Friday, October 9, 2009

Good Poem Hunting

My best friend's breakfast. September, 2009

Do you have a favorite poem?

Whenever I'm asked this question I think of a very early work of Sylvia Plath's, Jilted. It reminds me of so many of the thoughts I had during my adolescent years. Looking back, those thoughts seem sweet and cute, but back then it was all very serious.

Would you share your favorite poem with me (just post it in the comments section)?

Side note:
Here's wishing you find the perfect light, and when you do, that you happen to be with someone who will pause, put down his fork and knife, and be patient while you work.

But is it work? No, not really.

Enjoy your day.


  1. My favorite poem is the one that I used to read to Max and Alex when they were little. They've probably heard it 50 + times. And since it's so long, by the time I had finished, they had begun their sleep. I don't know why I'm so attracted to this poem? Maybe because in that defining moment, Kipling had Matun choose pity over killing. (Not the best choice for Matun!) -Lynda

    The Truce of the Bear

    Rudyard Kipling - 1898

    YEARLY, with tent and rifle, our careless white men go
    By the Pass called Muttianee, to shoot in the vale below.
    Yearly by Muttianee he follows our white men in -
    Matun, the old blind beggar, bandaged from brow to chin.

    Eyeless, noseless, and lipless - toothless, broken of speech,
    Seeking a dole at the doorway he mumbles his tale to each;
    Over and over the story, ending as he began:
    "Make ye no truce with Adam-zad - the Bear that walks like a Man!

    "There was a flint in my musket - pricked and primed was the pan,
    When I went hunting Adam-zad - the Bear that stands like a Man.
    I looked my last on the timber, I looked my last on the snow,
    When I went hunting Adam-zad fifty summers ago!

    "I knew his times and his seasons, as he knew mine, that fed
    By night in the ripened maizefield and robbed my house of bread.
    I knew his strength and cunning, as he knew mine, that crept
    At dawn to the crowded goat-pens and plundered while I slept.

    "Up from his stony playground - down from his well-digged lair -
    Out on the naked ridges ran Adam-zad the Bear -
    Groaning, grunting, and roaring, heavy with stolen meals,
    Two long marches to northward, and I was at his heels!

    "Two long marches to northward, at the fall of the second night,
    I came on mine enemy Adam-zad all panting from his flight.
    There was a charge in the musket - pricked and primed was the pan -
    My finger crooked on the trigger - when he reared up like a man.

    "Horrible, hairy, human, with paws like hands in prayer,
    Making his supplication rose Adam-zad the Bear!
    I looked at the swaying shoulders, at the paunch's swag and swing,
    And my heart was touched with pity for the monstrous, pleading thing.

    "Touched with pity and wonder, I did not fire then . . .
    I have looked no more on women - I have walked no more with men.
    Nearer he tottered and nearer, with paws like hands that pray -
    From brow to jaw that steel-shod paw, it ripped my face away!

    "Sudden, silent, and savage, searing as flame the blow -
    Faceless I fell before his feet, fifty summers ago.
    I heard him grunt and chuckle - I heard him pass to his den.
    He left me blind to the darkened years and the little mercy of men.

    "Now ye go down in the morning with guns of the newer style,
    That load (I have felt) in the middle and range (I have heard) a mile?
    Luck to the white man's rifle, that shoots so fast and true,
    But - pay, and I lift my bandage and show what the Bear can do!"

    (Flesh like slag in the furnace, knobbed and withered and grey -
    Matun, the old blind beggar, he gives good worth for his pay.)
    "Rouse him at noon in the bushes, follow and press him hard -
    Not for his ragings and roarings flinch ye from Adam-zad.

    "But (pay, and I put back the bandage) this is the time to fear,
    When he stands up like a tired man, tottering near and near;
    When he stands up as pleading, in wavering, man-brute guise,
    When he veils the hate and cunning of his little, swinish eyes;

    "When he shows as seeking quarter, with paws like hands in prayer
    That is the time of peril - the time of the Truce of the Bear!"

    Eyeless, noseless, and lipless, asking a dole at the door,
    Matun, the old blind beggar, he tells it o'er and o'er;
    Fumbling and feeling the rifles, warming his hands at the flame,
    Hearing our careless white men talk of the morrow's game;

    Over and over the story, ending as he began: -
    "There is no truce with Adam-zad, the Bear that looks like a Man!"

  2. i'm partial to rilke, cummings and auden
    As I Walked Out One Evening
    by W. H. Auden

    As I walked out one evening,
    Walking down Bristol Street,
    The crowds upon the pavement
    Were fields of harvest wheat.

    And down by the brimming river
    I heard a lover sing
    Under an arch of the railway:
    'Love has no ending.

    'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
    Till China and Africa meet,
    And the river jumps over the mountain
    And the salmon sing in the street,

    'I'll love you till the ocean
    Is folded and hung up to dry
    And the seven stars go squawking
    Like geese about the sky.

    'The years shall run like rabbits,
    For in my arms I hold
    The Flower of the Ages,
    And the first love of the world.'

    But all the clocks in the city
    Began to whirr and chime:
    'O let not Time deceive you,
    You cannot conquer Time.

    'In the burrows of the Nightmare
    Where Justice naked is,
    Time watches from the shadow
    And coughs when you would kiss.

    'In headaches and in worry
    Vaguely life leaks away,
    And Time will have his fancy
    To-morrow or to-day.

    'Into many a green valley
    Drifts the appalling snow;
    Time breaks the threaded dances
    And the diver's brilliant bow.

    'O plunge your hands in water,
    Plunge them in up to the wrist;
    Stare, stare in the basin
    And wonder what you've missed.

    'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
    The desert sighs in the bed,
    And the crack in the tea-cup opens
    A lane to the land of the dead.

    'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
    And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
    And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
    And Jill goes down on her back.

    'O look, look in the mirror,
    O look in your distress:
    Life remains a blessing
    Although you cannot bless.

    'O stand, stand at the window
    As the tears scald and start;
    You shall love your crooked neighbour
    With your crooked heart.'

    It was late, late in the evening,
    The lovers they were gone;
    The clocks had ceased their chiming,
    And the deep river ran on.

  3. I haven't quite figured out poetry yet...I still feel mostly confused when I read it. Your etsy shop is beautiful!!

  4. I am drawn to this poem mostly for its simplicity; I like how bare it is, and how as a result it forces you to create a context for it. To me, in a way, that context is about what your side note referred to, Denise.

    Now, I realize I'm taking the poem at face value, and that there are very many other not so flattering readings out there... But to me, this poem is about the most domestic of exchanges - a man leaving a note to his wife, half-teasing, half-apologizing, because ultimately, this is just one more of the many annoyances we cause each other when we decide to share a life together, knowing that our partner will patiently hold the fork and knife while we take a photo (or three or ten), or that she'll make do with peaches instead of plums for one morning - because we love the person we're with and we forgive these little nuisances as part of the deal...


    This Is Just To Say
    by William Carlos Williams

    I have eaten
    the plums
    that were in
    the icebox

    and which
    you were probably
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

  5. Lynda, Good one. I bet Alex and Max had some wild and woolly dreams! I can see why you like it. It seems those moments of compassion, even when they end up being at our expense, make for a better life lived.

    Char, Wonderful selection. I feel as if a cold glass of water has been splashed in my face, but in a good way.
    "Time watches from the shadow
    And coughs when you would kiss."

    Littlebyrd, Sometimes confusion is good. On the best days it can lead to viewing our world in a new way. I hope you continue to read a poem every now and again, just letting the words wash over you, not trying to figure any of it out (it can be quite nice). Thank you for your kind words about my shop.

    Maria, One of my favorites! I'm not familiar with other reads on this poem, but my read is similar to yours. The simplicity is beautiful and I believe any sort of writing that invites participation is the best sort.

  6. My favorite poem is "The Wedding Night" by Anne Sexton from the collection Live or Die. Runners up: "The Shield of Achilles" by Auden and "Apple Picking" by Robert Frost. A good poem is something to treasure.

  7. My favourite is also by Sylvia Plath; Full Fathom Five
    The ending:
    'Your shelled bed I remember.
    Father, this thick air is murderous.
    I would breathe water.'
    Still sends shivers down my spine. The poem feels epic to me, as deep and bone-chilling as an ocean; such that I can't help but feel alive with the sea air scouring my soul when I read it.

    I'd not read 'Jilted' before, so thank you for introducing me to it!

  8. I think that it is one of Sam Shepards from Motel Chronicles, but I don't know the name to it, and I can't find it in english.
    I will share it here in Spanish, just in case that someone recognizes it:


    Si todavía rondaras por aquí
    Te cogería
    Te sacudiría por las rodillas
    Te soplaría aire caliente en ambas orejas

    Tú, que podías escribir como una Pantera
    Todo lo que se te metiera en las venas
    Qué clase de verde sangre
    Te arrastró a tu destino

    Si todavía rondaras por aquí
    Te desgarraría hasta meterme en tu miedo
    Te lo arrancaría
    Para que colgara como un pellejo
    Como jirones de miedo

    Te daría la vuelta
    Te pondría de cara al viento
    Doblaría tu espalda sobre mi rodilla
    Masticaría tu nuca
    Hasta que abrieras tu boca a esta vida


    Homestead Valley, Ca.

  9. Roysie, I found The Shield of Achilles and read it while eating a toasted english muffin with melted chocolate on top and sipping tea--darkness at its best (poem and chocolate). I could not find Apple Picking, but found After Apple Picking and read it too. It is the perfect time of year for reading such a poem. I've always been intrigued by dreams. I've requested Live or Die from my library. Thank you.

    Tiina, Thank you. Oh so haunting and you said it well, bone-chilling. She was a powerful woman. If only she'd stayed here longer...

    Julie, Thank you for not giving in and instead sending your poem in Spanish. Perhaps a Spanish reader of Chez Danisse will recognize your poem and share the title, in English, with us. Until then, I've requested Motel Chronicles from my library.

  10. Yes!
    You will recongnize it as soon as you get your hands into the book.
    It starts with something like
    "Both knees on the ground..."
    In fact, I pretty much love all that book..!

  11. Mine is... oh, I don't have a favorite. But I do have "I Go Back to May 1937" tattooed on my arm. :)

  12. Molly, was your favorite at one time? It must have been, because I'm looking at your photo and guessing it must be Ms. Olds going back to 1937 and not you :)

    I love the selfishness of "...but I don't do it. I want to live".


  13. Julie,

    I found the book and the poem and I'm loving both. I flipped through the book right away to find your poem (it doesn't have a title) and now I'm perusing the rest of the book. I love all of the variation. It's a really interesting book. Thank you!


  14. Hi Denise: Thanks for visiting my blog--and I'm pleased to have found yours.
    I have many beloved poems, but here's a short one of Robert Bly's from Silence in the Snowy Fields

    After Working
    After many strange thoughts,
    Thoughts of distant harbors, and new life,
    I came in and found the moonlight lying in the room.

    Outside it covers the trees like pure sound,
    The sound of tower bells, or of water moving under the ice,
    The sound of the deaf hearing through the bones of the heads.

    We know the road; as the moonlight
    Lifts everything, so in a night like this
    The road goes on ahead; it is all clear.

  15. Nancy,

    I adore this poem. I love "...and found the moonlight lying in the room". Thank you. I'm going to be reading some more Robert Bly soon.