words, those
delicious sounds out of your friends’ mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.
Human bodies are words, myriads of words,
(In the best poems re-appears the body, man’s or woman’s,
well-shaped, natural gay,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the
need of shame.
Air, soil, water, fire—those are words,
I myself am a word with them—my qualities interpenetrate
with theirs – my name is nothing to them,
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what
would air, soil, water, fire, know of my name?
A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture,
are words, sayings, meanings,
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and
women, are sayings and meanings also.
The workmanship of souls is by those inaudible words of
The masters know the earth’s words and use them more than
Amelioration is one of the earth’s words,
The earth neither lags nor hastns,
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from
it is not half beautiful only, defects and excrescences show
just as much as perfections show.
The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough,
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print,
They are imbued through all things conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation, I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not of what avail am I to you?…
Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially for you,
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.
Each man to himself and each woman to herself is the word of the
past and the present, and the true word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another – not one,
Not one can grow for another – not one.
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him,
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him,
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him,
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him,
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him,
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him – it cannot fail,
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and
actress not to the audience,
And no man understands any greatness or goodness, but his own,
or the indication of his own.
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains
jagged or broken.
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best,
It is always to leave the best untold.
When I undertake to tell the best I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.
The best of the earth cannot be told anyhow, all or any is best,
It is not what you anticipated, it is cheaper, easier, nearer.
Things are not dismiss’d from the places they held before,
The earth is just as positive and direct as it was before,
Facts, religions, improvements, politics, trades, are as real as before,
But the soul is also real, it too is positive and direct,
No reasoning, no proof has establish’d it,
Undeniable growth has establish’d it.
I swear I will never henceforth have to do with the faith that tells the best,
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best untold.
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge
of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with anyone I love, or sleep in the bed
at night with anyone I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honeybees busy around the hive
of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining
so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread
with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim-the rocks-the motion of the waves
the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
I loafe and invite myself,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood form’d from this soul, this air
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and
their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not until death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
Houses and rooms are full or perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume it has no taste of the distillation,
it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever….I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hillsides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from
bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the comers, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps, and here you are the mothers’ laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women.
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Who goes there? hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?
What is a man anyhow? what am l? what are you?
All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.
I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth.
Whimpering and trucking fold with powders for invalids, conformity goes to the fourth-remov’d,
I wear my hat as I please indoors or out.
Why should I pray? why should I venerate and be ceremonious?
Having pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair, counsel’d with doctors and calculated close, I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.
I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.
Logic and sermons never convince,
The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul (Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so, Only what nobody denies is so.)
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain ‘d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.
I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.
Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.
If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuffs of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.
This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look’d at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we be fill’d and satisfied then?
And my spirit said No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.
You are also asking me questions and I hear you, and I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.
Sit a while dear son,
Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.
I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his funeral drest in his shroud,
And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.)
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.
There is that in me–I do not know what it is–but I know it is in me.
I do not know it–it is without name–it is a word unsaid,
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.
Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death–it is form, union, plan–it is eternal life–it is Happiness.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)
You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.
O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not — if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?
O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.
I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me. I think whoever I see must be happy.
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently,but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.
Now if a thousand perfect men were to appear it would not amaze me,
Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appear’d it would not astonish me.
Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
Here is the test of wisdom,
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it to another not having it,
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.
Here is realization,
Here is a man tallied — he realizes here what he has in him,
The past, the future, majesty, love — if they are vacant of you, you are vacant of them.
Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.
The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.
Allons! the inducements shall be greater,
We will sail pathless and wild seas,
We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper speeds by under full sail.
Allons! with power, liberty, the earth, the elements,
Health, defiance, gayety, self-esteem, curiosity;
(I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.)
Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands toward you.
Allons! after the great Companions, and to belong to them!
They too are on the road — they are the swift and majestic men — they are the greatest women,
Allons! to that which is endless as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys,
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you, however long but it stretches and waits for you,
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.
Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? Nature?
Now understand me well — it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.
