Poems for Memorization and Reading Aloud
Spring 2003

(1) the war is on the kitchen table Myrna Garanis
(2) Epitaph For A Darling Lady Dorothy Parker
(3) The Kiss Siegfried Sassoon
(4) Who Goes Home? G. K. Chesterton
(5) The Fish Marianne Moore

(6) Sonnet CXLIII William Shakespeare
(7) The Wicked Fairy at the Manger U. A. Fanthorpe
(8) Vignette Frances Horovitz
(9) Street Moths X. J. Kennedy
(10) Ashes of Life Edna St. Vincent Millay
(11) Elect Philip Appleman
(12) In the Night We Shall Go In Pablo Neruda
(13) I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou
(14) somewhere i have never travelled E.E. Cummings
(15) XIV A. E. Housman
(16) A Man and a Woman Sit Near Each Other Robert Bly
(17) She At His Funeral Thomas Hardy
(18) From: Spoon River Anthology Edgar Lee Masters


(1) the war is on the kitchen table         
Myrna Garanis
Canadian
in Swift, Todd, ed. (2003, February 3) "100 Poets
Against the War Redux." See:
http://www.nthposition.com/100poets.pdf

the war is on the kitchen table
the war is on the kitchen table
waiting to be read,
I brew the coffee black as buildings,
charred, collapsed,
I load the toast with butter,
chew my way through cluster bombs,
smear raspberry jam on screaming headlines
which do not disappear
I flip the page to guaranteed results:
hockey scores, ice dance competitions,
there the gains and losses
line up in soldierly columns,
no wavering parades of souls,
filing down disfigured roads,
walking, falling, left behind,
long after the page is closed

top


(2) Epitaph For A Darling Lady            
Dorothy Parker American (1893-1967)

All her hours were yellow sands,
Blown in foolish whorls and tassels;
Slipping warmly through her hands;
Patted into little castles.

Shiny day on shiny day
Tumble in a rainbow clutter,
As she flipped them all away,
Sent them spinning down the gutter.

Leave for her a red young rose,
Go your way, and save your pity;
She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.

top


(3) The Kiss            
Siegfried Sassoon English (1886íV1967)

To these I turn, in these I trust-
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal,
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glitters naked, cold and fair.

Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this:
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he sets his heel
Quail from your downward darting kiss.

top


(4) Who Goes Home?            
G. K. Chesterton English (1874-1936)

In the city set upon slime and loam
They cry in their parliament 'Who goes home?'
And there comes no answer in arch or dome,
For none in the city of graves goes home.
Yet these shall perish and understand,
For God has pity on this great land.

Men that are men again; who goes home?
Tocsin and trumpeter! Who goes home?
For there's blood on the field and blood on the foam
And blood on the body when Man goes home.
And a voice valedictory . . . Who is for Victory?
Who is for Liberty? Who goes home?

top

(5) The Fish video                  
Marianne Moore
American (1887-1972)

wade
through black fade.
       Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
       adjusting the ash-heaps;
              opening and shutting itself like

an
injured fan.
       The barnacles which encrust the side
       of the wave, cannot hide
              there for the submerged shafts of the

sun,
split like spun
       glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
       into the crevices –
              in and out, illuminating

the
turquoise sea
       of bodies. The water drives a wedge
       of iron through the iron edge
              of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

pink
rice-grains, ink-
       bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
       lilies, and submarine
              toadstools, slide each on the other.

All
external
       marks of abuse are present on this
       defiant edifice –
              all the physical features of

ac-
cident – lack
       of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
       hatchet strokes, these things stand
              out on it; the chasm-side is

dead.
Repeated
       evidence has proved that it can live
       on what can not revive
              its youth. The sea grows old in it.

top

(6) Sonnet CXLIII         
William Shakespeare English (1564-1616)

Lo! as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feather'd creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes an swift dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay,
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant's discontent;
So runn'st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I thy babe chase thee afar behind;
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind:
  So will I pray that thou mayst have thy 'Will,'
  If thou turn back, and my loud crying still.

top


(7) The Wicked Fairy at the Manger             
U. A. Fanthorpe English (1929- )

My gift for the child:

No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wimps,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we'll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.

Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.

top


(8) Vignette                   
Frances Horovitz English (1938-1983)

The child says he will not die
Cries for magic in his secret corner
The old man, stretched on his bed, is already summoned
Weightless as shaved bone he will fly
Two hands cradle his head
Fulcrum between worlds

top


(9) Street Moths              WA 1/24/04
X. J. Kennedy American (1929- )

Mature enough to smoke but not to drink,
Grown boys at night before the games arcade
Wearing tattoos that wash off in the sink
Accelerate vain efforts to get laid.

Parading in formation past them, short
Skirts and tight jeans pretending not to see
This pack of starving wolves who pay them court
Turn noses up at cries of agony –

Baby, let's do it! Each suggestion falls
Dead to the gutter to be swept aside
Like some presumptuous bug that hits brick walls,
Rating a mere Get lost and death-ray eyes.

Still, they keep launching blundering campaigns,
Trying their wings once more in hopeless flight:
Blind moths against the wires of window screens.
Anything. Anything for a fix of light.

top


(10) Ashes of Life         
Edna St. Vincent Millay American (1892-!950)

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will, – and would that night were here!
But ah! – to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again! – with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, –
There's little use in anything as far as I can see.

Love has gone and left me, – and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, –
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There's this little street and this little house.

top


(11) Elect (with RealAudio reading)         
Philip Appleman American (1926- )
Compare: Mother Goose: Georgie, Porgie, Puddin' and Pie

O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die:
grant me wisdom, will, & wit,
purity, probity, pluck, & grit.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice -
these little blessings would suffice
to beget an earthly paradise:
make the bad people good -
and the good people nice;
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.

top

(12) In the Night We Shall Go In         
Pablo Neruda Chilean (1904-1973)

In the night we shall go in,
we shall go in to steal
a flowering, flowering branch.

We shall climb over the wall
in the darkness of the alien garden,
two shadows in the shadow.

Winter is not yet gone,
and the apple tree appears
suddenly changed into
a fragment of cascade stars.

In the night we shall go in
up to its trembling firmament,
and your hands, your little hands
and mine will steal the stars.

And silently to our house
in the night and the shadow,
perfume's silent step,
and with starry feet,
the clear body of spring.

top


(13) I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings         
Maya Angelou American (1928- )

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun's rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat
to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the
sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat
to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

top


(14) somewhere i have never travelled   US English  

E.E. Cummings American (1894-1962)

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

top


(15) XIV         
A. E. Housman English (1859-1936)

There pass the careless people
That call their souls their own:
Here by the road I loiter,
How idle and alone.

Ah, past the plunge of plummet,
In seas I cannot sound,
My heart and soul and senses,
World without end, are drowned.

His folly has not fellow
Beneath the blue of day
That gives to man or woman
His heart and soul away.

There flowers no balm to sain him
From east of earth to west
That 's lost for everlasting
The heart out of his breast.

Here by the labouring highway
With empty hands I stroll:
Sea-deep, till doomsday morning,
Lie lost my heart and soul.

top


(16) A Man and a Woman Sit Near Each Other         
Robert Bly American (1926- )

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him.
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age may come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

top

(17) She At His Funeral         
Thomas Hardy English (1840-1928)

They bear him to his resting-place -
In slow procession sweeping by;
I follow at a stranger's space;
His kindred they, his sweetheart I.
Unchanged my gown of garish dye,
Though sable-sad is their attire;
But they stand round with griefless eye,
Whilst my regret consumes like fire!

top

(18) From: Spoon River Anthology         
Edgar Lee Masters
American (1869-1950)

They have chiseled on my stone the words:
'His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him
That nature might stand up and say to all the world,
This was a man.'
Those who knew me smile
As they read this empty rhetoric.
My epitaph should have been:
'Life was not gentle to him,
And the elements so mixed in him
That he made warfare on life,
In the which he was slain.'
While I lived I could not cope with slanderous tongues,
Now that I am dead I must submit to an epitaph
Graven by a fool!


Readers:

Karen Steffen Chung (US English)
Colin R. Whiteley (RP)

WA = MPR's Writer's Almanac archived audio recording
read by Garrison Keillor

 

home       top