poem index

Late Thoughts in an Early Bed

Several poems that inspire me to continue to write honestly and confidently.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
The Sleepers
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

I wander all night in my vision, 
Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and stopping, 
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers, 
Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted, contradictory, 
Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping. 

How solemn they look there, stretch'd and still, 
How quiet they breathe, the little children in their cradles. 

The wretched features of ennuyes, the white features of corpses, the 
livid faces of drunkards, the sick-gray faces of onanists, 
The gash'd bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their 
strong-door'd rooms, the sacred idiots, the new-born emerging 
from gates, and the dying emerging from gates, 
The night pervades them and infolds them. 

The married couple sleep calmly in their bed, he with his palm on 
the hip of the wife, and she with her palm on the hip of the husband, 
The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed, 
The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs, 
And the mother sleeps with her little child carefully wrapt. 

The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep, 
The prisoner sleeps well in the prison, the runaway son sleeps, 
The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he sleep? 
And the murder'd person, how does he sleep? 

The female that loves unrequited sleeps, 
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps, 
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day sleeps, 
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all sleep. 

I stand in the dark with drooping eyes by the worst-suffering and 
the most restless, 
I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few inches from them, 
The restless sink in their beds, they fitfully sleep. 

Now I pierce the darkness, new beings appear, 
The earth recedes from me into the night, 
I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not the earth is 

I go from bedside to bedside, I sleep close with the other sleepers 
each in turn, 
I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers, 
And I become the other dreamers. 

I am a dance--play up there! the fit is whirling me fast! 

I am the ever-laughing--it is new moon and twilight, 
I see the hiding of douceurs, I see nimble ghosts whichever way look, 
Cache and cache again deep in the ground and sea, and where it is 
neither ground nor sea. 

Well do they do their jobs those journeymen divine, 
Only from me can they hide nothing, and would not if they could, 
I reckon I am their boss and they make me a pet besides, 
And surround me and lead me and run ahead when I walk, 
To lift their cunning covers to signify me with stretch'd arms, and 
resume the way; 
Onward we move, a gay gang of blackguards! with mirth-shouting 
music and wild-flapping pennants of joy! 

I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician, 
The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood in the box, 
He who has been famous and he who shall be famous after to-day, 
The stammerer, the well-form'd person, the wasted or feeble person. 

I am she who adorn'd herself and folded her hair expectantly, 
My truant lover has come, and it is dark. 

Double yourself and receive me darkness, 
Receive me and my lover too, he will not let me go without him. 

I roll myself upon you as upon a bed, I resign myself to the dusk. 

He whom I call answers me and takes the place of my lover, 
He rises with me silently from the bed. 

Darkness, you are gentler than my lover, his flesh was sweaty and panting, 
I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me. 

My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all directions, 
I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are journeying. 

Be careful darkness! already what was it touch'd me? 
I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are one, 
I hear the heart-beat, I follow, I fade away. 


I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid, 
Perfume and youth course through me and I am their wake. 

It is my face yellow and wrinkled instead of the old woman's, 
I sit low in a straw-bottom chair and carefully darn my grandson's 

It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the winter midnight, 
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid earth. 

A shroud I see and I am the shroud, I wrap a body and lie in the coffin, 
It is dark here under ground, it is not evil or pain here, it is 
blank here, for reasons. 

(It seems to me that every thing in the light and air ought to be happy, 
Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough.) 


I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies 
of the sea, 
His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with 
courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs, 
I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes, 
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on 
the rocks. 

What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves? 
Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime 
of his middle age? 

Steady and long he struggles, 
He is baffled, bang'd, bruis'd, he holds out while his strength 
holds out, 
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away, 
they roll him, swing him, turn him, 
His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is 
continually bruis'd on rocks, 
Swiftly and ought of sight is borne the brave corpse. 


I turn but do not extricate myself, 
Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness yet. 

The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind, the wreck-guns sound, 
The tempest lulls, the moon comes floundering through the drifts. 

I look where the ship helplessly heads end on, I hear the burst as 
she strikes, I hear the howls of dismay, they grow fainter and fainter. 

I cannot aid with my wringing fingers, 
I can but rush to the surf and let it drench me and freeze upon me. 

I search with the crowd, not one of the company is wash'd to us alive, 
In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay them in rows in a barn. 


