817. Ragged Island, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

There, there where those black spruces crowd
To the edge of the precipitous cliff,
Above your boat, under the eastern wall of the island;
And no wave breaks; as if
All had been done, and long ago, that needed
Doing; and the cold tide, unimpeded
By shoal or shelving ledge, moves up and down,
Instead of in and out;
And there is no driftwood there, because there is no beach;
Clean cliff going down as deep as clear water can reach;

No driftwood, such as abounds on the roaring shingle,
To be hefted home, for fires in the kitchen stove;
Barrels, banged ashore about the boiling outer harbour;
Lobster-buoys, on the eel-grass of the sheltered cove:

There, thought unbraids itself, and the mind becomes single.
There you row with tranquil oars, and the ocean
Shows no scar from the cutting of your placid keel;
Care becomes senseless there; pride and promotion
Remote; you only look; you scarcely feel.

Even adventure, with its vital uses,
Is aimless ardour now; and thrift is waste.

Oh, to be there, under the silent spruces,
Where the wide, quiet evening darkens without haste
Over a sea with death acquainted, yet forever chaste.

Source: Collected Poems

818. The Unwept Waste, by A. S. J. Tessimond

Let funeral marches play,
Let heartbreak-music sound
For the half-death, not the whole;
For the unperceived slow soiling;
For the sleeping before evening;
For what, but for a breath,
But for an inch one way,
The shifting of a scene,
A closed or opened door,
A word less, a word more,
Might have, so simply, been.

The final tragedies are,
Not the bright light dashed out,
Not the gold glory smashed
Like a lamp upon the floor,
But the guttering away,
The seep, the gradual grey,
The unnoticed, without-haste-
Or-protest, premature,
Unwept, unwritten waste.

Source: Collected Poems

819. My Sisters, by Stanley Kunitz

Who whispered, souls have shapes?
So has the wind, I say.
But I don't know,
I only feel things blow.

I had two sisters once
with long black hair
who walked apart from me
and wrote the history of tears.
Their story's faded with their names,
but the candlelight they carried,
like dancers in a dream,
still flickers on their gowns
as they bend over me
to comfort my night-fears.

Let nothing grieve you,
Sarah and Sophia.
Shush, shush my dears,
now and forever.

Source: The Collected Poems

820. Valuable, by Stevie Smith

         After reading two paragraphs in a newspaper.

All these illegitimate babies...
Oh girls, girls,
Silly little cheap things,
Why do you not put some value on yourselves,
Learn to say, No?
Did nobody teach you?
Nobody teaches anybody to say No nowadays,
People should teach people to say No.

Oh poor panther,
Oh you poor black animal,
At large for a few moments in a school for young children in Paris,
Now in your cage again,
How your great eyes bulge with bewilderment,
There is something there that accuses us,
Something that says:
I am too valuable to be kept in a cage.

Oh these illegitimate babies!
Oh girls, girls,
Silly little valuable things,
You should have said, No, I am valuable,
And again, It is because I am valuable
I say, No.

Nobody teaches anybody they are valuable nowadays.

Girls, you are valuable,
And you, Panther, you are valuable,
But the girls say: I shall be alone
If I say 'I am valuable' and other people do not say it of me,
I shall be alone, there is no comfort there.
No, it is not comforting but it is valuable,
And if everybody says it in the end
It will be comforting. And for the panther too,
If everybody says he is valuable
It will be comforting for him.

Source: Collected Poems

821. Wooden Heart, by Primo Levi

My next-door neighbor is robust;
It's a horse-chestnut tree in Corso Re Umberto:
My age but doesn't look it.
It harbors sparrows and blackbirds, isn't ashamed,
In April, to put forth buds and leaves,
Fragile flowers in May,
And in September burrs, prickly but harmless,
With shiny tannic chestnuts inside.
An impostor but naive: it wants people to believe
It rivals its fine mountain brother,
Lord of sweet fruits and precious mushrooms.
A hard life: every five minutes its roots
Are trampled by streetcars Nos. 8 and 19;
Deafened by noise, it grows twisted,
As though it would like to leave this place.
Year after year, it sucks slow poisons
From the methane-soaked subsoil,
Is watered with dog urine.
The wrinkles in its bark are clogged
With the avenue's septic dust.
Under the bark hang dead chrysalises
That never will be butterflies.
Still, in its sluggish wooden heart
It feels, savors the seasons' return.

(trans Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann)

Source: Collected Poems

822. All That's Past, by Walter de la Mare

Very old are the woods;
  And the buds that break
Out of the brier's boughs,
  When March winds wake,
So old with their beauty are –
  Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
  Roves back the rose.

