Poems to Read Aloud

Empty Space

from the ‘Tao Te Ching’ by Lao Tzu, an
ancient Chinese philosopher

Thirty spokes put together make a wheel,
but it’s in the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
Clay that’s shaped will make a pot,
but it’s in the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the pot depends.
Wood that’s cut will make a house,
but it’s in the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore we should value not only what is,
but also what is not.

INVITATION
Shel Silverstein
If you are a dreamer, come in
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er. a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by the fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

AN EPILOGUE
John Masefield (1878 – 1967)
I have seen flowers come in stony places

And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.

OUR LIFE IN THIS WORLD
Priest Sami Mansei (Japanese, c.720)
Our life in this world –

 to what shall I compare it?
 It is like a boat
 rowing out at break of day,
leaving not a trace behind.

YEARS FROM NOW
Kim Sowol (Korean, 1903-1934)
Should you come to me
Years from now,
I shall say: “I have forgotten.”
Should you scold me,
I shall say: “After much longing I have forgotten.”
Should you persist in scolding me,
I shall say: “For lack of trust I have forgotten.”
Not yesterday, not today,
But years from now,
I shall say: “I have forgotten.”

 

DIVISION OF LABOUR
Feyyaz Kayacan (Turkish)
I have problems
I know them well
Then know me well

We get on nicely together
I let them worry me rent-free
Sometimes when I am reading a book
I lift my head to give them.
The look of sustained recognition.
Sometimes when I’m eating my heart out
They lift their heads
To look at me and relax.

IN FLANDERS FIELDS
John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY
Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

MY HEART SOARS
Chief Dan George (1899 – 1981)

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars.

BEFORE THE ICE
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
Before the ice is in the pools,
Before the skaters go,
Or any cheek at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow,
Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder 
Will arrive to me!

IF
Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And which is more; you’ll be a Man, my son!

Empty Space
Lao Tzu

Thirty spokes put together make a wheel,
but it’s in the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
Clay that’s shaped will make a pot,
but it’s in the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the pot depends.
Wood that’s cut will make a house,
but it’s in the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore we should value not only what is,
but also what is not.

 

Walkers with the Dawn
Langston Hughes

Being walkers with the dawn and morning,
Walkers with the sun and morning,
We are not afraid of night,
Nor days of gloom,
Nor darkness —
Being walkers with the sun and morning.

Goldwing Moth
Carl Sandburg

A goldwing moth is between the scissors
and the ink bottle on the desk.
Last night it flew hundred of circles
around a glass bulb and a flame wire.
The wings are a soft gold;
it is the gold of illuminated initials
in manuscripts of the medieval monks.

Summer Morning
Carl Sandburg

A wagonload of radishes on a summer morning.
Sprinkles of dew on the crimson-purple balls.
The farmer on the seat dangles the reins
on the rumps of dapple-gray horses.
The farmer’s daughter with a basket of eggs
dreams  of a new hat to wear to the county fair.

‘Our revels now are ended’
William Shakespeare

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a little sleep.

My People
Langston Hughes

The night is beautiful,
so the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
so the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

April Rain Song
 Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—
And I love the rain.

The Rainy Day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust more dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold and dark and dreary;
It rains and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
And youth’s fond hopes fall thick in the blast,
And my life is dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

This Is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were so delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Love That Boy
Walter Dean Myers

Love that boy,
like a rabbit loves to run
I said I love that boy
like a rabbit loves to run
Love to call him in the morning
love to call him
“Hey there, son!”

The Silent Ones
 Robert William Service

I’m just an ordinary chap
Who comes home to his tea,
And mostly I don’t care a rap
What people think of me;
I do my job and take my pay,
And love of peace expound;
But as I go my patient way,
–Don’t push me round.

Though I respect authority
And order never flout,
When Law and Justice disagree
You can include me out.
The Welfare State I tolerate
If it is kept in bound,
But if you wish to rouse my hate
–Just push me round.

And that’s the way with lots of us:
We want to feel we’re free;
So labour governments we cuss
And mock at monarchy.
Yea, we are men of secret mirth,
And fury seldom sound;
But if you value peace on earth
–Don’t push us round.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of the bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 EARTH IS LIKE A VESSEL
Laozi (6th c. BCE, Tao Te Ching)

Those who would take over the Earth
And shape it to their will
Never, I notice, succeed.

For the Earth is like a vessel so sacred
That at the merest touch of the profane—
It is marred,
And when they reach out their hands to grasp it—
It is gone.