Now of the older war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn, 
Washington stands inside the lines, he stands on the intrench'd 
hills amid a crowd of officers. 
His face is cold and damp, he cannot repress the weeping drops, 
He lifts the glass perpetually to his eyes, the color is blanch'd 
from his cheeks, 
He sees the slaughter of the southern braves confided to him by 
their parents. 

The same at last and at last when peace is declared, 
He stands in the room of the old tavern, the well-belov'd soldiers 
all pass through, 
The officers speechless and slow draw near in their turns, 
The chief encircles their necks with his arm and kisses them on the cheek, 
He kisses lightly the wet cheeks one after another, he shakes hands 
and bids good-by to the army. 


Now what my mother told me one day as we sat at dinner together, 
Of when she was a nearly grown girl living home with her parents on 
the old homestead. 

A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old homestead, 
On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for rush-bottoming chairs, 
Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse, half-envelop'd 
her face, 
Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded exquisitely as 
she spoke. 

My mother look'd in delight and amazement at the stranger, 
She look'd at the freshness of her tall-borne face and full and 
pliant limbs, 
The more she look'd upon her she loved her, 
Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and purity, 
She made her sit on a bench by the jamb of the fireplace, she cook'd 
food for her, 
She had no work to give her, but she gave her remembrance and fondness. 

The red squaw staid all the forenoon, and toward the middle of the 
afternoon she went away, 
O my mother was loth to have her go away, 
All the week she thought of her, she watch'd for her many a month, 
She remember'd her many a winter and many a summer, 
But the red squaw never came nor was heard of there again. 


A show of the summer softness--a contact of something unseen--an 
amour of the light and air, 
I am jealous and overwhelm'd with friendliness, 
And will go gallivant with the light and air myself. 

O love and summer, you are in the dreams and in me, 
Autumn and winter are in the dreams, the farmer goes with his thrift, 
The droves and crops increase, the barns are well-fill'd. 

Elements merge in the night, ships make tacks in the dreams, 
The sailor sails, the exile returns home, 
The fugitive returns unharm'd, the immigrant is back beyond months 
and years, 
The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his childhood with 
the well known neighbors and faces, 
They warmly welcome him, he is barefoot again, he forgets he is well off, 
The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman and Welshman voyage 
home, and the native of the Mediterranean voyages home, 
To every port of England, France, Spain, enter well-fill'd ships, 
The Swiss foots it toward his hills, the Prussian goes his way, the 
Hungarian his way, and the Pole his way, 
The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian return. 

The homeward bound and the outward bound, 
The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuye, the onanist, the female that 
loves unrequited, the money-maker, 
The actor and actress, those through with their parts and those 
waiting to commence, 
The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the voter, the nominee 
that is chosen and the nominee that has fail'd, 
The great already known and the great any time after to-day, 
The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-form'd, the homely, 
The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that sat and sentenced 
him, the fluent lawyers, the jury, the audience, 
The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight widow, the red squaw, 
The consumptive, the erysipalite, the idiot, he that is wrong'd, 
The antipodes, and every one between this and them in the dark, 
I swear they are averaged now--one is no better than the other, 
The night and sleep have liken'd them and restored them. 

I swear they are all beautiful, 
Every one that sleeps is beautiful, every thing in the dim light is 
The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace. 

Peace is always beautiful, 
The myth of heaven indicates peace and night. 

The myth of heaven indicates the soul, 
The soul is always beautiful, it appears more or it appears less, it 
comes or it lags behind, 
It comes from its embower'd garden and looks pleasantly on itself 
and encloses the world, 
Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting,and perfect and 
clean the womb cohering, 
The head well-grown proportion'd and plumb, and the bowels and 
joints proportion'd and plumb. 

The soul is always beautiful, 
The universe is duly in order, every thing is in its place, 
What has arrived is in its place and what waits shall be in its place, 
The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood waits, 
The child of the glutton or venerealee waits long, and the child of 
the drunkard waits long, and the drunkard himself waits long, 
The sleepers that lived and died wait, the far advanced are to go on 
in their turns, and the far behind are to come on in their turns, 
The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall flow and unite-- 
they unite now. 


