Category Archives: Poetry

Two Poems for a Rainy Tuesday in July

Summer Rain
By Amy Lowell – 1874-1925

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between
    them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

Summer Morn in New Hampshire
By Claude McKay – 1889-1948

All yesterday it poured, and all night long
    I could not sleep; the rain unceasing beat
Upon the shingled roof like a weird song,
    Upon the grass like running children’s feet.
And down the mountains by the dark cloud kissed,
    Like a strange shape in filmy veiling dressed,
Slid slowly, silently, the wraith-like mist,
    And nestled soft against the earth’s wet breast.
But lo, there was a miracle at dawn!
    The still air stirred at touch of the faint breeze,
The sun a sheet of gold bequeathed the lawn,
    The songsters twittered in the rustling trees.
And all things were transfigured in the day,
    But me whom radiant beauty could not move;
For you, more wonderful, were far away,
    And I was blind with hunger for your love.

The Poets:

Born in 1874, Amy Lowell was deeply interested in and influenced by the Imagist movement and she received the Pulitzer Prize for her collection What’s O’Clock.

Claude McKay, who was born in Jamaica in 1889, wrote about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States, as well as a variety of subjects ranging from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love.


Two Poems by Jameson Fitzpatrick

A Poem for Pulse
By Jameson Fitzpatrick

Last night, I went to a gay bar
with a man I love a little.
After dinner, we had a drink.
We sat in the far-back of the big backyard
and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?
I don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon, I said,
though the crowd was slow for a Saturday,
and he said—Yes, but one day. Where will we go?
He walked me the half-block home
and kissed me goodnight on my stoop—
properly: not too quick, close enough
our stomachs pressed together
in a second sort of kiss.
I live next to a bar that’s not a gay bar
—we just call those bars, I guess—
and because it is popular
and because I live on a busy street,
there are always people who aren’t queer people
on the sidewalk on weekend nights.
Just people, I guess.
They were there last night.
As I kissed this man I was aware of them watching
and of myself wondering whether or not they were just.
But I didn’t let myself feel scared, I kissed him
exactly as I wanted to, as I would have without an audience,
because I decided many years ago to refuse this fear—
an act of resistance. I left
the idea of hate out on the stoop and went inside,
to sleep, early and drunk and happy.
While I slept, a man went to a gay club
with two guns and killed forty-nine people.
Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed
recently by the sight of two men kissing.
What a strange power to be cursed with:
for the proof of men’s desire to move men to violence.
What’s a single kiss? I’ve had kisses
no one has ever known about, so many
kisses without consequence—
but there is a place you can’t outrun,
whoever you are.
There will be a time when.
It might be a bullet, suddenly.
The sound of it. Many.
One man, two guns, fifty dead—
Two men kissing. Last night
I can’t get away from, imagining it, them,
the people there to dance and laugh and drink,
who didn’t believe they’d die, who couldn’t have.
How else can you have a good time?
How else can you live?
There must have been two men kissing
for the first time last night, and for the last,
and two women, too, and two people who were neither.
Brown people, which cannot be a coincidence in this country
which is a racist country, which is gun country.
Today I’m thinking of the Bernie Boston photograph
Flower Power, of the Vietnam protestor placing carnations
in the rifles of the National Guard,
and wishing for a gesture as queer and simple.
The protester in the photo was gay, you know,
he went by Hibiscus and died of AIDS,
which I am also thinking about today because
(the government’s response to) AIDS was a hate crime.
Now we have a president who names us,
the big and imperfectly lettered us, and here we are
getting kissed on stoops, getting married some of us,
some of us getting killed.
We must love one another whether or not we die.
Love can’t block a bullet
but neither can it be shot down,
and love is, for the most part, what makes us—
in Orlando and in Brooklyn and in Kabul.
We will be everywhere, always;
there’s nowhere else for us, or you, to go.
Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you.
Around any corner, there might be two men. Kissing.

