Temples he built and palaces of air, And, with the artist’s parent-pride aglow, His fancy saw his vague ideals grow Into creations marvelously fair; He set his foot upon Fame’s nether stair. But ah, his dream,—it had entranced him so He could not move. He could no farther go; But
poems & poets
Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the list'ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present
—for my children I see her doing something simple, paying bills, or leafing through a magazine or book, and wish that I could say, and she could hear, that now I start to understand her love for all of us, the fullness of it. It burns there in the past, beyond my reach, a
Yi Lei astounded readers in China when, in 1986, she published a long poem entitled, “A Single Woman’s Bedroom.” In it, a female speaker unpacks her own private urgencies. She speaks of passion and sexual desire. Again and again, the speaker returns to the refrain “You didn’t come to live with me” as she laments her lover’s failure to make good on his promise—this at a time when cohabitation before marriage was still illegal in China. The poem goes still further, laying claim to a freedom of the mind and spirit, and openly criticizing the rigidity of law:
I imagine a life in which I possess
All that I lack. I fix what has failed.
What never was, I build and seize.
It’s impossible to think of everything,
Yet more and more I do. Thinking
What I am afraid to say keeps fear
And fear’s twin, rage, at bay. Law
Squints out from its burrow, jams
Its quiver with arrows. It shoots
Like it thinks: never straight. My
The following was delivered by Joy Harjo as the Blaney Lecture on October 9, 2015, at Poets Forum in New York City.
Vkvsamet hesaketmese pomvte
Mowe towekvs pokvhoyen yiceyvte
Mon vkerrickv heren
With praise for the Breathmaker, by whose intent
We arrive here, and by whose grace we leave.
—from A Map to the Next World by Joy Harjo (W. W. Norton, 2000)
I want to acknowledge the land on which we are gathered and the keepers of this land. This area was taken care of by the Lenape people. They are also known as the Delaware. The name Manhattan comes from “Manna-hata,” which translates as “island of many hills” from the Lenape language. The transaction with Peter Minuit, German born and director of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland in 1626, for the so-called purchase of the island took place under a tulip tree in Inwood Park. As there was no concept for selling land, that idea is difficult to grasp in the
I celebrate myself
And what I shall assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul
I lean and loafe at my ease … observing a spear of summer grass.
If you put the thoughts expressed in these opening lines of “Song of Myself” into ordinary speech, they are rather flat and uninteresting:
I myself am what I am celebrating; and everything that I am, you are also, since you and I are both made out of the same materials I’m really taking it easy, lying around and communing with my soul, while I look at a blade of grass.
Whitman’s lines don’t rhyme and they have no regular meter. There must be other things about them that make them so interesting and suggestive and exciting to read. These things, of course, are the words and the ways Whitman puts them together. By looking closely at these words and uses, one may be able to get closer to the mystery of poetry, of Whitman’s in any