The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed, 
They flow hand in hand over the whole earth from east to west as 
they lie unclothed, 
The Asiatic and African are hand in hand, the European and American 
are hand in hand, 
Learn'd and unlearn'd are hand in hand, and male and female are hand 
in hand, 
The bare arm of the girl crosses the bare breast of her lover, they 
press close without lust, his lips press her neck, 
The father holds his grown or ungrown son in his arms with 
measureless love, and the son holds the father in his arms with 
measureless love, 
The white hair of the mother shines on the white wrist of the daughter, 
The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the man, friend is 
inarm'd by friend, 
The scholar kisses the teacher and the teacher kisses the scholar, 
the wrong 'd made right, 
The call of the slave is one with the master's call, and the master 
salutes the slave, 
The felon steps forth from the prison, the insane becomes sane, the 
suffering of sick persons is reliev'd, 
The sweatings and fevers stop, the throat that was unsound is sound, 
the lungs of the consumptive are resumed, the poor distress'd 
head is free, 
The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as ever, and smoother 
than ever, 
Stiflings and passages open, the paralyzed become supple, 
The swell'd and convuls'd and congested awake to themselves in condition, 
They pass the invigoration of the night and the chemistry of the 
night, and awake. 

I too pass from the night, 
I stay a while away O night, but I return to you again and love you. 

Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you? 
I am not afraid, I have been well brought forward by you, 
I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her in whom I lay so long, 
I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you, but 
I know I came well and shall go well. 

I will stop only a time with the night, and rise betimes, 
I will duly pass the day O my mother, and duly return to you.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
A Dream Within a Dream
Edgar Allan Poe, 1809 - 1849
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow:
You are not wrong who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep 
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
Making the Bed
Burt Kimmelman
for D.

Summer country. In the morning the leaves

to the window and fold
the house in. Mountains and sun. I fold

the blankets, hand smooth. When
you’re here

I know it. The sun crosses

the hand’s breadth—

and in your face

the unenterable
image. Under

your eyelids
night unfolds. Pull

the blanket over you
and with it

the darkened air.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
At a Window
Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
Give me hunger,  
O you gods that sit and give  
The world its orders.  
Give me hunger, pain and want,  
Shut me out with shame and failure 
From your doors of gold and fame,  
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!  
But leave me a little love,  
A voice to speak to me in the day end,  
A hand to touch me in the dark room 
Breaking the long loneliness.  
In the dusk of day-shapes  
Blurring the sunset,  
One little wandering, western star  
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,  
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk  
And wait and know the coming  
Of a little love. 
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
The Gift
Sara Teasdale, 1884 - 1933
What can I give you, my lord, my lover,
You who have given the world to me,
Showed me the light and the joy that cover
The wild sweet earth and restless sea?

All that I have are gifts of your giving—
If I gave them again, you would find them old,
And your soul would weary of always living
Before the mirror my life would hold.

What shall I give you, my lord, my lover?
The gift that breaks the heart in me:
I bid you awake at dawn and discover
I have gone my way and left you free.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
One Art
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
Verses upon the Burning of our House
Anne Bradstreet, 1612 - 1672
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I waken'd was with thund'ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of "fire" and "fire,"
Let no man know is my Desire.
I starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest his grace that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was his own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine,
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best,
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under the roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall 'ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle 'ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom's voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lie.
Adieu, Adieu, All's Vanity.
Then straight I 'gin my heart to chide:
And did thy wealth on earth abide,
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Fram'd by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished
Stands permanent, though this be fled.
It's purchased and paid for too
By him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by his gift is made thine own.
There's wealth enough; I need no more.
Farewell, my pelf; farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love;
My hope and Treasure lies above.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
Facing It
Yusef Komunyakaa, 1947
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears. 
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's 
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
Christina Rossetti, 1830 - 1894
Remember me when I am gone away,
   Gone far away into the silent land;
   When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
   You tell me of our future that you planned:
   Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
   And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
   For if the darkness and corruption leave
   A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
   Than that you should remember and be sad.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
Losing Track
Denise Levertov, 1923 - 1997
Long after you have swung back
away from me
I think you are still with me:

you come in close to the shore
on the tide
and nudge me awake the way

a boat adrift nudges the pier:
am I a pier
half-in half-out of the water?

and in the pleasure of that communion
I lose track,
the moon I watch goes down, the

tide swings you away before
I know I'm
alone again long since,

mud sucking at gray and black
timbers of me,
a light growth of green dreams drying.
Late Thoughts in an Early Bed
When We Two Parted
George Gordon Byron, 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 shall I 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.