Failing and Flying

by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

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.


by Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn't a place
in this world that doesn't

sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward--
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it's done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight--

and what are you going to do--
what can you do
about it--
deep, blue night?

The Testing-Tree

by Stanley Kunitz
(excerpted; full poem here)

In a murderous time
  the heart breaks and breaks
    and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
  through dark and deeper dark
    and not to turn.

If You Forget Me / Si Tu M'Oublies

by Pablo Neruda

If you forget me
I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.


Si tu m'oublies
je veux que tu saches
une chose.

Tu sais ce qu'il en est:
si je regarde
la lune de cristal, la branche rouge
du lent automne de ma fenêtre,
si je touche
près du feu
la cendre impalpable
ou le corps ridé du bois,
tout me mène à toi,
comme si tout ce qui existe,
les arômes, la lumière, les métaux,
étaient de petits bateaux qui naviguent
vers ces îles à toi qui m'attendent.

si peu à peu tu cesses de m'aimer
je cesserai de t'aimer peu à peu.

Si soudain
tu m'oublies
ne me cherche pas,
puisque je t'aurai aussitôt oubliée.

Si tu crois long et fou
le vent de drapeaux
qui traversent ma vie
et tu décides
de me laisser au bord
du coeur où j'ai mes racines,
que ce jour-là,
à cette même heure,
je lèverai les bras
et mes racines sortiront
chercher une autre terre.

si tous les jours
à chaque heure
tu sens que tu m'es destinée
avec une implacable douceur.
Si tous les jours monte
une fleur à tes lèvres me chercher,
ô mon amour, ô mienne,
en moi tout ce feu se répète,
en moi rien ne s'éteint ni s'oublie,
mon amour se nourrit de ton amour, ma belle,
et durant ta vie il sera entre tes bras
sans s'échapper des miens.

Storm Warnings

by Adrienne Rich

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.


by Pablo Neruda

Perhaps this is the house in which I lived
when neither I, nor earth, existed,
when everything was moon or stone or shadow,
with the still light unborn.
This stone then could have been
my house, my windows, or my eyes.
This granite rose recalls
something that lived in me, or I in it,
a cave, a universe of dreams inside the skull:
cup or castle, boat or birth.
I touch the rock's tenacious thrust,
its bulwark pounded in the brine
and I know that flaws of mine subsisted here,
wrinkled substances that surfaced
from the depths into my soul,
and stone I was, and stone shall be, and for this
caress this stone which has not died for me:
it's what I was, and shall be-- the tranquility
of struggle stretched beyond the brink of time.

The Laughing Heart

by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don't let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Ode to the Sea / Ode à la mer

by Pablo Neruda
(excerpted; full text here: English // French)

Surrounding the island
There's sea.
But what sea?
It's always overflowing.
Says yes,
Then no,
Then no again,
And no,
Says yes
In blue
In sea spray
Says no
And no again.
It can't be still.
It stammers
My name is sea.

It slaps the rocks
And when they aren't convinced,
Strokes them
And soaks them
And smothers them with kisses.
With seven green tongues
Of seven green dogs
Or seven green tigers
Or seven green seas,
Beating its chest,
Stammering its name,

Oh Sea,
This is your name.
Oh comrade ocean,
Don't waste time
Or water
Getting so upset
Help us instead.
We are meager fishermen,
Men from the shore
Who are hungry and cold
And you're our foe.
Don't beat so hard,
Don't shout so loud,
Open your green coffers,
Place gifts of silver in our hands.
Give us this day
our daily fish.


Ici dans l'île
la mer
et quelle étendue!
sort hors de soi
à chaque instant,
en disant oui, en disant non,
non et non et non,
en disant oui, en bleu,
en écume, en galop,
en disant non, et non.
Elle ne peut rester tranquille,
je me nomme la mer, répète-t-elle
en frappant une pierre
sans arriver à la convaincre,
avec sept langues vertes
de sept chiens verts,
de sept tigres verts,
de sept mers vertes,
elle la parcourt, l'embrasse,
et elle se frappe la poitrine
en répétant son nom.
ô mer, ainsi te nommes-tu.
ô camarade océan,
ne perds ni temps ni eau,
ne t'agite pas autant,
nous sommes
les petits pêcheurs,
les hommes du bord,
nous avons froid et faim
tu es notre ennemie,
ne frappe pas aussi fort,
ne crie pas de la sorte,
ouvre ta caisse verte
et laisse dans toutes nos mains
ton cadeau d'argent:
le poisson de chaque jour.

Ode to Things

by Pablo Neruda

I love things with a wild passion,
I cherish tongs,
and scissors;
I adore
soup tureens,
not to mention
of course - the hat.
I love
all things,
not only the
but also
the infinite-
the thimble,
Oh, my soul,
the planet
is radiant,
of pipes
in hand,
of smoke;
with keys,
salt shakers and
things crafted
by the human hand, everything-
the curves of a shoe,
the new bloodless
of gold,
the eyeglasses,
watches, compasses,
coins, the silken
plushness of chairs.
have constructed
a multitude of pure things:
objects of wood,
ships, staircases.
I love
not because they
might be warm
or fragrant,
but rather because-
I don't know why,
this ocean is yours,
and mine:
the buttons,
the wheels,
the little
the fans
of feathery
love spreading
orange blossoms,
the cups, the knives,
the shears,
everything rests
in the handle, the contour,
the traces
of fingers,
of a remote hand
in the most forgotten regions of the ordinary obscured.
I pass through houses,
touching things;
I glimpse objects
and secretly desire
something because it chimes,
and something else because
because it is as yielding
as gentle hips,
something else I adore for its deepwater hue,
something else for its velvety depths.
Oh, irrevocable
of things.
People will not
say that I only
or plants of the rainforest or meadow,
that I only loved
things that leap, rise, sigh and survive.
It is not true:
many things gave me completeness.
They did not only touch me
My hand did not merely touch them,
but rather,
they befriended
my existence
in such a way
that with me, they indeed existed,
and they were for me so full of life,
that they lived with me half-alive,
and they will die with me half-dead.


by Robert Frost
(excerpted; full text here)

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.