Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Taking a Pause: Poetry in Times of Uncertainty

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? If the physical library were open, we would have our poetry displays up and offer fun activities like magnet poetry. Instead, we are stuck on “pause” while we watch and wait for the curve of novel coronavirus cases to flatten. 

Here are three poems to read and contemplate. If you have a favorite poem to share, please type it in to the Comments section below. Let’s fill the month with poetry! -SB

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver


  1. How beautiful and timely these poems are. Here's another.

    If you find yourself half naked
    and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
    again, the earth's great, sonorous moan that says
    you are the air of the now and gone, that says
    all you love will turn to dust,
    and will meet you there, do not
    raise your fist. Do not raise
    your small voice against it. And do not
    take cover. Instead, curl your toes
    into the grass, watch the cloud
    ascending from your lips. Walk
    through the garden's dormant splendor.
    Say only, thank you.
    Thank you.
    -- Ross Gay

  2. Another beautiful poem from Mary Oliver:
    The Summer Day
    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?
    —Mary Oliver

  3. Coincidentally three poets whom I admire. I love the image of the violent sweep of my house and the world offering itself to my imagination. And the strong statement that I don't have to be good(all the time, at everything) for the geese to fly over me!

  4. Ice Out

    As late as yesterday ice preoccupied
    the pond - dark, half-melted,water-logged.
    Then it sank in the night, one piece,
    taking winer with it. And afterward
    everything seems simple and good.

    All afternoon I lifted oak leaves
    from the flowerbeds, and greeted
    like friends the green-white crowns
    of perennials. They have the tender,
    unnerving beauty of a baby's head.

    How I've hated to come in! I've left
    the windows open to hear the peepers'
    wildly disproportionate cries.
    Dinner is over, no one stirs. The dog
    Sighs, sneezes, and closes his eyes.

    Jane Kenyon

    One of my favorites at this time of year

  5. One of my favorites at this time of year

  6. A shorty but goodie for all ages:

    Listen to the MUSN'TS, child,
    Listen to the DON'TS
    Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
    Listen to the NEVER HAVES
    Then listen close to me-
    Anything can happen, child,
    ANYTHING can be

    By Shel Silverstein

  7. Here's another timely Wendell Berry poem.

    To Know the Dark

    To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
    To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
    and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
    and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
    -- Wendell Berry