• Siren Song

    Margaret Atwood


    This is the one song everyone 
    would like to learn: the song 
    that is irresistible: 
    the song that forces men 
    to leap overboard in squadrons 
    even though they see beached skulls 
    the song nobody knows 
    because anyone who had heard it 
    is dead, and the others can’t remember. 
    Shall I tell you the secret 
    and if I do, will you get me 
    out of this bird suit? 
    I don’t enjoy it here 
    squatting on this island 
    looking picturesque and mythical 
    with these two feathery maniacs, 
    I don’t enjoy singing 
    this trio, fatal and valuable. 
    I will tell the secret to you, 
    to you, only to you. 
    Come closer. This song 
    is a cry for help: Help me! 
    Only you, only you can, 
    you are unique 
    at last. Alas 
    it is a boring song 
    but it works every time.




    Digging                                                       Seamus Heaney                                       

    Between my finger and my thumb 
    The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun. 
    Under my window a clean rasping sound 
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: 
    My father, digging. I look down 
    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds 
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away 
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills 
    Where he was digging. 
    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft 
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly. 
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep 
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked 
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands. 
    By God, the old man could handle a spade, 
    Just like his old man. 
    My grandfather could cut more turf in a day 
    Than any other man on Toner's bog. 
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle 
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up 
    To drink it, then fell to right away 
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods 
    Over his shoulder, digging down and down 
    For the good turf. Digging. 
    The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap 
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge 
    Through living roots awaken in my head. 
    But I've no spade to follow men like them. 
    Between my finger and my thumb 
    The squat pen rests. 
    I'll dig with it.

    Success Is Counted Sweetest                       Emily Dickinson

    Success is counted sweetest 
    By those who ne'er succeed. 
    To comprehend a nectar 
    Requires sorest need. 
    Not one of all the purple host 
    Who took the flag today 
    Can tell the definition, 
    So clear, of victory 
    As he, defeated, dying, 
    On whose forbidden ear 
    The distant strains of triumph 
    Break agonized and clear! 

    Danse Russe                                            William Carlos Williams  

     If I when my wife is sleeping 
    and the baby and Kathleen 
    are sleeping 
    and the sun is a flame-white disc 
    in silken mists 
    above shining trees,— 
    if I in my north room 
    dance naked, grotesquely 
    before my mirror 
    waving my shirt round my head 
    and singing softly to myself: 
    "I am lonely, lonely. 
    I was born to be lonely, 
    I am best so!" 
    If I admire my arms, my face, 
    my shoulders, flanks, buttocks 
    against the yellow drawn shades,— 
    Who shall say I am not 
    the happy genius of my household?


    Not Waving but Drowning                           Stevie Smith                   

        Nobody heard him, the dead man, 
    But still he lay moaning: 
    I was much further out than you thought                                                                                                      And not waving but drowning. 
    Poor chap, he always loved larking 
    And now he's dead It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way 
    They said.


         Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   

        (Still the dead one lay moaning)   

        I was much too far out all my life   

        And not waving but drowning.


    Of Mere Being                                           Wallace Stevens 
    The palm at the end of the mind, 
    Beyond the last thought, rises 
    In the bronze distance.  
    A gold-feathered bird 
    Sings in the palm, without human meaning, 
    Without human feeling, a foreign song.  
    You know then that it is not the reason 
    That makes us happy or unhappy. 
    The bird sings. Its feathers shine.  
    The palm stands on the edge of space. 
    The wind moves slowly in the branches. 
    The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.


    A Study of Reading Habits                          

    Philip Larkin


    When getting my nose in a book

    Cured most things short of school,

    It was worth ruining my eyes

    To know I could still keep cool,

    And deal out the old right hook

    To dirty dogs twice my size.


    Later, with inch-thick specs,

    Evil was just my lark:

    Me and my cloak and fangs

    Had ripping times in the dark

    The women I clubbed with sex!

    I broke them up like meringues.


    Don’t read much now: the dude

    Who lets the girl down before

    The hero arrives, the chap

    Who’s yellow and keeps the store,

    Seem far too familiar.  Get stewed:

    Books are a load of crap.

    i thank you god                                                     e e cummings

    i thank YOU God for most this amazing

    day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

    and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

    which is natural which is infinite which is yes


    (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)

    Acquainted with the Night                         Robert Frost 


    I have been one acquainted with the night.