Very old are the brooks;
  And the rills that rise
Where snow sleeps cold beneath
  The azure skies
Sing such a history
  Of come and gone,
Their every drop is as wise
  As Solomon.

Very old are we men;
  Our dreams are tales
Told in dim Eden
  By Eve's nightingales;
We wake and whisper awhile,
  But, the day gone by,
Silence and sleep like fields
  Of amaranth lie.

Source: A choice of de la Mare's verse

823. To Marcus Aurelius, by Zbigniew Herbert

                                        for Professor Henryk Elzenberg

Good night Marcus put out the light
and shut the book For overhead
is raised a gold alarm of stars
heaven is talking some foreign tongue
this the barbarian cry of fear
your Latin cannot understand
Terror continuous dark terror
against the fragile human land

begins to beat It's winning Hear
its roar The unrelenting stream
of elements will drown your prose
until the world's four walls go down
As for us? – to tremble in the air
blow in the ashes stir the ether
gnaw our fingers seek vain words
drag off the fallen shades behind us

Well Marcus better hang up your peace
give me your hand across the dark
Let it tremble when the blind world beats
on senses five like a failing lyre
Traitors – universe and astronomy
reckoning of stars wisdom of grass
and your greatness too immense
and Marcus my defenceless tears

(trans Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott)

Source: Selected Poems

824. Poem, by e. e. cummings

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
and the sun strikes to gain a living wage—
when thorns regard their roses with alarm
and rainbows are insured against old age

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)

Source: 100 Selected Poems

825. Man, by Friedrich Hölderlin

Scarce had the young peaks begun, O earth,
   To burgeon from your waters, and from the gray
      Ocean wilderness the first islands,
         Dense with evergreen woods, to waft

Fragrant breaths of pleasure; and the sungod's eye
   Gazed with joy upon the new arriving
      Plants, radiant children of his
         Eternal youth, and your offspring.

Then on the fairest island, round whose woods
   Calm and delicate air constantly flowed,
      Lay, after a warm night,
         Born under grapes at break of day,

O mother earth, your fairest child; and up he looks,
   The boy, to his father Helios, him he knows,
      And he wakes and takes, tasting the sweet
         Berries one by one, the holy

Vine as nurse; soon he is tall; the animals
   Shun him, for he is different, man, resembling
      Neither his father nor yourself,
         For in his being, from the start,

His father's sheer soul uniquely blent,
   And daringly, with your delight, o earth, and sorrow:
      His will it is to be like nature,
         The mother of gods, and all-embracing.

Ah! hence from your heart's reach his exuberance
   Drives him, earth, your gifts and tender trammels
      Are all for nought; wild he is
         And something better is what he looks for.

Leaving his fragrant meadow inland, man
   Must set forth on blossomless deep waters;
      And though his orchard shine with fruit,
         Gold like the night of stars, he digs his

Tunnels in the hills, and scans the shaft, aloof
   From his father's calm light, and more,
      Disloyal to the sungod, who bears no love
         For slavish men and mocks care.

For forest birds more freely breathe, although
   Man's heart more gloriously soars aloft,
      And he, seeing the future, dark,
         Must see death and alone fear it.

And in persistent fright and pride man wields
   Weapons against all that breathes; in feuds
      He burns his life out, and his peace,
         Fragile, flowers but little time.

Of all his fellow beings, man, is he not
   Most full of bliss? So fate, balancing all,
      Ever more deep and rushing, grips
         Yet his strong inflammable heart.

(trans Christopher Middleton)

Source: Friedrich Holderlin and Eduard Morike - Selected Poems

826. Night Above the Avenue, by W. S. Merwin

The whole time that I have lived here
at every moment somebody
has been at the point of birth
behind a window across the street
and somebody behind a window
across the street
has been at the point of death
they have lain there in pain and in hope
on and on
and away from the windows the dark interiors
of their bodies have been opened to lights
and they have waited bleeding and have been frightened
and happy
unseen by each other we have been transformed
and the traffic has flowed away
from between them and me
in four directions
as the lights have changed
day and night
and I have sat up late
at the kitchen window
knowing the news
watching the paired red lights
recede from under the windows down the avenue
toward the tunnel under the river
and the white lights from the park rushing toward us
through the sirens and the music
and I have awakened in a wind of messages

Source: Migration: New & Selected Poems

827. From Muturai, by Avvaiyar

Base men angered split like cracked stone.
Decent men, like pieces of cracked gold.
                                                            Bow still in hand
The cut shot through the water closes. Like that,
The anger of great men.

(trans Thomas H. Pruiksma)

Source: Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar