poems to analyze



David Berman

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.

For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake.

The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn't know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.

Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.

A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked. from Actual Air, 1999

Open City Books, New York


by Rumi

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror up to where you’re bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead, here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.

If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,

The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birdwings.


Ronald Koertge

They were never handsome and often came with a hormone imbalance manifested by corpulence, a yodel of a voice or ears big as kidneys.

But each was brave. More than once a sidekick has thrown himself in front of our hero in order to receive the bullet or blow meant for that perfect face and body.

Thankfully, heroes never die in movies and leave the sidekick alone. He would not stand for it.

Gabby or Pat, Pancho or Andy remind us of a part of ourselves, the dependent part that can never grow up, the part that is painfully eager to please, always wants a hug and never gets enough.

Who could sit in a darkened theatre, listen to the organ music and watch the best of ourselves lowered into the ground while the rest stood up there, tears pouring off that enormous nose.

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border

William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen, where the unknown soldier did not die.

This is the field where grass joined hands, where no monument stands, and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound, unfolding their wings across the open.

No people killed — or were killed — on this ground hallowed by neglect and an air so tame that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.


Carol Snow

Near a shrine in Japan he'd swept the path and then placed camellia blossoms there.

Or -- we had no way of knowing -- he'd swept the path between fallen camellias.


Leopold Staff

I built on the sand

And it tumbled down,

I built on a rock

And it tumbled down.

Now when I build, I shall begin

With the smoke from the chimney.

The Road Not Taken

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.

Robert Frost

For Those Who Fail

by Joaquin Miller (1837 – 1913)

"All honor to him who shall win the prize,"

The world has cried for a thousand years;

But to him who tries and who fails and dies,

I give great honor and glory and tears.

O great is the hero who wins a name,

But greater many and many a time,

Some pale-faced fellow who dies in shame,

And lets God finish the thought sublime.

And great is the man with a sword undrawn,

And good is the man who refrains from wine;

But the man who fails and yet fights on,

Lo! he is the twin-born brother of mine.