When the world isn’t making sense, poetry suddenly does, even to people who normally don’t read it. The music of the language, the focus on an image, the surrender to the play of the mind provide a comfort to the psyche under duress. These poems are here for you. They do not ask you to analyze them or explain them. They are moments of attention to life. With thanks to the Academy of American Poets and Poetry Foundation for their gatherings of poems, we offer these in hopes they provide a breath at a time of breathlessness. As our team understands, physicians are sharing poetry on the listserves, and we hope these contribute to that beautiful engagement. “Poetry heals the wounds of reason,” says Novalis. “Poetry is the imagination striking up against reality,” says Stephen Spender. “I know I have read a good poem when I feel the top of my head lifting off,” says Emily Dickinson. Whatever it is, we hope these poems bring you a little bit of what you need right now.

April 8, 2020

The Appropriate Response

by Mary Reynolds Thompson

Stock up on poetry not toilet paper,

Grace rather than guns.

Gorge on love,

Which multiplies like loaves and fishes.

Call people and talk for hours,

Fill their hearts with hope.

Hoard every sweet moment of your life

And then release each one into the world

To seed more joy.

Be stingy with nothing,

Least of all yourself.

Ensure the shelves of your heart never fall bare,

That your soul seeds new sprouts

And the wings of your imagination

Refuse containment.

May you realize what matters, who matters,

The rock that you can be,

When the world is shaking.

Stockpile only what is limitless,

And can be shared by all.

© Used by permission of the author.

April 3, 2020

Prelude – by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by MD Herter Norton)

Whoever you are: at evening step forth

out of your room, where all is known to you;

last thing before the distance lies your house:

whoever you are.

With your eyes, which wearily

scarce from the much-worn threshold free themselves,

you lift quite slowly a black tree

and place it against the sky: slender, alone.

And you have made the world. And it is large

and like a word that yet in silence ripens.

And as your will takes in the sense of it,

tenderly your eyes let it go…

April 1, 2020

Here is Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Common Things.”

I have a crazy,
crazy love of things.
I like pliers,
and scissors.
I love
cups,
rings,
and bowls –
not to speak, or course,
of hats.
I love
all things,
not just
the grandest,
also
the
infinite-
ly
small –
thimbles,
spurs,
plates,
and flower vases.
Oh yes,
the planet
is sublime!
It’s full of pipes
weaving
hand-held
through tobacco smoke,
and keys
and salt shakers –
everything,
I mean,
that is made
by the hand of man, every little thing:
shapely shoes,
and fabric,
and each new
bloodless birth
of gold,
eyeglasses
carpenter’s nails,
brushes,
clocks, compasses,
coins, and the so-soft
softness of chairs.
Mankind has
built
oh so many
perfect
things!
Built them of wool
and of wood,
of glass and
of rope:
remarkable
tables,
ships, and stairways.
I love
all
things,
not because they are
passionate
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don’t know,
because
this ocean is yours,
and mine;
these buttons
and wheels
and little
forgotten
treasures,
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms
glasses, knives and
scissors –
all bear
the trace
of someone’s fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
lost
in the depths of forgetfulness.
I pause in houses,
streets and
elevators
touching things,
identifying objects
that I secretly covet;
this one because it rings,
that one because
it’s as soft
as the softness of a woman’s hip,
that one there for its deep-sea color,
and that one for its velvet feel.
O irrevocable
river
of things:
no one can say
that I loved
only
fish,
or the plants of the jungle and the field,
that I loved
only
those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.
It’s not true:
many things conspired
to tell me the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
or my hand touched them:
they were
so close
that they were a part
of my being,
they were so alive with me
that they lived half my life
and will die half my death.

The Puppet

Gabriel García Márquez alleged farewell poem

If for a moment God would forget that I am a rag doll and give me a scrap of life, possibly I would not say everything that I think, but I would definitely think everything that I say.

I would value things not for how much they are worth but rather for what they mean.

I would sleep little, dream more. I know that for each minute that we close our eyes we lose sixty seconds of light.

I would walk when the others loiter; I would awaken when the others sleep.

I would listen when the others speak, and how I would enjoy a good chocolate ice cream.

If God would bestow on me a scrap of life, I would dress simply, I would throw myself flat under the sun, exposing not only my body but also my soul.

My God, if I had a heart, I would write my hatred on ice and wait for the sun to come out. With a dream of Van Gogh I would paint on the stars a poem by Benedetti, and a song by Serrat would be my serenade to the moon.

With my tears I would water the roses, to feel the pain of their thorns and the incarnated kiss of their petals…My God, if I only had a scrap of life…

I wouldn’t let a single day go by without saying to people I love, that I love them.

I would convince each woman or man that they are my favourites and I would live in love with love.

I would prove to the men how mistaken they are in thinking that they no longer fall in love when they grow old–not knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love. To a child I would give wings, but I would let him learn how to fly by himself. To the old I would teach that death comes not with old age but with forgetting. I have learned so much from you men….

I have learned that everybody wants to live at the top of the mountain without realizing that true happiness lies in the way we climb the slope.

I have learned that when a newborn first squeezes his father’s finger in his tiny fist, he has caught him forever.

I have learned that a man only has the right to look down on another man when it is to help him to stand up. I have learned so many things from you, but in the end most of it will be no use because when they put me inside that suitcase, unfortunately I will be dying.

translated by Matthew Taylor and Rosa Arelis Taylor

Poem for March 27

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Source: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (Library of America, 1995)