Ten Favorite Poems


The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;

The times are winter, watch, a world undone:

They waste, they wither worse; they as they run

Or bring more or more blazon man's distress.

And I not help. Nor word now of success:

All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—

Work which to see scarce so much as begun

Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.

There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.

Your will is law in that small commonweal...

blessing the boats

by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary's) may the tide that is entering even now the lip of our understanding carry you out beyond the face of fear may you kiss the wind then turn from it certain that it will love your back may you open your eyes to water water waving forever and may you in your innocence sail through this to that

Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he'd call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know of love's austere and lonely offices?

The Iliad, Book I, Lines 1-15

by Homer translated by Stanley Lombardo


Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,

Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks

Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls

Of heroes into Hades' dark,

And left their bodies to rot as feasts

For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.

Begin with the clash between Agamemnon--

The Greek warlord--and godlike Achilles.

Which of the immortals set these two

At each other's throats?


Zeus' son and Leto's, offended

By the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored

Chryses, Apollo's priest, so the god

Struck the Greek camp with plague,

And the soldiers were dying of it.

Eighth Air Force

by Randall Jarrell

If, in an odd angle of the hutment,

A puppy laps the water from a can

Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving

Whistles O Paradiso!--shall I say that man

Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?

The other murderers troop in yawning;

Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one

Lies counting missions, lies there sweating

Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.

O murderers! . . . Still, this is how it's done:

This is a war . . . But since these play, before they die,

Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man,

I did as these have done, but did not die--

I will content the people as I can

And give up these to them: Behold the man!

I have suffered, in a dream, because of him,

Many things; for this last saviour, man,

I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying?

Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can:

I find no fault in this just man.

A Nation's Strength

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation's pillars high

And it's foundations strong?

What makes it mighty to defy

The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand

Go down in battle shock;

Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,

Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust

Of empires passed away;

The blood has turned their stones to rust,

Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown

Has seemed to nations sweet;

But God has struck its luster down

In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make

A people great and strong;

Men who for truth and honor's sake

Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,

Who dare while others fly...

They build a nation's pillars deep

And lift them to the sky.

The Armadillo

by Elizabeth Bishop

For Robert Lowell

This is the time of year when almost every night the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.

Climbing the mountain height, rising toward a saint still honored in these parts, the paper chambers flush and fill with light that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard to tell them from the stars— planets, that is—the tinted ones:

Venus going down, or Mars, or the pale green one. With a wind, they flare and falter, wobble and toss; but if it's still they steer between the kite sticks of the Southern Cross, receding, dwindling, solemnly and steadily forsaking us, or, in the downdraft from a peak, suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.

It splattered like an egg of fire against the cliff behind the house.

The flame ran down. We saw the pair of owls who nest there flying up and up, their whirling black-and-white stained bright pink underneath, until they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.

Hastily, all alone,

a glistening armadillo left the scene, rose-flecked, head down, tail down, and then a baby rabbit jumped out,

short-eared, to our surprise.

So soft!—a handful of intangible ash with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!

O falling fire and piercing cry and panic, and a weak mailed fist

clenched ignorant against the sky!


by Wyatt Prunty

For weeks he’s tunneled his intricate need

Through the root-rich, fibrous, humoral dark,

Buckling up in zagged illegibles

The cuneiforms and cursives of a blind scribe.

Sleeved by soft earth, a slow reach knuckling,

Small tributaries open from his nudge—

Mild immigrant, bland isolationist,

Berm builder edging the runneling world.

But now the snow, and he’s gone quietly deep,

Nuzzling through a muzzy neighborhood

Of dead-end-street, abandoned cul-de-sac,

And boltrun from a dead-leaf, roundhouse burrow.

May he emerge four months from this as before,

Myopic master of the possible,

Wise one who understands prudential ground,

Revisionist of all things green;

So when he surfaces, lumplike, bashful,

Quizzical as the flashbulb blind who wait

For color to return, he’ll nose our green- rich air with the imperative poise of now.


by Paisley Rekdal unveil themselves in dark.

They hang, each a jagged, silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright as polished knives. They swim the muddled air and keen like supersonic babies, the sound we imagine empty wombs might make in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.

They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.

Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.

They materialize. Revelatory as a stranger’s underthings found tossed upon the marital bed, you tremble even at the thought. Asleep, you tear your fingers and search the sheets all night.


by Daniel Waters

All eyes are fearful of the spotted hawk, whose dappled wingspread opens to a phrase that only victims gaping in the gaze of Death Occurring can recite. To stalk; to plunge; to harvest; the denial-squawk of dying's struggle; these are but a day's rebuke to hunger for the hawk, whose glazed accord with Death admits no show of shock.

Death's users know it is not theirs to own, nor can they fathom all it means to die— for young to know a different Death from old.

But when the spotted hawk's last flight is flown, he too becomes a novice, fear-struck by the certain plummet once these feathers fold.