BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
You can find this poem in The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.
Photograph from September 11
By Wislawa Szymborska
Translated By Clare Cavanagh
They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.
Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.
There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.
They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.
I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.
You can find this poem in Monologue of a Dog.
by David Whyte
We are like children in the master’s violin shop
not yet allowed to touch the tiny planes or the rare wood
but given brooms to sweep the farthest corners
of the room, to gather shavings, mop spilled resins
and watch with apprehension the tender curves
emerging from apprenticed hands. The master
rarely shows himself but whenever he does he demonstrates
a concentrated ease so different from the willful accumulation
of experience we have come to expect,
a stripping away, a direct appreciation of all the elements
we are bound, one day, to find beneath our hands.
He stands in our minds so clearly now, his confident back
caught in the light from pale clerestory windows
and we note the way the slight tremor of his palms
disappears the moment they encounter wood.
In this light we hunger for maturity, see it not as stasis
but a form of love. We want the stillness and confidence
of age, the space between self and all the objects of the world
honoured and defined, the possibility that everything
left alone can ripen of its own accord,
all passionate transformations arranged only
through innocent meetings, one to another,
the way we see resin allowed to seep into the wood
in the wood’s own secret time. We intuit our natures
becoming resonant with one another according
to the grain of the way we are made. Nothing forced
or wanted until it ripens in our own expectant hands.
But for now, in the busy room, we stand in the child’s
first shy witness of one another, and see ourselves again,
gladly and always, falling in love with our future.
You can find this poem in The Sea in You.
by Amy Lowell
When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One a after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?
You can find this poem in The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell.
by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
You can find this poem in Thirst.
by Amy Lowell
You are ice and fire,
The touch of you burns my hands like snow.
You are cold and flame.
You are the crimson of amaryllis,
The silver of moon-touched magnolias.
When I am with you,
My heart is a frozen pond
Gleaming with agitated torches.
This poem can be found in The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell.
This is a poem found in The Book of a Monastic Life from Rilke’s Book of Hours.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.
You can find this in Rilke’s Book of Hours.