________________

I Woke Up
By Jameson Fitzpatrick

and it was political.
I made coffee and the coffee was political.
I took a shower and the water was.
I walked down the street in short shorts and a Bob Mizer tank top
and they were political, the walking and the shorts and the beefcake
silkscreen of the man posing in a G-string. I forgot my sunglasses
and later, on the train, that was political,
when I studied every handsome man in the car.
Who I thought was handsome was political.
I went to work at the university and everything was
very obviously political, the department and the institution.
All the cigarettes I smoked between classes were political,
where I threw them when I was through.
I was blond and it was political.
So was the difference between “blond” and “blonde.”
I had long hair and it was political. I shaved my head and it was.
That I didn’t know how to grieve when another person was killed in America
was political, and it was political when America killed another person,
who they were and what color and gender and who I am in relation.
I couldn’t think about it for too long without feeling a helplessness
like childhood. I was a child and it was political, being a boy
who was bad at it. I couldn’t catch and so the ball became political.
My mother read to me almost every night
and the conditions that enabled her to do so were political.
That my father’s money was new was political, that it was proving something.
Someone called me faggot and it was political.
I called myself a faggot and it was political.
How difficult my life felt relative to how difficult it was
was political. I thought I could become a writer
and it was political that I could imagine it.
I thought I was not a political poet and still
my imagination was political.
It had been, this whole time I was asleep.

About the Poet

Jameson Fitzpatrick is the author of Pricks in the Tapestry (Birds, LLC, 2020), and the chapbooks Mr. & (Indolent Books, 2018) and Morrisroe: Erasures (89plus/LUMA Publications, 2014). Fitzpatrick teaches at New York University.


I, Lover

I, Lover
By Elsa Gidlow – 1898-1986

I shall never have any fear of love,
Not of its depth nor its uttermost height,
Its exquisite pain and its terrible delight.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never hesitate to go down
Into the fastness of its abyss
Nor shrink from the cruelty of its awful kiss.
I shall never have any fear of love.

Never shall I dread love’s strength
Nor any pain it might give.
Through all the years I may live
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never draw back from love
Through fear of its vast pain
But build joy of it and count it again.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never tremble nor flinch
From love’s moulding touch:
I have loved too terribly and too much
Ever to have any fear of love.

About the Poem

Today’s poem is by the early 20th century poet Elsa Gidlow, who famously came out as a lesbian in her autobiography. “I, Lover” originally appeared in On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923). In this poem, we see the speaker acknowledge the risk of love. But we also see her courage to commit to risking her heart again and again, no matter what the consequences. While it is a lesbian poem, I think it is universal for all LGBTQ+ love. It is an inspirational poem about not fearing who we love and shows Gidlow’s openness with her sexuality. I think it is a goal of all of us to “never have any fear of love.”

If you read “I, Lover” aloud, as poems are meant to be read, it would not work unless you started with the words, I, lover. It converts a shout into the void into a personal promise. A beloved is swearing fealty to love, to enter into a relationship unafraid of stinging reprisals of heartbreak. It is a weighty vow we are witnessing, and as we recite it, we become part of it.

About the Poet

Portrait of Elsa Gidlow, circa 1970s.
(GLBT Historical Society)

Elsa Gidlow, known to many as the “poet-warrior,” was unabashedly visible as an independent woman, a lesbian, a writer, and a bohemian-anarchist at a time when such visibility was both unusual and potentially dangerous. Gidlow was born on December 29, 1898, in Yorkshire, England. She was the eldest of seven children and immigrated with her family to a town near Montreal when she was six. Gidlow grew up in poverty and was largely self-educated. Throughout her career, despite often surviving on a meager income, she would struggle to support her family, including three siblings who suffered with mental illness, while maintaining her commitment to writing. 

In 1920, after spending some time in Montreal’s art circles, Gidlow moved to Manhattan. Gidlow began her career as a freelance journalist and co-published the first North American newspaper that openly celebrated and discussed LGBTQ+ lives and issues within the community. After moving to Manhattan in the 1920s, she became poetry editor at Pearson’s Magazine. Six years later, she moved to San Francisco, where she befriended several poets, as well as the journalists and activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin—the first gay couple to be legally wed in California. 

In the early 1950s, Gidlow was investigated as a suspected Communist, though she identified as an anarchist, and was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). At the time, Gidlow lived openly in a relationship with Isabel Grenfell Quallo, a biracial woman. Her cohabiting in an interracial, lesbian relationship may have provoked the investigation as much as her politics. Indeed, when she was questioned by the HUAC, she had nothing good to say about Communism, since her own political sympathies lay with the anarchists, who considered Marxism just another oppressive ideology.

