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Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

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W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

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Martín Espada, 1957

For Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.

Copyright © 2006 by Martín Espada. From The Republic of Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2006). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

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Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
Some say the world will end in fire,	
Some say in ice.	
From what I've tasted of desire	
I hold with those who favor fire.	
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate	
To know that for destruction ice	
Is also great	
And would suffice.

First printed in Harper's Magazine, December 1920.

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Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
O hushed October morning mild,	
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;	
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,	
Should waste them all.	
The crows above the forest call;	        
To-morrow they may form and go.	
O hushed October morning mild,	
Begin the hours of this day slow,	
Make the day seem to us less brief.	
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,	        
Beguile us in the way you know;	
Release one leaf at break of day;	
At noon release another leaf;	
One from our trees, one far away;	
Retard the sun with gentle mist;	        
Enchant the land with amethyst.	
Slow, slow!	
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,	
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,	
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—	        
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

This poem is in the public domain.

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Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
     connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking 
     in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating 
     across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
     Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs 
     illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
     hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the 
     scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing 
     obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their 
     money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through
     the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo 
     with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise 
     Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
     cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in 
     the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, 
     illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
     wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of 
     teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon 
     and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, 
     ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from 
     Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of 
     wheels and children brought them down shuddering 
     mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of 
     brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out 
     and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate 
     Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen 
     jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to 
     Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the 
     stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out 
     of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and 
     memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of 
     hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and 
     nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on 
     the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of 
     ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and 
     migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak 
     furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad
     yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken
     hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
     through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and 
     bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at
     their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of
     Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary
     indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in
     supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on
     the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz
     or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to
     converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and
     so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind
     nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of
     poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in
     beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark
     skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the
     narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square
     weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos
     wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten
     Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and
     trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in
     policecars for committing no crime but their own wild
     cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off
     the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,
     and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors,
     caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and
     the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their
     semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob
     behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked
     angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one  
     eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew
     that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does
     nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
     threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a
     sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the
     bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and
     ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt
     and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the
     sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to
     sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under
     barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen
     night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and
     Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays
     of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
     rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt
     waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
     & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, &
     hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams,
     woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out
     of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of
     Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment
     offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the
     snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open
     to a room full of steamheat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of
     the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon &
     their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at
     the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full
     of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and
     rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame
     under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of
     theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations
     which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas
     dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for
     Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads
     every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave
     up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought
     they were growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison
     Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of
     the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of
     the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister
     intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs
     of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and
     walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of
     Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free
     beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway
     window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried
     all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot
     smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s
     German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into
     the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of
     colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the
     each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or
     Birmingham jazz incarnation, who drove crosscountry
     seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had
     a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to
     Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver &
     brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find
     out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each
     other's salvation and light and breasts, until the soul
     illuminated its hair for a second, 
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible
     criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their
     hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to
     tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the
     black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
     daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism &
     were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and
     subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of
     the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of
     suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol
     electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy
     pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong
     table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and
     tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of
     the madtowns of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering
     with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the
     midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life
     a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out
     of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m.
     and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the
     last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental
     furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the
     closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little
     bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're
     really in the total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a
     sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the
     catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through
     images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul
     between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and
     set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping
     with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and
     stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking
     with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform
     to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting
     down here what might be left to say in time come after
     death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn
     shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked
     mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani
     saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their
     own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

 

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls
     and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable
     dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
     sobbing in armies!  Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! 
     Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone
     soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch
     whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of
     war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is
     running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! 
     Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!  Moloch whose
     ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose
     skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless
     Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the
     fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the 
     cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is
     electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter
     of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless
     hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! 
     Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and
     manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a
     consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out
     of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in
     Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton
     treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral
     nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous
     bombs! 
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements,
     trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists
     and is everywhere about us! 
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the
     American river! 
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload
     of sensitive bullshit! 
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down
     the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal
     screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! 
     down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the
     holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to
     solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the
     street!

From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg. Used with permission.

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William Ernest Henley, 1849 - 1903
Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   
   
In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
   
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
   
It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

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Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides, 
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

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Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

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Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This poem is in the public domain.

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Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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Alicia Ostriker, 1937

Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America

The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America

We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America

I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America

School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America

What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America

Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America

Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America

We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America

Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America

Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America

Copyright © 2013 by Alicia Ostriker. "Ghazal: America the Beautiful" has appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of The Atlantic and in the Winter 2013 issue of Logos. Used with permission of the author.

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Marge Piercy, 1936

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal,
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside
to outside, light into dark, dark into
light, cold into warm, known into
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise
or music. We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Marge Piercy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Wilfred Owen, 1893 - 1918
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This poem is in the public domain.

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Adrienne Rich, 1929 - 2012
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

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Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.

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Wallace Stevens, 1879 - 1955
I

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

II

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

III

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

IV

She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

V

She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

VI

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

VIII

She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

From Harmonium (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

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Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

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Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

Trippers and askers surround me, 
People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and city I live in, or the nation, 
The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies,  authors old and new, 
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues, 
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love, 
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,
Battles, the horrors of fatricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events; 
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself. 

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am, 
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary, 
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest, 
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next, 
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it. 

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders, 
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait. 

 

This poem is in the public domain. From Leaves of Grass (1855) in Whitman: Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (Library of America, 1982).

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Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morningglories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phœbe-bird,
And the March-born lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf, and the noisy brood of the barn-yard or by the mire of the pond-side . . and the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there . . . and the beautiful curious liquid . . and the water-plants with their graceful flat heads . . all became part of him.

And the field-sprouts of April and May became part of him . . . . wintergrain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and of the esculent roots of the garden,
And the appletrees covered with blossoms, and the fruit afterward . . . . and woodberries . . and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the tavern whence he had lately risen,
And the schoolmistress that passed on her way to the school . . and the friendly boys that passed . . and the quarrelsome boys . . and the tidy and fresh-cheeked girls . . and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.

His own parents . . he that had propelled the fatherstuff at night, and fathered him . . and she that conceived him in her womb and birthed him . . . . they gave this child more of themselves than that,
They gave him afterward every day . . . . they and of them became part of him.
The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the suppertable,
The mother with mild words . . . . clean her cap and gown . . . . a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by:
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, angered, unjust,
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture . . . . the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsayed . . . . The sense of what is real . . . . the thought if after all it should prove unreal,
The doubts of daytime and the doubts of nighttime . . . . the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so . . . . Or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets . . if they are not flashes and specks what are they?
The streets themselves, and the façades of houses. . . . the goods in the windows,
Vehicles . . teams . . the tiered wharves, and the huge crossing at the ferries;
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset . . . . the river between,
Shadows . . aureola and mist . . light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown, three miles off,
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide . . the little boat slacktowed astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves and quickbroken crests and slapping;
The strata of colored clouds . . . . the long bar of maroontint away solitary by itself . . . . the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon's edge, the flying seacrow, the fragrance of saltmarsh and shoremud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes and will always go forth every day,
And these become of him or her that peruses them now.

 

 

This poem is in the public domain.

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William Wordsworth, 1770 - 1850

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
   That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
   A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
   And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
   Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
   Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
   In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
   In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
   Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2017. This poem is in the public domain.

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W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

This poem is in the public domain.