Category Archives: Poetry

Humdrum

Humdrum
by Carl Sandburg

If I had a million lives to live
and a million deaths to die
in a million humdrum worlds,

I’d like to change my name
and have a new house number to go by
each and every time I died
and started life all over again.

I wouldn’t want the same name every time
and the same old house number always,
dying a million deaths,
dying one by one a million times:
—would you?
or you?
or you?


The Robin

The Robin
by Witter Bynner

Except within poetic pale
I have not found a nightingale,
Nor hearkened in a dusky vale
To song and silence blending;
No stock-dove have I ever heard,
Nor listened to a cuckoo-bird,
Nor seen a lark ascending.
But I have felt a pulse-beat start
Because a robin, spending
The utmost of his simple art
Some of his pleasure to impart
While twilight came descending,
Has found an answer in my heart,
A sudden comprehending.


Ozymandias

Ozymandias
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 – 1822

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

In antiquity, Ozymandias (Ὀσυμανδύας) was a Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. Shelley began writing his poem in 1817, soon after the announcement of the British Museum’s acquisition of a large fragment of a statue of Ramesses II from the thirteenth century BC, leading some scholars to believe that Shelley was inspired by this. The 7.25-ton fragment of the statue’s head and torso had been removed in 1816 from the mortuary temple of Ramesses at Thebes by Italian adventurer Giovanni Battista Belzoni. It was expected to arrive in London in 1818, but did not arrive until 1821. Shelley wrote the poem in friendly competition with his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith (1779–1849), who also wrote a sonnet on the same topic with the same title. Smith’s poem was published in The Examiner a few weeks after Shelley’s sonnet. Both poems explore the fate of history and the ravages of time: even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies fated to decay into oblivion.

Ozymandias
Horace Smith, 1779-1849

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:-
‘I am great OZYMANDIAS,’ saith the stone,
‘The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
‘The wonders of my hand.’- The City’s gone,-
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,-and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

A central theme of “Ozymandias” is the inevitable decline of leaders of empires and their pretensions to greatness. The name “Ozymandias” represents a rendering in Greek of a part of Ramesses’ throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica as “King of Kings am I, Ozymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”


A Utilitarian View of the Monitors Fight

A Utilitarian View of the Monitors Fight.
by Herman Mellville

Plain be the phrase, yet apt the verse,
More ponderous than nimble;
For since grimed War here laid aside
His Orient pomp, ‘twould ill befit
Overmuch to ply
The Rhyme’s barbaric cymbal.

Hail to victory without the gaud
Of glory; zeal that needs no fans
Of banners; plain mechanic power
Plied cogently in War now placed —
Where War belongs —
Among the trades and artisans.

Yet this was battle, and intense —
Beyond the strife of fleets heroic;
Deadlier, closer, calm ‘mid storm;
No passion; all went on by crank,
Pivot, and screw,
And calculations of caloric.

Needless to dwell; the story’s known.
the ringing of those plates on plates
Still ringeth round the world —
The clangor of that blacksmith’s fray.
The anvil-din
Resounds this message from the Fates:

War shall yet be, and to the end;
But war-paint shows the streaks of weather;
War yet shall be, but warriors
Are now but operatives; War’s made
Less grand than Peace,
And a singe runs through lace and feather.


A Tempest in a Teacup

A Tempest in a Teacup
by A. Van Jordan

Prospero

Assume, just for a moment,
I am denied a job
in the factory of my dreams
under the fluorescent lights
of a porcelain white foreman.

It’s orderly and neat.
I feed my family.
No one questions my face.
I raised my son in my likeness,
so he would never go unseen,

bobbing on a wave of expectation,
I set in motion with my back
put into my work, praying
for my country, blessed
with more of me, never worrying

about those who might die,
or those who did, trying
to stir a storm, trying
to stand where I’m standing.

About This Poem

“This poem is part of a series of poems in which characters from The Tempest become composite characters who wrestle with the tensions around how we talk about race today, particularly when that talk is gendered. Prospero represents the older, straight white male who fears the cultural shift in America, without seeing the benefits of that shift both for America and even for himself.”
—A. Van Jordan

A. Van Jordan is the author of four poetry collections, including The Cineaste (W. W. Norton, 2013). A professor of English and literature at the University of Mich


The Poet

The Poet
by Yone Noguchi

Out of the deep and the dark,

A sparkling mystery, a shape,

Something perfect,

Comes like the stir of the day:

One whose breath is an odour,

Whose eyes show the road to stars,

The breeze in his face,

The glory of Heaven on his back.

He steps like a vision hung in air,

Diffusing the passion of Eternity;

His abode is the sunlight of morn,

The music of eve his speech:

In his sight,

One shall turn from the dust of the grave,

And move upward to the woodland.

About This Poem

“The Poet” was published in Selected Poems of Yone Noguchi (The Four Seas Company, 1921).

Yone Noguchi, the first Japanese-born writer to publish poetry in English, was born in 1875 in Tsushima. His first book of poetry in English was Seen and Unseen, or Monologues of a Homeless Snail (Gelett Burgess & Porter Garnett, 1896). He died in Toyooka-mura on July 13, 1947.


It Was Summer Now and the Colored People Came Out Into the Sunshine

It Was Summer Now and the Colored People Came Out Into the Sunshine
by Morgan Parker

They descend from the boat two by two. The gap in Angela Davis’s teeth speaks to the gap in James Baldwin’s teeth. The gap in James Baldwin’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s Teeth. The gap in Malcolm X’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s teeth. The gap in Condoleezza Rice’s teeth doesn’t speak. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard kisses the Band Aid on Nelly’s cheek. Frederick Douglass’s side part kisses Nikki Giovanni’s Thug Life tattoo. The choir is led by Whoopi Goldberg’s eyebrows. The choir is led by Will Smith’s flat top. The choir loses its way. The choir never returns home. The choir sings funeral instead of wedding, sings funeral instead of allegedly, sings funeral instead of help, sings Black instead of grace, sings Black as knucklebone, mercy, junebug, sea air. It is time for war.

About This Poem

“This is one of the last poems I wrote for my collection Magical Negro, which has an epigraph from Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, from which the poem title comes. Magical Negro deals largely with intergenerational connection and Black American iconography, and the gap between Angela Davis’s teeth is one of the mascots that shows up in a few poems. I wanted this poem to be, in Glenn Ligon’s words, ‘negro sunshine’—a collective embrace and armoring. The last line of the poem wrote itself.”
—Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House Books, 2017), Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night (Switchback Books, 2015), and Magical Negro, forthcoming from Tin House Books in 2019. She lives in Los Angeles.


14th Street Gym

14th STREET GYM

Beauty that does not disguise the wound,
but reads through the lack of it,
the one-armed man lifts himself again

on the assisted pull-up machine—
sleeve of sparrows and morning glories
swelling with each upward pull.

In the locker room, I praise his ink
and he turns to thank me, and so I notice
(what you can’t restore, inscribe)

the blue wing needled on the socket.

~ Mark Doty


Amid the Roses

Amid the Roses
by Alice Dunbar-Nelson

There is tropical warmth and languorous life
Where the roses lie
In a tempting drift
Of pink and red and golden light
Untouched as yet by the pruning knife.
And the still, warm life of the roses fair
That whisper “Come,”
With promises
Of sweet caresses, close and pure
Has a thorny whiff in the perfumed air.
There are thorns and love in the roses’ bed,
And Satan too
Must linger there;
So Satan’s wiles and the conscience stings,
Must now abide—the roses are dead.


I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing
by Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
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.


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