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Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein

Tender Buttons [Apple]

Read by Ann Lauterbach. May 30, 2009, The Strand Bookstore, New York City. From the Academy Audio Archive.

About this poet

Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874, to wealthy German-Jewish immigrants. At the age of three, her family moved first to Vienna and then to Paris. They returned to America in 1878 and settled in Oakland, California. Her mother, Amelia, died of cancer in 1888 and her father, Daniel, died in 1891.

Stein attended Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897, where she specialized in Psychology under noted psychologist William James. After leaving Radcliffe, she enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where she studied medicine for four years, leaving in 1901. Stein did not receive a formal degree from either institution.

In 1903, Stein moved to Paris with Alice B. Toklas, a younger friend from San Francisco who would remain her partner and secretary throughout her life. The couple did not return to the United States for over thirty years.

Together with Toklas and her brother Leo, an art critic and painter, Stein took an apartment on the Left Bank. Their home, 27 rue de Fleurus, soon became gathering spot for many young artists and writers including Henri Matisse, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire.

She was a passionate advocate for the "new" in art, her literary friendships grew to include writers as diverse as William Carlos Williams, Djuana Barnes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. It was to Hemingway that Stein coined the phrase "the lost generation" to describe the expatriate writers living abroad between the wars.

By 1913, Stein's support of cubist painters and her increasingly avant-garde writing caused a split with her brother Leo, who moved to Florence. Her first book, Three Lives, was published in 1909. She followed it with Tender Buttons in 1914.

Tender Buttons clearly showed the profound effect modern painting had on her writing. In these small prose poems, images and phrases come together in often surprising ways—similar in manner to cubist painting. Her writing, characterized by its use of words for their associations and sounds rather than their meanings, received considerable interest from other artists and writers, but did not find a wide audience.

Sherwood Anderson in the introduction to Geography and Plays (1922) wrote that her writing "consists in a rebuilding, and entire new recasting of life, in the city of words."

Among Stein's most influential works are The Making of Americans (1925); How to Write (1931); The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which was a best-seller; and Stanzas in Meditation and Other Poems [1929-1933] (1956).

In 1934, the biographer T. S. Matthews described her as a "solid elderly woman, dressed in no-nonsense rough-spun clothes," with "deep black eyes that make her grave face and its archaic smile come alive."

Stein died at the American Hospital at Neuilly on July 27, 1946, of inoperable cancer.


Selected Bibliography   

Three Lives (1909) 
Tender Buttons (1914) 
Geography and Plays (1922) 
 The Making of Americans (written 1906-1908, published 1925)
Four Saints in Three Acts (libretto, 1929; music by Virgil Thomson, 1934)  
How to Write (1931)  
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)  
Lectures in America (1935)  
The Geographical History of America: or, The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (1936)  
Everybody's Autobiography (1937)  
Picasso (1938)  
Paris France (1940)  
Ida; a novel (1941)  
Wars I Have Seen (1945)  
Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946) 
Brewsie and Willie (1946)  
The Mother of Us All (libretto, published 1949; music by Virgil Thompson 1947)  
Last Operas and Plays (1949)  
The Things as They Are (written as Q.E.D. in 1903, published 1950)  
Patriarchal Poetry (1953)  
Alphabets and Birthdays (1957)

Tender Buttons [Apple]

APPLE

Apple plum, carpet steak, seed clam, colored wine, calm seen, cold cream, best shake, potato, potato and no no gold work with pet, a green seen is called bake and change sweet is bready, a little piece a little piece please.

A little piece please. Cane again to the presupposed and ready eucalyptus tree, count out sherry and ripe plates and little corners of a kind of ham. This is use.

From Tender Buttons (1914) by Gertrude Stein. This poem is in the public domain.

From Tender Buttons (1914) by Gertrude Stein. This poem is in the public domain.

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poem

A Visit from St. Nicholas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house  
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;  
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,  
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;  
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;  
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,  
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,  
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,  
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,  
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.  
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow  
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,  
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,  
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,  
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.  
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,  
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!  
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!  
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!  
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"  
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;  
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,  
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.  
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof  
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,  
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.  
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,  
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;  
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.  
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!  
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!  
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow  
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,  
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;  
He had a broad face and a little round belly,  
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.  
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;  
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,  
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;  
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,  
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,  
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;  
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,  
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,  
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

 

Clement Clarke Moore
1823
collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

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Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, Minnesota. Courtesy of National Park Service.
poem

White Trees

When the white trees are no longer in sight
they are telling us something,
like the body that undresses
when someone is around,
like the woman who wants
to read what her nude curves
are trying to say,
of what it was to be together,
lips on lips
but it's over now, the town
we once loved in, the maps
we once drew, the echoes that
once passed through us
as if they needed something we had.
Nathalie Handal
2011
poem

Legendary Lights

O, the legendary light,
Gleaming goldenly in night
     Like the stars above,
Beautiful, like lights in dream,
Eight, the taper-flames that stream
     All one glory and one love.

In our Temple, magical—
Memories, now tragical—
Holy hero-hearts aflame
With a glory more than fame;
There where a shrine is every sod,
     Every grave, God’s golden ore,
With a paean whose rhyme to God,
     Lit these lamps of yore.

Lights, you are a living dream,
Faith and bravery you beam,
     Youth and dawn and May.
Would your beam were more than dream,
Would the light and love you stream,
     Stirred us, spurred us, aye!

Fabled memories of flame,
Till the beast in man we tame,
Tyrants bow to truth, amain,
Brands and bullets yield to brain,
Guns to God, and shells to soul,
Hounds to heart resign the role,
Pillared lights of liberty,
In your fairy flames, we’ll see
Faith’s and freedom’s Phoenix-might,
The Omnipotence of Right.

Alter Abelson
2017
collection

Gwendolyn Brooks: A Centennial Celebration

A Pulitzer Prize winner, an Academy Fellowship winner, and the first black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, Gwendolyn Brooks was—and continues to be—an outstanding voice in the world of contemporary American poetry. Brooks, who was awarded countless literary honors in her lifetime, was known for writing poems that captured a cross-section of everyday life in her hometown of Chicago. In sonnets, ballads, epic poems, and more, Brooks captured the lives, speech, and perspectives of people as varied as those she encountered in her city, and was particularly known for her interrogation of race relations and class.

This year marks Brooks’s centennial, and to celebrate, we’ve created this new collection of essays, audio, and poems by and about Brooks.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

AASL Best Website for Teaching & Learning
poem

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he'd call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices? 
Robert Hayden
1966
collection

John Ashbery, 1927–2017: A Tribute

On September 3, 2017, John Ashbery died at his home in Hudson, New York, at the age of ninety. Ashbery had a long history with the Academy of American Poets, dating back to the 1960s when he read in our series at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. He received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1985 for his poetry collection A Wave (Viking, 1984). From 1988 to 1999, he served on our Board of Chancellors, and over the years, Ashbery participated in numerous Academy of American Poets events, including readings at the Morgan Library and the 92nd Street Y in New York City. In honor of Ashbery, and his important contributions to American poetry, we've gathered a collection of his poems, historic recordings of the poet reading his work, photographs from our archive, and more.