My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion,
He going with me must go well arm’d,
He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry enemies, desertions.
Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe — I have tried it — my own feet have tried it well — be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
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.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name:
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
What lifts the heron leaning on the air
I praise without a name. A crouch, a flare,
a long stroke through the cumulus of trees,
a shaped thought at the sky—then gone. O rare!
Saint Francis, being happiest on his knees,
would have cried Father! Cry anything you please
But praise. By any name or none. But praise
the white original burst that lights
the heron on his two soft kissing kites.
When saints praise heaven lit by doves and rays,
I sit by pond scums till the air recites
It’s heron back. And doubt all else. But praise.
Now we’re ready to look at something pretty special. It’s a duck, riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf. No it isn’t a gull. A gull always has a raucous touch about him. This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over. There is a big heaving in the Atlantic, and he is a part of it.
He looks a bit like a mandarin, or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree.
But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher. He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is. And neither do you. But he realizes it.
And what does he do, I ask you? He sits down in it! He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity — which it is. He has made himself a part of the boundless by easing himself into just where it touches him.
I like the little duck. He doesn’t know much, but he’s got religion.
T. S. Eliot
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen, the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives. I ran maskless through the streets shouting, ‘Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.’
Men and women and children laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, ‘He is a madman.’ I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, ‘Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.
And thus I became a madman.
And I have found both safety and freedom in my madness: the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.
But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a thief in jail is safe from another thief.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, and the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, and a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; and all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, and the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life. To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife; and all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, and quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in vain.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I shall die, but that is all I shall do for death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall. I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans,
Many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself; I will not give him a lift up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell him
Which way the fox ran.
With his hooof on my breast, I will not tell him where the black boy
Hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for death;
I am not on his pay-roll.
I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of living that I should deliver men to death?
Brother, the password and the plans of the city are safe with me;
Never through me shall you be overcome.
Jalal ad-Din Rumi, Sufi Poet, 1207 – 73
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
Doesn’t make any sense.
Last year, I admired wines. This,
I’m wandering inside the red world.
Last year, I gazed at the fire.
This year I’m burnt kabob.
Thirst drove me down to the water
where I drank the moon’s reflection.
Now I am a lion staring up totally
lost in love with the thing itself.
Don’t ask questions about longing.
Look in my face.
Soul drunk, body ruined, these two
sit helpless in a wrecked wagon.
Neither knows how to fix it.
And my heart, I’d say it was more
like a donkey sunk in a mudhole,
struggling and miring deeper.
But listen to me, for one moment,
Quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.
E. B. White
The spider, dropping down from twig
Unwinds a thread of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.
And all that journey down through space
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted
She builds a ladder to the place
From which she started.
Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you,
For my returning.
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-setting, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandaly,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat—jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud—
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd—
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay…
When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon me shoulder an’ ‘eer cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamer an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay.
But that’s all shove be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runn’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed nought else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandaly…
I am a sick ‘o wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones’
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and—
Law! wot to they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay…
Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be—
By the old Moulmein Padoga, looking lazy at the sea’
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
Edgar Allan Poe 1849
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles
through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal
Of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and
I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles
of the rain are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world
offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese,
harsh and exciting—over and over
announcing your place in the family of things.
Every morning the world is created.
Under the orange sticks of the sun
The heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again
And fasten themselves to the high branches—
And the ponds appear like black cloth
On which are painted islands of summer lilies.
If it is your nature to be happy
You will swim away along the soft trails for hours,
Your imagination alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit carries within it the thorn
That is heavier than lead—if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging—
There is still somewhere deep within you a beast
shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted—
each pond with its blazing lilies is
a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning.
Whether or not you have ever dared to be happy,
Whether or not you have ever dared to pray.
To live in this world
You must be able
To do three things:
To love what is mortal,
To hold it against your bones knowing
Your own life depends on it;
And, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Some couldn’t stand me.
You stood me.
It may be
because you stood me
I’m more standable.
“Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. ”
~G.K. Chesterton, ORTHODOXY