and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
he didn’t fight.
he hadn’t fought at all.
he hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely, here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
while his fills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
-the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
i thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim bladder
like a big peony.
i looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
they shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
-it was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
i admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then i saw
that from his lower lip
-if you could call it a lip-
grim, wet, and weapon like,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
a green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the stain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing form his aching jaw.
i stand and staed
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlock on their strings,
the gunnels – until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
and i let the fish go.
in the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the little marvel stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
the iron kettle sings on the stove.
she cuts some bread and says to the child,
its time for a tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like the mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string. birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dead brown tears.
she shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
it was to be, says the marvel stove.
i know what i know, says the almanac.
with crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
but secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully plates in the front of the house.
time to plant tears, says the almanac.
the grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
haunting the black air, braver at night;
drawing evil, i have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely ting, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
a woman like that is not a woman, quite.
i have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
a woman like that is misunderstood.
i have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thighs
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
a woman like that is not ashamed to die.
i have been her kind
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
the tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of england stand,
glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
only, form the long line of spray
where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
at their return, up the high strand,
begin, and cease, and then again begin,
with tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
heard it on the aegean, and it brought
into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
of human misery; we
find also in the sound a thought,
hearing it by this distant northern sea.
the sea of faith
was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
but now i only hear
its melancholy, long withdrawing roar,
retreating, to the breath
of the night=wind, down the vast edges drear
and asked shingles of the world.
ah, love, her us be true
to one another! for the world, which seems
to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new,
hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
and we are here as on a darkling plain
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.
counting bells knelling classes to a close.
at two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.
in the porch i met my father crying-
he had always taken funerals in his stride-
and big jim evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
when i came in, and i was embarrassed
by old men standing up to shake my hand
and tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
whispers informed strangers i was the eldest,
away at school, as my mother held my hand
in hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
at then o’clock the ambulance arrived
with the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning i went up into the room. snowdrops
and candles soothed the beside; i saw him
for the first time in six weeks. paler now,
wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
he lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
no gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
a four-foot box, a foot for every year.
over golden-grove unleaving?
leaves, like the things of man, you
with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
ah! as the heart grows older
it will come to such sights colder
by and by, nor spare a sigh
though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
and yet you will weep and know why.
now no matter, child, the name:
sorrow’s sings are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
what heart heard of, ghost guessed:
it is the blight man was born for,
it is margaret you mourn for.
the stillness in the room
was like the stillness in the air-
between the heaves of storm-
the eyes around- had wrung them dry-
and breaths were gathering firm
for that last onset = when the king
be witnessed – in the room-
I willed my keepsakes – signed away
what portion of me be
assignable – and then it was
there interposed a fly-
with blue- uncertain – stumbling buzz –
between the light – and me-
and then the windows failed – and then
i could not see to see-
her first swimming pool. it had been
his favorite color, exactly-just
so much of it, the swimmer’s white arms jutting
into the chevrons of high society.
she had rolled up her window
and told him to drive on, fast.
Now this act of mercy: four daughters
dragging her to their husbands’ picking,
white families on one side and them
on the other, unpacking the same
squeeze bottles of heinz, the same
waxy beef patties and salem potato chip bags.
so he was dead for the first time
on fourth of july – ten years ago
had been harder, waiting for something to happen,
and ten years before that, the girls
like young horses eyeing the track.
last august she stood alone for hours
in front of the TV set
as a crow’s wing moved slowly through
the white streets of government.
that brave swimming
scared her, like joanna saying
Mother, we’re afro-americans now!
what did she know about africa?
were there lakes like this one
with a rowboat pushed under the pier?
or thomas’ great mississippi
with its sullen silks? (there was
the Nile but the Nile belonged
to God.) where she came from
was the past, 12 miles into town
where nobody had locked their back door,
and goodyear hadn’t begun to dream of a park
under the company symbol, a white foot
sprouting two small wings.
it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes-
this debt we pay to human guile;
with torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
and mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
in counting all our tears and sighs?
nay, let them only see us, while
we wear the mask.
We smile, but, o great christ, our cries
to thee from tortured souls arise.
we sing, but oh the clay is vile
beneath our feet, and long the mile;
but let the world dream otherwise,
we wear the mask!