Gidlow published around a dozen books of poetry and prose, some of which were self-published and released with a limited number of copies. Many of her works are currently out of print. Her poetry book, On a Grey Thread is, historians believe, the first collection of openly lesbian love poetry published in North America. Her autobiography, Elsa: I Come With My Songs (Booklegger Press, 1986), was the first lesbian autobiography not published under a pseudonym.

In 1954, Gidlow purchased a ranch at Muir Woods, north of San Francisco, called Druid Heights, which she used both as her personal residence and as a retreat for artists, bohemians, and feminists. Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder were among the ranch’s various famous guests and residents. In 1962, Gidlow co-founded, with British philosopher and writer Alan Watts, the Society of Comparative Philosophy. In 1977, she appeared in Peter Adair’s 1977 documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, which featured LGBTQ+ individuals from a range of classes, ethnicities, and professional backgrounds. 

Gidlow died at home on June 8, 1986. Her ashes are interred near the Moon Temple at Druid Heights.


At the Touch of You

At the Touch of You
By Witter Bynner – 1881-1968

At the touch of you,
As if you were an archer with your swift hand at the bow,
The arrows of delight shot through my body.

You were spring,
And I the edge of a cliff,
And a shining waterfall rushed over me.

About the Poem
“At the Touch of You” is a short and simple poem, that’s very sweet. What drew me to this poem was the first line: “At the touch of you.” Most poems begin with mentioning the sight of their lover and go on to describe their outer appearance, but this poet instead felt his rush of emotions not when he saw his love, but when he touched him. The imagery in the first stanza is evocative of Greek mythology. The final stanza is a beautiful comparison of how the lover’s fit together in their romance by invoking the image of a waterfall to create a beautiful metaphor.

About the Poet
Witter Bynner was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1881. He graduated from Harvard University in 1902. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter and, later, as the assistant editor of McClure’s magazine.

Bynner published his first poetry collection, An Ode to Harvard (Small, Maynard, & Co.), in 1907. He was also the author of New Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1960); Take Away the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 1947); The Beloved Stranger (Alfred A. Knopf, 1919); Tiger (M. Kennerley, 1913); and several other poetry collections.

Bynner was also known for his works in translation, including The Way of Life According to Laotzu: An American Version (John Day Co., 1944), and a literary biography, Journey with Genius: Recollections and Reflections Concerning the D. H. Lawrences (J. Day Co, 1951).

In 1916, Bynner and Arthur David Ficke published Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments, under the pseudonyms Emanuel Morgan and Anne Krish. The book included poems and a manifesto on “spectrism,” a parody of Imagism. In 1918, Bynner admitted that the book was a hoax.

In 1922, Bynner settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his partner, Robert Hunt. He died there on June 1, 1968.


And Now Upon My Head the Crown

And Now Upon My Head the Crown
By Phillip B. Williams

1.
    In the first place—I wanted him and said so
when I had only meant to say. His eyes
opened beyond open as if such force would unlock me
to the other side where daylight gave reason
for him to redress.

            When he put on his shirt,
after I asked him to keep it off, to keep putting off
the night’s usual end, his face changed beneath
the shirt: surprise to grin, to how even the body
of another’s desire can be a cloak behind which
to change one’s power, to find it.

2.
                    In the first place
he slept, he opened the tight heat of me that had been
the only haven he thought to give a name:

Is-it-mine? Why-you-running? Don’t-run-from-it—as though
through questions doubt would find its way away from me,
as though telling me what to do told me who I was.

About This Poem
“This poem is part of a few ‘failed sonnets’ I’d written and revised out of their intended form. In this revision, I wanted the phrase ‘in the first place’ to move through two possibilities: the first instance and the first location. That there may be other readings is great. As for the title, I guess I was thinking less about success and more about regretting when one gets exactly what one has asked for.”
—Phillip B. Williams

About The Poet
Phillip B. Williams is the author of Mutiny (Penguin, 2021), a 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry finalist, and Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and a Lambda Literary Award. He has received a Whiting Award and Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He currently lives in Philadelphia.


