Poems and prose texts for memorization and reading aloud
Spring 2005


1. From Lilian Alfred, Lord Tennyson
2. St. Clement's Day Song Anonymous
3. What's in My Journal William Stafford
4. There is another sky Emily Dickinson
5. Lover Release Agreement J. Allyn Rosser
6. By the Shores of Pago Pago
Eve Merriam
7. When We Two Parted George Gordon, Lord Byron
8. "ABC" Robert Pinsky
9. A Boy in a Bed in the Dark Brad Sachs
10. Animal Sounds Off Pavement John Rybicki
11. Things
Lisel Mueller

12. The Rider Naomi Shihab Nye
13. The Waning Moon Percy Bysshe Shelley
14. Nothing is Lost Noel Coward
15. 96 Vandam Gerald Stern
Selection from: Walden Henry David Thoreau
17. Runaway Kenny Schwanz
18. For My Daughter in Reply to a Question David Ignatow
19. The Wheel W. B. Yeats
20. The Clod and the Pebble William Blake
21. Mentor
Timothy Murphy

1. From: Lilian         
Alfred, Lord Tennyson   English (1809-1892)

Airy, fairy Lilian,
Flitting, fairy Lilian,
When I ask her if she love me,
Claps her tiny hands above me,
Laughing all she can;
She'll not tell me if she love me,
Cruel little Lilian.

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2. St. Clement's Day Song          
WA 11/27/2004:
Listen: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/play/audio.php?media=/2004/11/22_wa&start=00:00:26:31.0&end=00:00:31:31.0

Clementsing, clementsing, apples and pears,
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him that made us all!
Up with your stockings and down with your shoes,
If you haven't got apples, money will do.
Put your hand in your pocket and fetch out your keys,
Go down in the cellar and fetch out what you please,
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
A bottle of wine to make us all merry.
The roads are so dirty, our boots are so thin,
Our pockets are empty and got nothing in.

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3. What's in My Journal          
WA 1/17/2005:
William Stafford   American (1914-1993)

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

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4. There is another sky          
Emily Dickinson   American (1830-1886)

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields –
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

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5. Lover Release Agreement          
J. Allyn Rosser   American

Against his lip, whose service has been tendered
lavishly to me, I hold no lien.
Here's his heart, which finally has blundered
from my custody. Here's his spleen.
Hereafter let your hair and eyes and breasts
be venue for his daydreams and his nights.
Here are smart things I've said, and all the rest
you'll hear about. Here are all our fights.
Now, whereas I waive rights to his kiss,
the bed you've shared with him has rendered null
his privilege in mine. Know that, and this:
undying love was paid to me in full.
No matter how your pleasures with him shine,
you'll always be comparing them to mine.

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6. By the Shores of Pago Pago           
WA 1/6/2005:
Eve Merriam   American (1916-1992)

Mama's cooking pots of couscous,
Papa's in the pawpaw patch,
Bebe feeds the motmot bird,
and I the aye-aye in its cage,

Deedee's drinking cups of cocoa,
while he's painting dada-style,
Gigi's munching on a bonbon
(getting tartar on her teeth),

Toto's drumming on a tom-tom,
Fifi's kicking up a can-can,
Jojo's only feeling so-so
and looking deader than a dodo,

Mimi's dressing in a muumuu,
Nana's bouncing with her yo-yo,
stirring batter for a baba,
Zaza doesn't make a murmur,

Kiki hopes her juju beads
will help to ward off tsetse flies,
Lulu's looking very chichi
in a tutu trimmed with froufrou:

does all this mean our family's cuckoo?

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7. When We Two Parted          
WA 1/22/2005:
George Gordon, Lord Byron   English (1788-1824)

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow –
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me –
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well –
Long, long I shall rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met –
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

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Listen: http://wiredforbooks.org/robertpinsky/abc.ram
Robert Pinsky   American (1940- )

Any body can die, evidently. Few
Go happily, irradiating joy,

Knowledge, love. Many
Need oblivion, painkillers,
Quickest respite.

Sweet time unafflicted,
Various world:

X = your zenith.