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 head 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 way 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 gingers rough with handling them.
of, just another kind of outsold game,
one on a side. it comes to a little more:
there where it is we do not need the wall:
he is all pine and i am apple orchard.
my apple trees will never get across
and eat the cones under his pines, i tell him.
he only says, “good fences make good neighbors.”
spirng 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 thre
bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
in each hand, lie an old-stone savage armed.
he moves in darkness as it seems to me,
not of woods only and the sahde of 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.”
and round it was, upon a hill.
it made the slovenly wilderness
surround that hill.
the wilderness rose up to ir,
and sprawled around, no longer wild.
the jar was round upon the ground
and tall and of a port in air.
it took dominion everywhere.
the jar was gray and bare.
it did not give of bird or bush,
like nothing else in Tennessee.
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.
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
looking as if she were alive. i call
that piece a wonder, now: fra pandolf’s hands
worked busily a day, and there she stands.
will’t please you sit and look at her? i said
“fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
strangers like you that pictured countenance,
the depth and passion of its earnest glance,
but to myself they turned (since none puts by
the curtain i have drawn for you, but i)
and seemed as thy would ask me, if they durst,
how such a glance came there; so, not the first
are you to turn and ask thus. sir, ’twas not
her husband’s presence only, called that spot
of joy into the duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Landolf chanced to say “her mantle laps
over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “pain
must never hope to reproduce the faint
half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
for calling up that spot of joy. she had
a heart – how shall i say?- too soon made glad,
too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
she looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
sirr, ’twas all one! my favor at her breast.
the dropping of the daylight in the west,
the bough of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
she rode with round the terrace – all and each
would draw from he alike the approving speech,
or blush, at least. she thanked men-good! but thanked
somehow- i know not how- as if she ranked
my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
with anybody’s gift. who’d stoop to blame
this sort of trifling? even had you skill
in speech – which i have not- to make your will
quite clear to such an one, and say,” just this
or that in your disgusts me; here you miss,
or there exceed the mark: – and if she let
herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-e’en then woul dbe some stooping; and i choose
never to stoop. oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
whene’er i passed her; but who passed without
much the same smile? this free; i have commands;
then all smiles stopped together. there she stands
as if alive. will ‘t please you rise? we’ll meet
the company below, then. i repeat,
the count your masters known munificence
is able warrant that no just pretense
of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
though his fair daughter’s self, as i avowed
at starting, is my object. nay, we’ll go
together down, sir. notice naptune, thought,
taming a sea-horse, thought a ririty,
which claus of innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
it will fame out, like shining from shook foil;
it gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
crushed. why do men then now not reck his rod?
generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
and all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
and wears man’s smudge and share man’s smell; the soil
is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
and for all this, nature is never spent;
there lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
and though the last lights off the black west went
oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-
because the holy ghost over the bent
world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
close bosom-freind of the maturing sun:
conspuring with him how to load and bless
with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run ;
to bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
and fill all fruit with ripeness ro the core;
to swell the four, and plump the hazel shells
with a sweet kernel; to set buddin more,
and still more, later flowers for the bees,
until they think warm days will never cease,
for summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.
who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
and sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
steady thy laden head across a brook;
or by a cider-press, with patient look,
thou watchest the last oozing hours by hours.
where are the songs of spring?are, whre are they?
think not of them, thou hast thy music too-
while barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
then in a wailful choir the small gnats morun
among the river sallows, borne aloft
or skinking as the light wind lives or dies;
and full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
hedfe crikcets sing; and now with treble soft
the redbreast whistles form a garden-croft;
and gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
thou art more lovely and more temperate:
rough winds do shake the darling buds of may,
and summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
and often is his fold complexion dimmed;
and every fair from fair sometimes declines,
by chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed,
by thy eternal summer shall not fade,
nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
when in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
so long lives this, and this gives life to thee
i summon up remembrance of things past,
i sigh the lack of many a thing i sought,
and with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
then can i drown an eye, unused to flow,
for precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
and weep afresh love’s long since canceled woe,
and moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
then can i greave at grievances foregone,
and heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
the sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
which i new pay as if not paid before.
but if the while i think on thee, dear friend,
all losses are restored and sorrows end.
of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
but you shall shine more bright in these contents
than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
when wasteful war shall statues overturn,
and broils root out the work of masonry,
nor mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
the living record of your memory.