Daffodils

Daffodils
By William Wordsworth – 1770-1850

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

About the Poet

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote beautiful poetry filled with sweet imagery, usually based around the natural world. Often Wordsworth’s poems contained slight somber undertones, as is the case in this poem, as we will explore shortly. This is possible due to the conflict In Wordsworth’s life and his battle with depression. Some scholars suggest that Wordsworth’s relationship with his sister, Dorothy was far from platonic. But Wordsworth did marry and lived with both his wife and sister.

Wordsworth lived through the French Revolution, which he initially supported and later rebuked. William Wordsworth, who rallied for “common speech” within poems and argued against the poetic biases of the period, wrote some of the most influential poetry in Western literature, including his most famous work, The Prelude, which is often considered to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism. He and his close friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge were the pioneers of the romantic era of poetry, and Wordsworth’s earlier romantic poems were widely derided because of this. He was also the poet laureate for queen Victoria for seven years. Today, Wordsworth’s reputation rests heavily on the collection Lyrical Ballads that he published along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. 

About the Poem

“Daffodils” or “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is one of the best-loved poems of the romantic poetry of William Wordsworth. The poem features how the spontaneous emotions of the poet’s heart sparked by the energetic dance of daffodils help him pen down this sweet little piece. On April 15, 1802, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy came across a host of daffodils around Glencoyne Bay in the Lake District of Northern England. (The falls and surrounding area of Gowbarrow Park is the area of Glencoyne Bay known as Wordsworth Point.) This event was the inspiration behind the composition of Wordsworth’s lyric poem. “Daffodils” has been dissected methodically for illustrating the poet’s mood, the surrounding location, the allegorical meanings, and the beauty of nature in full motion. The poet’s love and proximity with nature have inspired and moved generations after generations of poetry lovers and young minds.

The speaker, likely Wordsworth himself, is wandering down the hills and valley when he stumbled upon a beautiful field of daffodils. Though the poem’s title hints at a cloud, it is not about it. Instead, it is about a group of golden daffodils dancing beside the lake and beneath the trees. The speaker is transfixed by the daffodils seemingly waving, fluttering, and dancing along the waterside. The poet feels immensely gleeful at this mesmerizing natural sight. Amongst the company of flowers, he remains transfixed at those daffodils wavering with full vigor. Oblivious to the poet is the fact that this wondrous scenery of daffodils brings the poet immense joy when he’s in a tense mood or perplexed for that matter. His heart breaths a new life and gives him exponential happiness at sight worth a thousand words.

The poem begins with a symbolic reference to the cloud. It is wandering and lonely. The poetic persona is the embodiment of such a cloud. Hence, it symbolizes being lonely and thoughtless. This state is achieved when one is free from mundane thoughts. The most important symbol of this piece is the daffodils. The narcissistic description of the flower seems to be alluding to the Greek myth. Apart from that, the daffodil acts as a symbol of rejuvenation and pure joy. Wordsworth becomes the means through which the flowers express their vibrance. In his pensive mood, they become a means for the poet’s self-reflection.

Hailed as the champion of the Romantic Movement in the early 19th century, Wordsworth dwelled in scenic Lake District of Northern England, far from the madding crowd. Its roots can be traced back to Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, in which she reminisces a casual stroll with his brother in 1802, where they came across beautiful daffodils. Dorothy wrote in her journal:
 

When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park, we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road.
 
I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing.
 
This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up, but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the sea.

The poem was composed within the period of 1804-1807 and subsequently published in 1807, with a revised version published in 1815. The poem is considered a masterpiece of Romantic Era poetry steeped in natural imagery. As the sister’s journal recalls, the daffodils seemed immensely beautiful from a far-off view. 

“Daffodils” read by the actor Sir Jeremy Irons.


Sonnet XVII

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose)
By Pablo Neruda – 1904-1973

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

Cien Sonetos de Amor: XVII (No te amo como si fueras rosa)

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber como, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
Te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,
sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.

Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto in the town of Parral in southern Chile on July 12, 1904, Pablo Neruda led a life charged with poetic and political activity. In 1923, he sold all of his possessions to finance the publication of his first book, Crepusculario (“Twilight”). He published the volume under the pseudonym “Pablo Neruda” to avoid conflict with his family, who disapproved of his occupation. The following year, he found a publisher for Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (“Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”). The book made a celebrity of Neruda, who gave up his studies at the age of twenty to devote himself to his craft.