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9. A Boy in a Bed in the Dark          
WA: 1/18/2005:
Brad Sachs   American

Born with a cleft palate,
My two-year-old brother,
Recovering from yet another surgery,
Toddled into our bedroom
Toppled a tower of blocks
That I had patiently built
And in a five-year-old's fury
I grabbed a fallen block
And winged it at him
Ripping open his carefully reconstructed lip.
The next hours were gruesomely compressed
Ending with a boy in a bed in the dark
Mute with fear
Staring out into the hallway with horror
As the pediatrician went in and out of the bathroom
With one vast blood-soaked towel after another
Shaking his head worriedly.
My brother's howls
And my parents' cooed comfort
Became the soundtrack to this milky movie
That plays
In my darkest theatre,
The one that I sidle past each night
With a shudder
And a throb in my fist

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10. Animal Sounds Off Pavement
John Rybicki   American

Never tame your words,
teach them to sit, clip
their chin hairs. Or cup your hands
beneath their lolly tongues,
catch their drool. You must be a madman
held in cloth skin,
ballerinas dancing in your mouth.
When the hounds wail
inside your body no one
must hear them.

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11. Things          
WA 2/8/2005:
Lisel Mueller   German (1924- )

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

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12. The Rider          
Naomi Shihab Nye   Palestinian-American (1952- )

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

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13. The Waning Moon          
Percy Bysshe Shelley
  English (1792-1827)

And like a dying lady, lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapped in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east,
A white and shapeless mass.

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14. Nothing is Lost          
WA 1/15/2005:
Noel Coward   English (1899-1973)

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.

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15. 96 Vandam          
Gerald Stern   American (1925- )

I am going to carry my bed into New York City tonight
complete with dangling sheets and ripped blankets;
I am going to push it across three dark highways
or coast along under 600,000 faint stars.
I want to have it with me so I don't have to beg
for too much shelter from my weak and exhausted friends.
I want to be as close as possible to my pillow
in case a dream or a fantasy should pass by.
I want to fall asleep on my own fire escape
and wake up dazed and hungry
to the sound of garbage grinding in the street below
and the smell of coffee cooking in the window above.

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16. Selection from: Walden, p. 64          
Henry David Thoreau   American (1817-1862)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only
the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish
to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation,
unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the
marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all
that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner,
and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get
the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world;
or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it
in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it,
whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded
that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

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Kenny Schwanz   American

I saw the hubcap
by the side of the road
dull like life
round like the world

It must have spent a lifetime
coming and going
scrambling in circles
never getting away

Then somehow one day
at this busy crossroads
it beat the system
that gave it meaning

And now it lies
by the side of the road
and perhaps it's happier
to rest and rust

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For My Daughter in Reply to a Question          
WA 2/11/05:
David Ignatow   American

We're not going to die.
We'll find a way.
We'll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.
We'll think always on life.
There'll be no fading for you or for me.
We'll be the first
and we'll not laugh at ourselves ever
and your children will be my grandchildren.
Nothing will have changed
except by addition.
There'll never be another as you
and never another as I.
No one ever will confuse you
nor confuse me with another.
We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.

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19. The Wheel          

W. B. Yeats   
Irish (1865-1939)

Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter's best of all;
And after that there's nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come –
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb.

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The Clod and the Pebble     
William Blake   
English (1757-1827)

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair."

So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite."

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For Robert Francis
Timothy Murphy   American (1951- )

Had I known, only known
when I lived so near,
I'd have gone, gladly gone
foregoing my fear
of the wholly grown
and the nearly great.
But I learned alone,
so I learned too late.

WA = Writer's Almanac of Minnesota Public Radio, hosted by Garrison Keillor
Page numbers are for the Freshman English textbook,
Laura Stark Johnson. Reading in the Content Areas: Literature 2. 2003. Taipei: Crane. 96pp..

Click on the Minnesota lady's slipper   (image source) to hear the poem read by Karen Chung in General American;
Click on the double-manual harpsichord
(image source) to hear the poem read by Colin Whiteley in Standard British English (RP).

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