April Is National Poetry Month

Let’s try a few

In honor of National Poetry Month, which begins next Thursday, I have assembled here a dozen of my favorites.  In our culture, poetry is the neglected art form — and that’s why we need a ‘National Poetry Month.’ As you can see from my selections, “poetry” can take many forms — from the very long to the very short, from rhyming couplets to paragraphs of ‘natural’ speech, from bold optimism to its opposite. Poetry was defined by William Wordsworth as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . emotion recollected in tranquility.” It can be presented in many styles, from the simplest sincerity to the most cutting sarcasm; and it can address a wide range of themes.  My little collection is surely not exhaustive and not even likely to yield universal agreement that it is all poetry. Not a “top-dozen” list, it is a sample of some eloquent uses of vivid, compact language, some creating distinctive characters, some expressing assertions of belief, some old friends to be re-visited, some new, all attempting to bring ideas to life with words that evoke rich images. Most are best read aloud, some with music; all are best when given a bit of time to have their way. Many of these contain a line or two — teasers, if you will — that matter very much to me — for example:

•  “Try to see it, not with your eyes, for they are wise  . . . ”
•  “Sweet time unafflicted”
•  “And that has made all the difference”
•  “At a place that chose them”
•  “You know how it is with an April day . . .”
•  “My object in living is  . . . ”
•  “And smale fowles maken melodye”
•  “(a leaf falls)”
•  “Waiting to be named  . . . THE GREAT HAJI”
•  “In another world, someone over there is . . . ”
•  “When you have prayed for victory, you have prayed for many unmentioned results . . . ”
•  “Yes, we can ”
•  “We ain’t what we was.”

Your comments about any of the following ‘poems’ are welcome. If you are interested, please share with us one or more of YOUR favorite poems. If you write one of your own, you get ‘extra credit!’


A Perfect Time To Be In Love

By Tom Jones

You wonder how these things begin.
Well, this begins with a glen.
It begins with a season, which,
For want of a better word,
We might as well call September.

It begins with a forest,
Where the woodchucks woo,
And leaves wax green,
And vines entwine like lovers.

Try to see it, not with your eyes
for they are wise;
But see it with your ears:
The cool green breathing of the leaves;
And hear it with the inside of your hand:
The soundless sound of shadows flicking light.

Celebrate sensation!
Recall that secret place,
You’ve been there, you remember,
That special place where once,
Just once, in your crowded sunlit lifetime
You hid away in shadows from the tyranny of time.

That spot beside the clover,
Where someone’s hand held your hand,
Where love was sweeter than the berries
Or the honey
Or the stinging taste of mint.

It is September, before a rain fall
A perfect time to be in love . . .”




by Robert Pinsky

Any Body Can Die, Evidently.  Few
Go Happily, Irradiating Joy,

Knowledge, Love.  Many
Need Oblivion, Painkillers,
Quickest Respite.

Sweet Time Unafflicted,
Various World:

X=Your Zenith.


The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler; long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I— I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Two to One

by D.R. Sapone
(for the occasion of Ben and Cary’s wedding)

Two ‑
Shall grow from roots planted
far away across the world;

Shall arrive apart,
at a place that chose them;

Shall discover the beauty of the world
through the eyes of the other;

Shall decide to be known,
wherever the world takes them, as
‑ One


Two Tramps in Mud Time

By Robert Frost

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 had 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 oak 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 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 turns to 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 wheelrut’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 ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood 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.


“Aprille” From the General Prologue to Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer
[Its famous first ten lines . . . each line followed
by a pronunciation guide to the original 14th-century
‘Middle English’ — Click here and again on the sound bar to listen to it]

Whan that Aprille with his shoores soote
[Wan thot A’prill with his sure-es so-tuh]

The drought of March hath perced to the roote
[The drewgt of March hath pear-said to the row-tuh]

And bathed every vein in swich liquor
[And ba-thed every vane in sweech lee-coor]

Of which vertu engendred is the flour
[of wheech ver-too en-jen-dred is the flu-er]

When Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
[When Zeph-er-us ache with his sway-tuh breath]

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
[In-spear-ed hath in every holt and heth]

The tendre croppes and the yonge sun
[The tawn-dray crop-pays and the young-gay soan]

Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne
[Hath in the rahm his hall-vey coors e-rown]

And smale fowles maken melodye
[And smal-ay foe-lays mock-en mel-oh-dee-uh]

That slepen all the night with open eye
[That slep-en all the neekdt with open ee-ah]



By e. e. cummings


(A Footnote) From Lake Wobegon Days

by Garrison Keillor

To his parents: ‘Things you taught me’

For fear of what it might do to me, you never paid me a compliment,
and when other people did, you beat it away from me with a stick.
“He certainly is looking nice and grown up.”
You would reply: “He’d look a lot nicer if he did something about his skin.”
“That’s wonderful that he got a job.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see how long it lasts.”