    I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.

    I have outwalked the furthest city light.


    I have looked down the saddest city lane.

    I have passed by the watchman on his beat

    And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain. 


    I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

    When far away an interrupted cry

    Came over houses from another street,


    But not to call me back or say good-by;

    And further still at an unearthly height

    One luminary clock against the sky


    Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

    I have been one acquainted with the night.


    Funeral Blues                                                     W. H. Auden

    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,  
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,  
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum  
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.  
    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead  
    Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.  
    Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,  
    Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.  
    He was my North, my South, my East and West,  
    My working week and my Sunday rest,  
    My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;  
    I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.  

    The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,  
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,  
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;  
    For nothing now can ever come to any good.








    The Secret                                                    Denise Levertov                                               


    Two girls discover

    the secret of life

    in a sudden line of



    I who don’t know the

    secret wrote

    the line.  They

    told me


    (through a third person)

    they had found it

    but not what it was,

    not even


    what line it was.  No doubt

    by now, more than a week

    later, they have forgotten

    the secret,


    the line, the name of

    the poem.  I love them

    for finding what

    I can’t find,


    and for loving me

    for the line I wrote,

    and for forgetting it

    so that


    a thousand times, till death

    finds them, they may

    discover it again, in other lines,


    in other

    happenings.  And for

    wanting to know it,



    assuming there is

    such a secret, yes,

    for that

    most of all.                                                        

    The Cat                                                     Miroslav Holub


    Outside it was night

    like a book without letters.

    And the eternal dark

    dripped to the stars through the sieve of the


    I said to her

    do not go

    you’ll only be trapped

    and bewitched

    and will suffer in vain.

    I said to her

    do not go

    why want



    But a window was opened

    and she went,


    a black cat into the black night,

    she dissolved,

    a black cat in the black night,

    she just dissolved

    and no one ever saw her again.

    Not even she herself.


    But you can hear her


    when it’s quiet

    and there’s a northerly wind

    and you listen intently

    to your own self.


     A Work of Artifice                                              Marge Piercy

    The bonsai tree

    in the attractive pot

    could have grown eighty feet tall

    on the side of a mountain

    till split by lightning.

    But a gardener

    carefully pruned it.

    It is nine inches high.

    Every day as he

    whittles back the branches

    the gardener croons,

    It is your nature

    to be small and cozy,

    domestic and weak;

      how lucky, little tree,

      to have a pot to grow in.

    With living creatures

      one must begin very early

      to dwarf their growth:

      the bound feet,

      the crippled brain,

      the hair in curlers

      the hands you

      love to touch.












    Try To Praise the Mutilated World                Adam Zagajewski 
    Try to praise the mutilated world. 
    Remember June's long days, 
    and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew. 
    The nettles that methodically overgrow 
    the abandoned homesteads of exiles. 
    You must praise the mutilated world. 
    You watched the stylish yachts and ships; 
    one of them had a long trip ahead of it, 
    while salty oblivion awaited others. 
    You've seen the refugees heading nowhere, 
    you've heard the executioners sing joyfully. 
    You should praise the mutilated world. 
    Remember the moments when we were together 
    in a white room and the curtain fluttered. 
    Return in thought to the concert where music flared. 
    You gathered acorns in the park in autumn 
    and leaves eddied over the earth's scars. 
    Praise the mutilated world 
    and the grey feather a thrush lost, 
    and the gentle light that strays and vanishes 
    and returns. 
    Snow                                                             Louis Macneice 

    The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was 
    Spawning snow and pink roses against it 
    Soundlessly collateral and incompatible: 
    World is suddener than we fancy it. 
    World is crazier and more of it than we think, 
    Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion 
    A tangerine and spit the pips and feel 
    The drunkenness of things being various. 
    And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world 
    Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes– 
    On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands– 
    There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.


    Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers                        Adrienne Rich


    Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, 
    Bright topaz denizens of a world of green. 
    They do not fear the men beneath the tree; 
    They pace in sleek chivalric certainty. 
    Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool 
    Find even the ivory needle hard to pull. 
    The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band 
    Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand. 
    When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie 
    Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. 
    The tigers in the panel that she made 
    Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.  
    Traveling through the Dark                 William Stafford


    Traveling through the dark I found a deer 
    dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. 
    It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: 
    that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead. 
    By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car 
    and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing; 
    she had stiffened already, almost cold. 
    I dragged her off; she was large in the belly. 
    My fingers touching her side brought me the reason-- 
    her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting, 
    alive, still, never to be born. 
    Beside that mountain road I hesitated. 
    The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights; 
    under the hood purred the steady engine. 
    I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red; 
    around our group I could hear the wilderness listen. 
    I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--, 
    then pushed her over the edge into the river.


