Poetry for memorization and reading aloud
Spring 2004
Click on the US flag by each poem to hear it read in US English,
and on the UK flag to hear it read in Standard British English (RP).

1. Conundrums D. H. Lawrence
2. Antimatter
Russell Edson
3. Reply Letter
Fred Chappell
4. Bloody Men
Wendy Cope
5. Water is Taught by Thirst Emily Dickinson
6. I'm Happiest When Most Away
Emily Brontë
7. A Time to Talk Robert Frost
8. To —  Percy Bysshe Shelley
9. Talking in Bed Philip Larkin
10. Winter Trees William Carlos Williams
11. People
D. H. Lawrence
12. On a Night of Snow Elizabeth Coatsworth
13. Old Celery Mark Yakich
14. The Widow
Julio Cortázar
15. Dark House
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
16. Consolation
William Butler Yeats
17. New Every Morning Susan Coolidge
18. Poem I James Joyce
19. To a Lady, Asking him how Long he would Love her

      Sir George Etherege

1. Conundrums          
D. H. Lawrence  English (1885-1930)
(long online Lawrence biography)

Tell me a word
that you've often heard,
yet it makes you squint
if you see it in print!

Tell me a thing
that you've often seen,
yet if put in a book
it makes you turn green!

Tell me a thing
that you often do,
which described in a story
shocks you through and through!

Tell me what's wrong
with words or with you
that you don't mind the thing
yet the name is taboo.
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2. Antimatter WA reading WA text 11/30/03          
Russell Edson  American (1935- )

On the other side of a mirror
there's an inverse world,
where the in-sane go sane;
where bones climb out of the earth
and recede to the first slime of love.

And in the evening the sun is just rising.

Lovers cry because they are a day younger,
and soon childhood robs them of their pleasure.

In such a world there is much sadness
which, of course, is joy . . .
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3. Reply Letter          
Fred Chappell  American (1936- )

Please excuse the pages ripped,
Stranger, in your manuscript,
Places where my pencil tore
Through two sheets and sometimes more.

I've marked some passages so red
They must look as if they'd bled;
And when you see my savage scratches
Setting off your purple patches,
You'll think your book has had a fight
In a pool hall Saturday night.
But that's not true, for I've admired
The way you get my passions fired.
Please understand: I here present
The sincerest form of compliment.

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4. Bloody Men WA reading WA text 1/22/04          
Wendy Cope  English (1945- )

Bloody men are like bloody buses
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.
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5. Water is Taught by Thirst          
Emily Dickinson  American (1830-1886)

Water is taught by thirst;
Land, by the oceans passed;
Transport, by throe;
Peace, by its battle told;
Love, by memorial mould;
Birds, by the snow.

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6. I'm Happiest When Most Away         
Emily Brontë
 English (1818 - 1848)

I'm happiest when most away
I can bear soul from its home of clay
On a windy night when the moon is bright
And the eye can wander through worlds of light

When I am not and none beside
Nor earth nor sea nor cloudless sky
But only spirit wandering wide
Through infinite immensity
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7. A Time to Talk WA reading WA text 1/18/04          
Robert Frost American (1874-1963)

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, "What is it?"
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
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8. To          
Percy Bysshe Shelley English (1792-1822)

  One word is too often profaned
For me to profane it,
One feeling too falsely disdained
For thee to disdain it;
One hope is too like despair
For prudence to smother,
And pity from thee more dear
Than that from another.


I can give not what men call love,
But wilt thou accept not
The worship the heart lifts above
And the Heavens reject not,—
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow?
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9. Talking in Bed          
Philip Larkin  English (1922- 1985)

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds about the sky.

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

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10. Winter Trees          
William Carlos Williams  American (1883-1963)
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
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D. H. Lawrence  English (1885-1930)

The great gold apples of light
Hang from the street's long bough
Dripping their light
On the faces that drift below,
On the faces that drift and blow
Down the night-time, out of sight
In the wind's sad sough.

The ripeness of these apples of night
Distilling over me
Makes sickening the white
Ghost-flux of faces that hie
Them endlessly, endlessly by
Without meaning or reason why
They ever should be.
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12. On a Night of Snow WA reading WA text 1/9/04          
Elizabeth Coatsworth  American (1893-1996)

Cat, if you go outdoors, you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.
Stay by the fire, my Cat. Lie still, do not go.
See how the flames are leaping and hissing low,
I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet –
stay with me, Cat. Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes green light,
on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar –
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
and things that are yet to be done. Open the door!
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13. Old Celery WA text WA reading 12/12/03          
Mark Yakich American

At the corner greengrocer
I'd passed you many times before,
always under the bright lights,
water beading up on your tough skin.

As I counted my change,
a penny dropped down under your stand.
On the way up, you,
old celery, caught my eye.

I picked up a tomato,
a pair of kohlrabi,
a handful of coriander;
I had money this time.

You'd been moved to a darker corner
of the produce. I now felt
guilt; I had missed
you in your prime.

I set down the other vegetables,
took you, limp and barely
green, and left a hollow yellow
in the bed of shaved ice.

When I held you up
to get a fair look, there was
not a silence in the world
like the silence between us.

Like so many things I've not wanted
to see until they persisted
in seeing me, I took you
as if now I had a choice.
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14. The Widow     
Julio Cortázar Argentinian (1914-1984)
Translated by Paul Blackburn  American (1926-1971)

I surround him with delicate movements, I
draw him near my resentful solitude, seeking
in him the fiery answer,
the marital conjugation.
I try not to shock his virgin hardiness,
I fondle his neck, I prepare him
for the consummate ritual which will reconcile us.

Then widowhood, like a cutting edge
severed him from me.
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15. Dark House     
Alfred, Lord Tennyson  English (1809-1892)

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,

A hand that can be clasp'd no more íV
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.

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16. Consolation     
William Butler Yeats  Irish (1865-1939)

O but there is wisdom
In what the sages said;
But stretch that body for a while

And lay down that head
Till I have told the sages
Where man is comforted.
How could passion run so deep
Had I never thought
That the crime of being born
Blackens all our lot?
But where the crime's committed
The crime can be forgot.

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17. New Every Morning
WA reading WA text 12/19/03     
Susan Coolidge  American (1835-1905)

Every morning is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
Troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.
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18. Poem I WA reading WA text 2/2/04 music     
James Joyce  Irish (1882 - 1941)

Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.

There's music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.
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19. To a Lady, Asking him how Long he would Love her     
Sir George Etherege  English (1636-1689)

It is not, Celia, in our power
To say how long our love will last;
It may be we within this hour
May lose those joys we now do taste:
The blessed, that immortal be,
From change in love are only free.

Then, since we mortal lovers are,
Ask not how long our love will last;
But while it does, let us take care
Each minute be with pleasure past.
Were it not madness to deny
To live, because w'are sure to die?
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WA = Writer's Almanac, with Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion, from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)


Karen Steffen Chung
Colin R. Whiteley

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