You trained me so well, I now perform this service for myself.
I deflect every kind word directed to me, and my denials
are much more extravagant than the praise.
“Good speech.”
“Oh it was way too long, I didn’t know what I was talking about,
I was just blathering on and on, I was glad when it was over.”
I do this under the impression that it is humility, a becoming quality in a person.

Actually, I am starved for a good word, but after the long drought of my youth, no word is quite good enough.
[Voice rising] “Good” isn’t enough. Under this thin veneer of modesty lies a MONSTER of greed.
I drive away faint praise, beating my little chest, waiting to be named
I don’t want to say, “Thanks, glad you liked it.” I want to say:


Golden Earth Girl

by Paul McCartney

Golden earth girl, female animal,
sings to the wind, resting at sunset,
in a mossy nest, sensing moonlight in the air,
moonlight in the air.

Good clear water, friend of wilderness
sees in the pool her own reflection.
In another world
someone over there is counting
fish in a sunbeam,
in eggshell seas.
fish in a sunbeam,
eggshell finish.

Natures lover climbs the primrose hill,
smiles at the sky, watching the sunset,
from a mossy nest.
As she falls asleep she’s counting
Fish in a sunbeam,
in eggshell seas.
fish in a sunbeam,
eggshell finish.


The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched fire-crackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies, a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came–next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams–visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!

Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, falling, to die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword.”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and begnignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them; shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory–

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside–which the startled minister did–and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God.” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – -that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of–unless he pause and think. God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two–one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! Lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer–the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also in your hearts–fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You have heard those words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God.’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory, you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of the patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of their guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their offending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

“For our sakes who adore thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him who is the Source of Love, and Who is the Ever-Faithful Refuge and Friends of all who are sore beset and seeking His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

(The old man paused). “Ye have prayed it; if you still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High awaits.”

* * * * *

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

— Mark Twain


Yes, We Can

By Barack Obama, others

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation:
Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists
as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights:
Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores
and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness:
Yes, we can.

It was the call of workers who organized,
women who reached for the ballot,
a president who chose the moon as our new frontier,
and a king who took us to the mountaintop
and pointed the way to the promised land:

Yes, we can, to justice and equality;
Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity;
Yes, we can heal this nation;
Yes, we can repair this world.
Yes, we can.

Watch and Listen: Yes, We Can


Prayer of a Former Slave

Lord, we ain’t what we want to be;
We ain’t what we ought to be;
We ain’t what we gonna be;
But thank God almighty, we  ain’t  what  we  was.


2 Responses “April Is National Poetry Month”

  1. Andrea says:

    Thanks for the poetry exposure. I haven’t read The Road Not Taken in ages, and it was a treat to read again. One of my favorite poems was given to me 25 years ago by my first “shrink.” I still live by its words today. Hope you enjoy:

    There Is a Hole in My Sidewalk
    Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

    By Portia Nelson

    Chapter One
    I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I fall in.
    I am lost…I am helpless.
    It isn’t my fault.
    It takes forever to find a way out.

    Chapter Two
    I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend that I don’t see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can’t believe I am in this same place.
    But, it isn’t my fault.
    It still takes a long time to get out.

    Chapter Three
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep whole in the sidewalk.
    I see it is there.
    I still fall in…it’s a habit…but,
    My eyes are open
    I know where I am
    It is my fault.
    I get out immediately,

    Chapter Four
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I walk around it.

    Chapter Five
    I walk down another street.

  2. Andrea says:

    One of my sisters just sent these. They might be funny for your poetry postings. My fave is #9, being of sensitive nose.
    Entries to a Washington Post competition asking for a two-line rhyme with the most romantic first line, and the least romantic second line:
    1. My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
    Marrying you has screwed up my life.
    2. I see your face when I am dreaming.
    That’s why I always wake up screaming.
    3. Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
    This describes everything you are not.
    4. Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
    But I only slept with you ’cause I was pissed.
    5. I thought that I could love no other
    — that is until I met your brother.
    6. Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.
    But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead, the sugar bowl’s
    empty and so is your head.
    7. I want to feel your sweet embrace;
    But don’t take that paper bag off your face.
    8. I love your smile, your face, and your eyes
    Damn, I’m good at telling lies!
    9. My love, you take my breath away.
    What have you stepped in to smell this way?
    10. My feelings for you no words can tell,
    Except for maybe ‘Go to hell .’
    11. What inspired this amorous rhyme?
    Two parts vodka, one part lime.