    The Bean Eaters                                               Gwendolyn Brooks


    They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair. 
    Dinner is a casual affair. 
    Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,  
    Tin flatware. 
    Two who are Mostly Good. 
    Two who have lived their day, 
    But keep on putting on their clothes 
    And putting things away. 
    And remembering . . . 
    Remembering, with twinklings and twinges, 
    As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that 
    is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, 
    tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.






    Ethics                                                                            Linda Pastan


    In ethics class so many years ago

    our teacher asked this question every fall:

    if there were a fire in a museum

    which would you save,  a Rembrandt painting

    or an old woman who hadn’t many

    years left anyhow?  Restless on hard chairs

    caring little for pictures or old age

    we’d opt one year for life, the next for art

    and always half-heartedly.  Sometimes

    the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face

    leaving her usual kitchen to wander

    some drafty, half-imagined museum.

    One year, feeling clever, I replied

    why not let the woman decide herself?

    Linda, the teacher would report, eschews

    the burden of responsibility.

    This fall in a real museum I stand

    before a real Rembrandt, old woman,

    or nearly so, myself.  The colors

    within this frame are darker than autumn

    darker even than winter – the browns of earth,

    though earth’s most radiant elements burn

    through the canvas.  I know now that woman

    and painting and season are almost one

    and all beyond saving by children.


    Insomnia                                                                Elisabeth Bishop

    The moon in the bureau mirror

    looks out a million miles

    (and perhaps with pride, at herself,

    but she never, never smiles)

    far and away beyond sleep, or

    perhaps she's a daytime sleeper.


    By the Universe deserted,

    she'd tell it to go to hell,

    and she'd find a body of water,

    or a mirror, on which to dwell.

    So wrap up care in a cobweb

    and drop it down the well


    into that world inverted

    where left is always right,

    where the shadows are really the body,

    where we stay awake all night,

    where the heavens are shallow as the sea

    is now deep, and you love me.

                                                                                         Cat in an empty apartment                               Wislawa Szymborska

    Dying--you wouldn't do that to a cat.                                                                                                                 For what is a cat to do in an empty apartment?                                                                                                                              Climb up the walls?                                                                                                                                                                               Brush up against the furniture?                                                                                                                            Nothing here seems changed,                                                                                                                                    and yet something has changed.                                                                                                                        Nothing has been moved,                                                                                                                                             and yet there's more room.                                                                                                                                                 And in the evenings the lamp is not on.

    One hears footsteps on the stairs,                                                                                                                      but they're not the same.                                                                                                                                         Neither is the hand                                                                                                                                                      hat puts a fish on the plate.

    Something here isn't starting                                                                                                                                       at its usual time.                                                                                                                                          Something here isn't happening                                                                                                                                  as it should.                                                                                                                                                   Somebody has been here and has been,                                                                                                                  and then has suddenly disappeared                                                                                                                          and now is stubbornly absent.

    All the closets have been scanned                                                                                                                         and all the shelves run through.                                                                                                                              Slipping under the carpet and checking came to nothing.                                                                                    The rule has even been broken and all the papers scattered.                                                                           What else is there to do?                                                                                                                                       Sleep and wait.

    Just let him come back,                                                                                                                                      let him show up.                                                                                                                                                    Then he'll find out                                                                                                                                                         that you don't do that to a cat.                                                                                                                    Going toward him                                                                                                                                                faking reluctance,                                                                                                                                                slowly,                                                                                                                                                                      on very offended paws.                                                                                                                                              And no jumping, purring at first.


    The Night is Darkening

    Emily Bronte


    The night is darkening round me,

    The wild winds coldly blow;

    But a tyrant spell has bound me,

    And I cannot, cannot go.


    The giant trees are bending

    Their bare boughs weighed with snow;

    The storm is fast descending,

    And yet I cannot go.


    Clouds beyond clouds above me,

    Wastes beyond wastes below;

    But nothing drear can move me:

    I will not, cannot go.