‘gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
even in the eyes of all posterity
that wear this world out to the ending doom.
so, till the judgment that yourself arise,
you live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes
when yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
in me thou see’st the twilight of such day
as after sunset fadeth in the west;
which by and by black night doth take away,
death’s second self, that seal up all in rest.
in me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
that on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
as the deathbed whereon it must expire,
consumed with that which it was nourished by.
this thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
to love that well which thou mist leave ere long.
somewhere among the clouds above;
those that i fight i do not hate,
those that i guard i do not love;
my country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
no likely end could bring them loss
or leave them happier than before.
nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
a lonely impulse of delight
drove to this tumult in the clouds;
i balanced all, brought all to mind,
the years to come seemed waste of breath,
a waste of breath the years behind
in balance with this life, this death.
all alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
and its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
but i wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for i knew i could not,
and i broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
and brought it away, and i have placed it in sight in my room,
it is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(for i believe lately i think of little else than of them,)
yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
for all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
i know very well i could not.
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 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 keep the first for another day!
yet knowing how way lead 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.
are you – nobody- too?
then there’s a pair of us!
don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – somebody!
how public – like a frog-
to tell one’s name – the livelong June –
to an admiring Bog!
mountain folk from kentucky
or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and
valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
and promiscuity between
devil-may-care men who have taken
out of sheer lust of adventure-
and young slatterns, bathed
from monday to saturday
to be tricked out that night
from imaginations which have no
peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt
sheer rags- succumbing without
save numbed terror
under some hedge of shoe-cherry
which they cannot express-
unless it be that marriage
with a dash of indian blood
will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder
that she’ll be rescued by an
reared by the state and
sent out at fifteen to work in
house in the suburbs-
some doctor’s family, some Elsie-
expressing with broken
brain the truth about us-
ungainly hips and flopping breasts
addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes
as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky
and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth
while the imagination strains
going by fields of goldenrod in
the stifling heat of september
it seems to destroy us
it is only in isolate flecks that
is given off
and adjust, no one to drive the car.
and i am black, but o! my soul is white;
white as an angel is the english child:
but i am black as if bereaved of light.
my mother taught me underneath a tree,
and sitting down before the heat of day,
she took me on her lap and kissed me,
and pointing to the east, began to say:
“look on the rising sun: there god does live,
and give his light, and gives his heat away;
and flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
comfort in morning, joy in the noon day.
“and we are put on earth a little space,
that we may learn to bear the beams of love,
and these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
“for when our souls have learned the heat to bear,
the cloud will vanish; we shall hear his voice,
saying: ‘come out from the grove, my love and care,
and round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.’ ”
thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
and this i say to little english boy:
when i from black and he from white cloud free,
and round the tent of god like lambs we joy,
I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear
to lean in joy upon our father’s knee;
and then i’ll stand and stoke his silver hair,
and be like him, and he will then love me.