In 1927, Neruda began his long career as a diplomat in the Latin American tradition of honoring poets with diplomatic assignments. After serving as honorary consul in Burma, Neruda was named Chilean consul in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1933. While there, he began a friendship with the visiting Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. After transferring to Madrid later that year, Neruda also met Spanish writer Manuel Altolaguirre. Together, the two men founded a literary review called Caballo verde para la poesîa in 1935. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 interrupted Neruda’s poetic and political development. He chronicled the horrendous years which included the execution of García Lorca in Espana en el corazon (1937), published from the war front. Neruda’s outspoken sympathy for the loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War led to his recall from Madrid in 1937. He then moved to Paris and helped settle Spanish republican refugees in Chile.

Neruda returned to Chile in 1938 where he renewed his political activity and wrote prolifically. Named Chilean Consul to Mexico in 1939, Neruda left Chile again for four years. Upon returning to Chile in 1943, he was elected to the Senate and joined the Communist Party. When the Chilean government moved to the right, they declared communism illegal and expelled Neruda from the Senate. He went into hiding. During those years he wrote and published Canto general (1950).

In 1952 the government withdrew the order to arrest leftist writers and political figures, and Neruda returned to Chile and married Matilde Urrutia, his third wife (his first two marriages, to Maria Antonieta Haagenar Vogelzang and Delia del Carril, both ended in divorce). For the next twenty-one years, he continued a career that integrated private and public concerns and became known as the people’s poet. 

In 1960, Neruda wrote 100 Love Sonnets. Sonnet XVII is the most famous of these sonnets. Neruda wrote these sonnets to his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, with whom he had an affair during his second marriage. The nature of their love, which was hidden for so long, seeps through in Sonnet XVII’s lines about darkness, secrets, shadows. The collection itself begins with a beautiful dedication to Matilde, which reads, in part: “I built up these lumber piles of love, and with fourteen boards each I built little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them.”

There are so many poems in this collection that feel vitally important and true; poems that express hunger, desire, desperation, or a profound sense of loneliness even in the deepest and most intense feelings of love. (From Sonnet XI: “I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair / Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.”) But Sonnet XVII expresses a feeling at once unbearably sweet and possibly codependent. So many of us have this tendency—to try and squish ourselves so close to another person that we can no longer remember where the seams are:

I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

During this time, Neruda received numerous prestigious awards, including the International Peace Prize in 1950, the Lenin Peace Prize and the Stalin Peace Prize in 1953, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He was diagnosed with cancer while serving a two-year term as ambassador to France. Neruda resigned his position, ending his diplomatic career. On September 23, 1973, just twelve days after the defeat of Chile’s democratic regime, the man widely regarded as the greatest Latin American poet since Darío died in Santiago, Chile.


The Rhodora

The Rhodora
By Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1803-1882

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,

I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,

Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,

To please the desert and the sluggish brook.

The purple petals fallen in the pool

Made the black water with their beauty gay;

Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,

And court the flower that cheapens his array.

Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why

This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,

Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,

Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;

Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!

I never thought to ask; I never knew;

But in my simple ignorance suppose

The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

About the Poem

The official name of the poem is “The Rhodora, On Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower”, and was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1834. Emerson uniquely describes a wonderful and insightful spiritual connection with nature in a primitive, deified manner. The focus of the poem is to showcase to Emerson’s audience that a person has the embedded ability to share and experience a kindred relationship with God through the beauty of Nature.

The Rhodora is presented as a flower as beautiful as the rose, but the Rhodora can be described as a scrawny deciduous shrub. In the poem, it is described as remaining humble and not seeking broader fame. The narrator of the poem is outside during springtime in New England and has found a beautiful Rhodora, “Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,” and is reflecting on the ability to bring beauty to such a dismal location and setting.

“The Rhodora” described the love of his life, probably his life. Emerson disliked the ordinary and the status quo. Therefore, roses are nit his cup of tea. Everyone loves roses, so he wanted a more unique ay to describe his love. When it came to describing his wife, the Rhodora plant encompassed all that he felt of her, including the lavender petals. Emerson describes his wife as stunningly beautiful through his eyes, and similar to items of immense value, she is hard to find. He gives her a grand compliment as a writer that she has a calming influence on his life and points out that she is only known by a certain few, those who seek out her uniqueness, her beauty, and her calming influence. She must have been a remarkable woman.