For a time some force themselves ahead
And some are left behind,
For a time some make a great noise
And some are held silent,
For a time some are puffed fat
And some are kept hungry,
For a time some are held up
And some are destroyed.

But at no time will a man who is sane:
Over-reach himself,
Over-spend himself,
Over-rate himself.

John Donne (1572-1631)
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

A TIME TO TALK
Robert Frost (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.

THE DREAMER
Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

HOLD FAST TO YOUR DREAMS
Louise Driscoll (1875 – 1957)
Hold fast to your dreams!
Within your heart
Keep one still, secret spot
Where dreams may go,
And sheltered so,
May thrive and grow –
Where doubt and fear are not.
Oh, keep a place apart
Within your heart,
For little dreams to go.

MOTHER TO SON
Langston Hughes  (1902 – 1967)
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

CLOTHS OF HEAVEN
William Butler Yeats (1839 – 1922)
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

DUST OF SNOW
Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

THE SHIPS OF YULE
Bliss Carman (1861 – 1929)

When I was just a little boy,
Before I went to school,
I had a fleet of forty sail
I called the Ships of Yule;

Of every rig, from rakish brig
And gallant barkentine,
To little Fundy fishing boats
With gunwales painted green.
They used to go on trading trips
Around the world for me,
For though I had to stay on shore
My heart was on the sea.

They stopped at every port to call
From Babylon to Rome,
To load with all the lovely things
We never had at home;

With elephants and ivory
Bought from the King of Tyre,
And shells and silks and sandal-wood
That sailor men admire;

With figs and dates from Samarcand,
And squatty ginger-jars,
And scented silver amulets
From Indian bazaars;

With sugar-cane from Port of Spain,
And monkeys from Ceylon,
And paper lanterns from Pekin
With painted dragons on;

With cocoanuts from Zanzibar,
And pines from Singapore;
And when they had unloaded these
They could go back for more.

And even after I was big
And had to go to school,
My mind was often far away
Aboard the Ships of Yule.

 

JABBERWOCKY
Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898)

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the horogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersatch.

slithy = slimy + lithe        frumious = furious + fuming    gyre = whirl around

THE THOUSANDTH MAN
Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)
One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it’s worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.

PIED BEAUTY
 Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

THE FOG
Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

POEMS OF SOLITARY DELIGHTS
Tachibana Akemi (1812 – 1868)

What a delight it is
When on the bamboo matting
In my grass-thatched hut,
All on my own,
I make myself at ease.

What a delight it is
When, skimming through the pages
Of a book, I discover
A man written there
Who is just like me.

What a delight it is
When everyone admits
It’s a very difficult book,
And I understand it
With no trouble at all.

What a delight it is
When a guest you cannot stand
Arrives, then says to you
“I’m afraid I can’t stay long,”
And soon goes home.

IF I CAN STOP ONE HEART FROM BREAKING
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

If I can stop one Heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one Life the Aching,
Or cool one Pain,

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
John Donne (1572 – 1632)
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

A RED, RED ROSE
Robbie Burns (1759 – 1796)

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it ware ten thousand mile.

HARLEM
Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

WINTER POND
Jang Seok-Nam (translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taize)

I walk across a frozen pond.
Here is where the water-lilies were.
Under here was the black rock where the catfish would hide.
Occasionally a cracking sound as if it is splitting
as love grows deeper.

All the irises are bent over.
My shoulders, knees, feet, that all summer long I saw reflected, sitting on this rock, have frozen like the irises.
They too show no sign of having watched the reflection of something before this.
Although the fourteenth-day moon comes in its course, icily
all remain silent.

Suppose someone comes along,
loud steps treading on the pond,
and addresses me anxiously, saying:
“This is where I used to be.”
“This is where that star used to come.”

MISSING
Lee Jang-Wook
I was gradually delivered to you.
I was born outside of myself.
I could recall nothing, yet
without the least error
I began to vanish.
As I walked along the street
the memory of someone
made my hair stand on end.
Passers-by watched the sight
of my feet leaving the ground.
When my eyebrows and lips and even my shoulders
were vanishing impetuously yet quietly
someone suddenly
in some utterly remote place
looked back.
In the sunlight
I stretched both arms wide.

THE HIGHWAYMAN (Alfred Noyes)

PART ONE
I
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
II
He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
III
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
IV
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—
V
‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.’
VI
He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.
PART TWO
I
He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.
II
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
III
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
‘Now, keep good watch!’ and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!
IV
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
V
The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .
VI
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.
VIII
He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
IX
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.
X
And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
XI
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

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