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”
And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
to the sea,
then turned right along
rounded a naked headland
along the inlet shore:
it was muggy sunny, the wind from the sea steady and high,
crisp in the running sand,
some breakthroughs of sun
but after a bit
the walk liberating, I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends
I allow myself eddies of meaning:
yield to a direction of significance
like a stream through the geography of my work:
you can find
in my sayings
swerves of action
like the inlet’s cutting edge:
there are dunes of motion,
organizations of grass, white sandy paths of remembrance
in the overall wandering of mirroring mind:
but Overall is beyond me: is the sum of these events
I cannot draw, the ledger I cannot keep, the accounting
beyond the account:
in nature there are few sharp lines: there are areas of
more or less dispersed;
disorderly orders of bayberry; between the rows
irregular swamps of reeds,
though not reeds alone, but grass, bayberry, yarrow, all …
I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
from outside: I have
drawn no lines:
manifold events of sand
change the dune’s shape that will not be the same shape
so I am willing to go along, to accept
thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish
by transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek
to undercreek: but there are no lines, though
change in that transition is clear
as any sharpness: but “sharpness” spread out,
allowed to occur over a wider range
than mental lines can keep:
the moon was full last night: today, low tide was low:
black shoals of mussels exposed to the risk
and, earlier, of sun,
waved in and out with the waterline, waterline inexact,
caught always in the event of change:
a young mottled gull stood free on the shoals
to vomiting: another gull, squawking possession, cracked a crab,
picked out the entrails, swallowed the soft-shelled legs, a ruddy
turnstone running in to snatch leftover bits:
risk is full: every living thing in
siege: the demand is life, to keep life: the small
white blacklegged egret, how beautiful, quietly stalks and spears
the shallows, darts to shore
to stab—what? I couldn’t
see against the black mudflats—a frightened
the news to my left over the dunes and
reeds and bayberry clumps was
fall: thousands of tree swallows
gathering for flight:
an order held
in constant change: a congregation
rich with entropy: nevertheless, separable, noticeable
as one event,
not chaos: preparations for
flight from winter,
cheet, cheet, cheet, cheet, wings rifling the green clumps,
at the bayberries
a perception full of wind, flight, curve,
the possibility of rule as the sum of rulelessness:
the “field” of action
with moving, incalculable center:
in the smaller view, order tight with shape:
blue tiny flowers on a leafless weed: carapace of crab:
pulsations of order
in the bellies of minnows: orders swallowed,
broken down, transferred through membranes
to strengthen larger orders: but in the large view, no
lines or changeless shapes: the working in and out, together
and against, of millions of events: this,
so that I make
no form of
orders as summaries, as outcomes of actions override
or in some way result, not predictably (seeing me gain
the top of a dune,
could take flight—some other fields of bayberry
could enter fall
berryless) and there is serenity:
no arranged terror: no forcing of image, plan,
no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept:
terror pervades but is not arranged, all possibilities
of escape open: no route shut, except in
the sudden loss of all routes:
I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will
not run to that easy victory:
still around the looser, wider forces work:
I will try
to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.
to read the frost and the boughs
of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
and gave been cold a long time
to behold the hunters shagged with ice,
the spruces rough in the distant glitter
of the january sun; and not to think
of any misery in the sound of the wind,
in the sound of a few leaves,
which is the sound of the land
full of the same wind
that is blowing in the same bare place
for the listener, who listens in the snow,
and, nothing himself, beholds
nothing that is not there and the nothing that is
I used to sit back here and try
To answer the simple arithmetic of my life,
But never could figure it—
This object and that object
Never contained the landscape
nor all of its implications,
This tree and that shrub
Never completely satisfied the sum or quotient
I took from or carried to,
nor do they do so now,
Though I’m back here again, looking to calculate,
Looking to see what adds up.
Everything comes from something,
only something comes from nothing,
Lao Tzu says, more or less.
Eminently sensible, I say,
Rubbing this tiny snail shell between my thumb and two fingers.
Delicate as an earring,
it carries its emptiness like a child
It would be rid of.
I rub it clockwise and counterclockwise, hoping for anything
Resplendent in its vocabulary or disguise—
But one and one make nothing, he adds,
endless and everywhere,
The shadow that everything casts.
surprised i was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
and lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
a pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
who, scorched with excessive hear, such floods of tears did shed as though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
‘alas’ quoth he, ‘but newly born in fiery hears i fry,
yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but i!
my faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
the fuel justice layette on, and mercy blows the coals,
the metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
for which, as now on fire i am to work them to their good,
so will i melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.’
with this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
and straight i called not mind that it was Christmas day.
who have watched his mould of man, big boned and hardy handsome
pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?
sickness broke him, impatient, he cursed at first, but mended
being annoyed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
months earlier, since i had our sweet reprieve and ransom
tendered to him. ah well, god rest him all road ever he offended!
This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
my tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
thy tears that touched my heart, child, felix, poor felix randal.
how far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
when though at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
didst fettle for the great very drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!
the midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
took its pale 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 select 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.
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,
shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die—
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year—
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .
Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “******s.”
The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling
over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
is riding on his bubble,
for the blessèd break.
The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
in that Alabama church
remind me of five hundred
middle passage blacks,
in a net, under water
in Charleston harbor
so redcoats wouldn’t find them.
Can’t find what you can’t see
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God’s name to have self-pity,
Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.
Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?—
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone’s face?
Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,
If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip
On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,
These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken
In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.
Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.