Here are a few poems by Mary Oliver, William Stafford, and Rita Dove.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again
out of the blackness,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
as it warms you
as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--
or have you too
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
in the green field
were spinning and tossing
the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing
better to do
I mean this
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door
to two strangers
it soon appeared,
not men at all,
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give
but their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them
and blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water
from a fountain,
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,
and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
but still they asked for nothing
but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.
Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
whatever it was I said
I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying
through my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.
Poems by William Stafford (B. 1914 in Hutchinson, Kansas.)
Some Things the World Gave
Times in the morning early
when it rained and the long gray
buildings came forward from darkness
offering their windows for light.
Evenings out there on the plains
when sunset donated farms
that yearned so far to the west that the world
centered there and bowed down.
A teacher at a country school
walking home past a great marsh
where ducks came gliding in --
she saw the boy out hunting and waved.
Silence on a hill where the path ended
and then the forest below
moving in one long whisper
as evening touched the leaves.
Shelter in winter that day --
a storm coming, but in the lee
of an island in a cover with friends --
oh, little bright cup of sun.
An Afternoon in the Stacks
Closing the book, I find I have left my head
inside. It is dark in here, but the chapters open
their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,
words adjusting themselves to their meaning.
Long passages open at successive pages. An echo,
continuous from the title onward, hums
behind me. From in here, the world looms,
a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences
carved out when an author traveled and a reader
kept the way open. When this book ends
I will pull it inside-out like a sock
and throw it back in the library. But the rumor
of it will haunt all that follows in my life.
A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move.
Toward the Space Age
We must begin to catch hold of everything
around us, for nobody knows what we
may need. We have to carry along
the air, even; and the weight we once
thought a burden turns out to form
the pulse of our life and the compass for our brain.
Colors balance our fears, and existence
begins to clog unless our thoughts
can occur unwatched and let a fountain of essential silliness
out through our dreams.
And oh I hope we can still arrange
for the wind to blow, and occasionally
some kind of shock to occur, like rain,
and stray adventures no one cares about --
harmless love, immoderate guffaws on corners,
families crawling around the front room growling,
being bears in the piano cave.
Next time what I'd do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I'd stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.
When anyone talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I'd watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice.
And for all, I'd know more -- the earth
bracing itself and soaring, the air
finding every leaf and feather over
forest and water, and for every person
the body glowing inside the clothes
like a light.
After Arguing against the Contention That Art Must Come from Discontent
By William Stafford
Whispering to each handhold, "I'll be back,"
I go up the cliff in the dark. One place
I loosen a rock and listen a long time
till it hits, faint in the gulf, but the rush
of the torrent almost drowns it out, and the wind --
I almost forgot the wind: it tears at your side
or it waits and then buffets; you sag outward...
I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark--
"Made it again!" Oh how I love this climb!
-- the whispering to the stones, the drag, the weight
as your muscles crack and ease on, working
right. They are back there, discontent,
waiting to be driven forth. I pound
on the earth, riding the earth past the stars:
"Made it again! Made it again!"
The Spring Cricket Considers the Question of Negritude
By Rita Dove
I was playing my tunes all by myself;
I didn’t know anybody else
who could play along.
Sure, the tunes were sad—
but sweet, too, and wouldn’t come
until the day gave out. You know
that way the sky has of dangling
her last bright wisps? That’s when
the ache would bloom inside
until I couldn’t wait; I knelt down
to scrape myself clean
and didn’t care who heard.
Then came the shouts and whistles,
the roundup into jars, a clamber of legs.
Now there were others: tumbled,
clouded. I didn’t know their names.
We were a musical lantern;
children slept to our rasping sighs.
And if now and then one of us
shook free and sang as he climbed
to the brim, he would always
fall again. Which made them laugh
and clap their hands. At least then
we knew what pleased them,
and where the brink was.
Rita Dove is a former U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner and recipient of the National Medal of Arts.