Category Archives: Poem

Skunk Hour


(For Elizabeth Bishop) Dedication Lowell’s poem is modeled on Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Armadillo,” which Bishop had dedicated to Lowell.

Nautilus Island’s hermit

heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;

her sheep still graze above the sea.

Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer

is first selectman in our village;

she’s in her dotage.
Thirsting for

the hierarchic privacy

of Queen Victoria’s century,

she buys up all

the eyesores facing her shore,

and lets them fall.
The season’s ill—

we’ve lost our summer millionaire,

who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean

catalogue. His nine-knot yawl

was auctioned off to lobstermen.

A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.
And now our fairy

decorator brightens his shop for fall;

his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,

orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;

there is no money in his work,

he’d rather marry.
One dark night,

my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;

I watched for love-cars . Lights turned down,

they lay together, hull to hull,

where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .

My mind’s not right.
A car radio bleats,

“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear

my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,

as if my hand were at its throat. . . .

I myself am hell;

nobody’s here —
only skunks, that search

in the moonlight for a bite to eat.

They march on their soles up Main Street:

white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire

under the chalk-dry and spar spire

of the Trinitarian Church.
I stand on top

of our back steps and breathe the rich air—

a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail

She jabs her wedge-head in a cup

of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,

and will not scare.
Listen to Robert Lowell read “Skunk Hour.”


In the concluding episode of their acclaimed series, Seamus Perry and Mark Ford confront Robert Lowell: the Boston Brahmin for whom poetry trumped every other consideration, and whose Cold War ‘confessionalism’ came to exemplify a generation of Americans’ collective trauma; the poet who changed everything, but whose star has somehow fallen. But, Perry and Ford conclude, it will – like this podcast, we hope – rise again.

Listen to the podcast: Lowell Studies

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Wendell Berry

  1. How much poison are you willing

    to eat for the success of the free

    market and global trade? Please

    name your preferred poisons.

  2. For the sake of goodness, how much

    evil are you willing to do?

    Fill in the following blanks

    with the names of your favorite

    evils and acts of hatred.

  3. What sacrifices are you prepared

    to make for culture and civilization?

    Please list the monuments, shrines,

    and works of art you would

    most willingly destroy.

  4. In the name of patriotism and

    the flag, how much of our beloved

    land are you willing to desecrate?

    List in the following spaces

    the mountains, rivers, towns, farms

    you could most readily do without.

  5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,

    the energy sources, the kinds of security,

    for which you would kill a child.

    Name, please, the children whom

    you would be willing to kill. 

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The Editor’s Ex


DoyleBecause you’re gone, I take a book to bed:

The Flame of Passion. Scabbard at his thigh,

Lord Henry gets the girl. You’d only buy

top Booklist picks. “The romance genre’s dead,”

you’d say when promises of I-thee-wed

lured me to bargain bins. I learned to lie

about my day, hoard Harlequins on the sly

while you were off at work, your office spread

with red-inked proofs. But now it makes me yawn

to read beyond the lovers’ wedding night.

I close The Flame, not even halfway through.

His sword grows dull while she goes on and on

about how lovers must stay true. I’d write

another ending, if I could, for you.
Read “A Ringing Echo: The Poetry of Caitlin Doyle”

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Blackberry Picking

Seamus Heaney

Blackberry PickingLate August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not. 

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By Gwendolyn Brooks

RiotA riot is the language of the unheard.

— Martin Luther King
John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,

all whitebluerose below his golden hair,

wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,

almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;

almost forgot Grandtully (which is The

Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost

forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray

and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,

the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.
Because the Negroes were coming down the street.
Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty

(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)

and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.

In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.

And not detainable. And not discreet.
Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot

itched instantly beneath the nourished white

that told his story of glory to the World.

“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered

to any handy angel in the sky.

But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove

and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath

the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,

malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old

averted doubt jerked forward decently,

cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,

and the desperate die expensively today.”
John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire

and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!

Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”
Gwendolyn Brooks, “Riot” from Blacks.
Listen to Curtis Fox and Haki R. Madhubuti discuss this poem: The Poet and the Riot.

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I taste a liquor never brewed

Emily Dickinson

I taste a liquor never brewedI taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!
Inebriate of air – am I –

And Debauchee of Dew –

Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –

From inns of molten Blue –
When ‘Landlords’ turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove’s door –

When Butterflies – renounce their ‘drams’ –

I shall but drink the more!
Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –

And Saints – to windows run –

To see the little Tippler

Leaning against the – Sun!

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An August Midnight

Thomas Hardy

An August MidnightI

A shaded lamp and a waving blind,

And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:

On this scene enter—winged, horned, and spined—

A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;

While ‘mid my page there idly stands

A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands…


Thus meet we five, in this still place,

At this point of time, at this point in space.

—My guests besmear my new-penned line,

Or bang at the lamp and fall supine.

“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?

They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

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By Marianne Moore

Marianne_MooreI, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond

   all this fiddle.

   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one

   discovers that there is in

   it after all, a place for the genuine.

   Hands that can grasp, eyes

   that can dilate, hair that can rise

      if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because

   they are

   useful; when they become so derivative as to become

   unintelligible, the

      same thing may be said for all of us—that we

   do not admire what

   we cannot understand. The bat,

      holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless

   wolf under

   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse

   that feels a flea, the base-

   ball fan, the statistician—case after case

   could be cited did

   on wish it; nor is it valid

      to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make

   a distinction

   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the

   result is not poetry,

   nor till the autocrats among us can be

  “literalists of

   the imagination”—above

      insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,

   shall we have

   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance

    of their opinion—

   the raw material of poetry in

   all its rawness, and

   that which is on the other hand,

      genuine, you are interested in poetry.

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On Wenlock Edge

A E Housman

On Wenlock EdgeOn Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;

His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

’Twould blow like this through holt and hanger

When Uricon the city stood:

’Tis the old wind in the old anger,

But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman

At yonder heaving hill would stare:

The blood that warms an English yeoman,

The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,

Through him the gale of life blew high;

The tree of man was never quiet:

Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:

To-day the Roman and his trouble

Are ashes under Uricon.

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Green Rain

by Dorothy Livesay

Green RainI remember long veils of green rain

Feathered like the shawl of my grandmother –

Green from the half-green of the spring trees

Waving in the valley.
I remember the road

Like the one which leads to my grandmother’s house,

A warm house, with green carpets,

Geraniums, a trilling canary

And shining horse-hair chairs;

And the silence, full of the rain’s falling

Was like my grandmother’s parlour

Alive with herself and her voice, rising and falling –

Rain and wind intermingled.
I remember on that day

I was thinking only of my love

And of my love’s house.

But now I remember the day

As I remember my grandmother.

I remember the rain as the feathery fringe of her shawl.

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