I’ve chosen the most heart rendering poetical verses which moved me, from the comment section of this article. The book itself seems like an incredible read, but the contributions to the Comment section can be compiled into a whole new book. Here are some of my personal favorites (in no order of preference):
From Sharon Olds “Stag’s Leap“: This extract is an account of her divorce. The last five lines are full of tender expression, simple yet beautiful.
In the last minute of our marriage, I looked into his eyes. All
that day until then, I had been comforting him, for the shock he was in
at his pain–the act of leaving me took him back, to his own early
losses. But now it was time to go beyond comfort, to part. And his eyes
seemed to me, still, like the first ocean, wherein the blue-green algae
came into their little language, his sea-wide iris still essential, for
me, with the depths in which our firstborn, and then our second, had
turned, on the sides of their tongues the tastebuds for the moon-bland
nectar of our milk–our
milk. In his gaze, rooms of the dead; halls of loss; fogemerald;
driven, dirty-rice snow: he was in there somewhere, I looked for him,
and he gave me the gift, he let me in, knowing he would never once, in
this world or in any other, have to do it again, and I saw him, not as
he really was, I was still without the strength of anger, but I saw him
see me, even now that dropping down into trust’s affection in his
gaze, and I held it, some seconds, quiet, and I said, Good Bye, and he
said, Good Bye, and I closed my eyes, and rose up out of the passenger
seat in a spiral like someone coming up out of a car gone off a bridge
into deep water. And two and three Septembers later, and even the
September after that, that September in New York, I was glad I had
looked at him. And when I told a friend how glad I’d been, she
said, Maybe it’s like with the families
of the dead, even the families of those
who died in the towers–that need to see
the body, no longer inhabited
by what made them the one we loved–somehow
it helps to say goodbye to the actual,
and I saw, again, how blessed my life has been, first, to have been able
to love, then, to have the parting now behind me, and not to have lost
him when the kids were young, and the kids now not at all to have lost
him, and not to have lost him when he loved me, and not to have lost
someone who could have loved me for life.
Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and the day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.
Out on the porch’s sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.
From a collection of poems “Death of a Naturalist”: The following excerpt is from the poem “Mid-Term Break”, which is a reflection on the death of Heaney’s four-year-old brother, while Heaney was at school. The tragedy and inevitability of death are wrung in the most succinct of words. The heart-wrenching last verse could not have been put in better words.
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
“25 February 1944”
I would like to believe in something,
Something beyond the death that undid you.
I would like to describe the intensity
With which, already overwhelmed,
We longed in those days to be able
To walk together once again
Free beneath the sun.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
From the book Living The Years
“A Child of Mine”
I will lend you, for a little time,
A child of mine, He said.
For you to love the while he lives,
And mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years,
Or twenty-two or three.
But will you, till I call him back,
Take care of him for Me?
He’ll bring his charms to gladden you,
And should his stay be brief.
You’ll have his lovely memories,
As solace for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay,
Since all from earth return.
But there are lessons taught down there,
I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked the wide world over,
In search for teachers true.
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes,
I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love,
Nor think the labour vain.
Nor hate me when I come
To take him home again?
I fancied that I heard them say,
‘Dear Lord, Thy will be done!’
For all the joys Thy child shall bring,
The risk of grief we’ll run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness,
We’ll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known,
Forever grateful stay.
But should the angels call for him,
Much sooner than we’ve planned.
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.
I left this morning saying ‘I love you’
as if setting out for some unknown country
instead of the corner shop. I wanted
you to be sure, in case
this time – out of, say, 10,000 departures
I never made it back: although
after 50 years together, 2 countries,
3 children, and several former journeys
that would put this one to shame
you’d think there’d be no need to pause
on my own doorstep, suddenly afraid
of the distance between us, of your absolute beauty,
of the growing aloneness when I clicked the latch.
Edmund Vance Cooke
We called him ‘Rags.’ He was just a cur,
But twice, on the Western Line,
That little old bunch of faithful fur
Had offered his life for mine.
And all that he got was bones and bread,
Or the leavings of soldier grub,
But he’d give his heart for a pat on the head,
Or a friendly tickle and rub
And Rags got home with the regiment,
And then, in the breaking away-
Well, whether they stole him, or whether he went,
I am not prepared to say.
But we mustered out, some to beer and gruel
And some to sherry and shad,
And I went back to the Sawbones School,
Where I still was an undergrad.
One day they took us budding M. D.s
To one of those institutes
Where they demonstrate every new disease
By means of bisected brutes.
They had one animal tacked and tied
And slit like a full-dressed fish,
With his vitals pumping away inside
As pleasant as one might wish.
I stopped to look like the rest, of course,
And the beast’s eyes levelled mine;
His short tail thumped with a feeble force,
And he uttered a tender whine.
It was Rags, yes, Rags! who was martyred there,
Who was quartered and crucified,
And he whined that whine which is doggish prayer
And he licked my hand and died.
And I was no better in part nor whole
Than the gang I was found among,
And his innocent blood was on the soul
Which he blessed with his dying tongue.
Well I’ve seen men go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer’s hand.
And if there’s no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealty-well
If I have any choice, I tell you flat,
I’ll take my chance in hell.
(I’ve selected my favorite stanzas but you can read the full poem here)
“Gone, Gone Again”
As when I was young—
And when the lost one was here—
And when the war began
To turn young men to dung.
Of the footsteps of life,
The friendliness, the strife;
In its beds have lain
Youth, love, age, and pain:
I am something like that;
Only I am not dead,
Still breathing and interested
In the house that is not dark:—
I am something like that:
Not one pane to reflect the sun,
For the schoolboys to throw at—
They have broken every one.