About the Poet

An American essayist, poet, and popular philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) began his career as a Unitarian minister in Boston, but achieved worldwide fame as a lecturer and the author of such essays as “Self-Reliance,” “History,” “The Over-Soul,” and “Fate.” Drawing on English and German Romanticism, Neoplatonism, Kantianism, and Hinduism, Emerson developed a metaphysics of process, an epistemology of moods, and an “existentialist” ethics of self-improvement. He influenced generations of Americans, from his friend Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, and in Europe, Friedrich Nietzsche, who takes up such Emersonian themes as power, fate, the uses of poetry and history, and the critique of Christianity.

“There are many unspeakable words, forgotten, or forbidden. Great thanks to the poets who make them all become reachable.”

—Toba Beta


Three Poems by Countee Cullen

For One Who Gayly Sowed His Oats
By Countee Cullen – 1903-1946

My days were a thing for me to live,
For others to deplore;
I took of life all it could give:
Rind, inner fruit, and core.

Spring Reminiscence
By Countee Cullen – 1903-1946

“My sweet,” you sang, and, “Sweet,” I sang,
And sweet we sang together,
Glad to be young as the world was young,
Two colts too strong for a tether.

Shall ever a spring be like that spring,
Or apple blossoms as white;
Or ever clover smell like the clover
We lay upon that night?

Shall ever your hand lie in my hand,
Pulsing to it, I wonder;
Or have the gods, being jealous gods,
Envied us our thunder?

If You Should Go
By Countee Cullen – 1903-1946

Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day;
We would not know, but for the night,
When it has slipped away.

So many hopes have fled,
Have left me but the name
Of what they were. When love is dead,
Go thou, beloved, the same.

Go quietly; a dream
When done, should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer’s face.

About Countee Cullen
Born on May 30, 1903, in New York City, Countee Cullen was one of the most important voices of the Harlem Renaissance.

American writer Alain Locke helped Cullen come to terms with his sexuality. Locke wanted to introduce a new generation of African-American writers, such as Countee Cullen, to the reading public. Locke also sought to present the authentic natures of sex and sexuality through writing, creating a kind of relationship with those who felt the same. Locke introduced Cullen to gay-affirming material, such as the work of Edward Carpenter, at a time when most gays were in the closet. In March 1923, Cullen wrote to Locke about Carpenter’s work: “It opened up for me soul windows which had been closed; it threw a noble and evident light on what I had begun to believe, because of what the world believes, ignoble and unnatural.”

Critics and historians have not reached consensus as to Cullen’s sexuality, partly because Cullen was unsure of this himself. Cullen’s first marriage, to Yolande Du Bois, experienced difficulties before ending in divorce. He subsequently had relationships with many different men, although each ended poorly. Each relationship had a sense of shame or secrecy, such as his relationship with Edward Atkinson. Cullen later married Ida Robertson while potentially in a relationship with Atkinson. Letters between Cullen and Atkinson suggest a romantic interest, although there is no concrete evidence that they were in a sexual relationship.


For the Bird Singing before Dawn

For the Bird Singing before Dawn
By Kim Stafford

Some people presume to be hopeful
when there is no evidence for hope,
to be happy when there is no cause.
Let me say now, I’m with them.

In deep darkness on a cold twig
in a dangerous world, one first
little fluff lets out a peep, a warble,
a song—and in a little while, behold:

the first glimmer comes, then a glow
filters through the misty trees,
then the bold sun rises, then
everyone starts bustling about.

And that first crazy optimist, can we
forgive her for thinking, dawn by dawn,
“Hey, I made that happen!
And oh, life is so fine.”

About This Poem

“Many times in my life I’ve been told by serious people that I must be very naïve to be happy, to have hope, to celebrate this little life I’ve been given when, actually, they say, everything is pretty dire. There’s war, poverty, crushing injustice all over—what right do I have to talk back to all that with flimsy little poems about the good? What can I say? The birds are my teachers, my elders, my guides. Every day before dawn, in silence and darkness, I’m at my desk making poems on the page. And then, before light, I hear the first bird outside begin to sing.”

—Kim Stafford