15 Poetry Anthology
Dr. Karen Palmer
- How to Read Poetry
- Elements of Poetry
Poetry is written from the heart, and it speaks to the heart. Poetry allows us to hear another person’s voice in a beautiful way that can illuminate our own experiences, as well as create empathy for the different experiences of others. Please read THIS article, which is a captivating collection of memories shared of female poets. In addition, you might find THIS article,
Many a well-meaning English teacher has ruined poetry for students by making reading poetry a drawn out and difficult search for a hidden meaning. While some poetry does have some interesting hidden meaning, poets usually write a poem to express a feeling to an audience. When you read a poem, don’t try to dissect it, at least not at first. Instead, enjoy it first. How do you relate to the poem? Think about how you enjoy music, for example. Listen to the song, the music of poetry first, and then take some time to figure out the meaning. You can use the elements of poetry to help you with this.
I think you’ll enjoy this fun video by Isabella Wallace. Aside from the crazy strand of hair in her eyes, she makes some great points about the correlation between songs and poetry that I think will help take some of the scariness out of analyzing poetry. Plus, her accent is pretty fun to listen to.
When reading poetry, it’s important to keep in mind that every word counts. More so than in any other type of writing, it’s important to pay attention to the author’s use of words. Some general things to pay attention to:
- Word Choice–look for denotative vs connotative language and any unusual words/phrases. Think about how the meaning of a word may have changed over time–especially important when reading poetry from before your lifetime!
- Figurative language–look for imagery, metaphors and similes, personification, and allusion to other works/people/etc
- Music of poetry–pay attention to rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, and the general sound of the poem
Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans was the fourth of six Browne children (three boys and three girls) to survive infancy. Felicia was born in Liverpool, a granddaughter of the Venetian consul in that city. Her father’s business soon brought the family to Denbighshire in North Wales, where she spent her youth. They made their home near Abergele and St. Asaph (Flintshire), and it is clear that she came to regard herself as Welsh by adoption, later referring to Wales as “Land of my childhood, my home and my dead”.
Her first poems, dedicated to the Prince of Wales, were published in Liverpool in 1808, when she was only fourteen, arousing the interest of no less a person than Percy Shelley, who briefly corresponded with her. She quickly followed them up with “England and Spain”  and “The domestic affections”, published in 1812, the year of her marriage to Captain Alfred Hemans, an Irish army officer some years older than herself. The marriage took her away from Wales, to Daventry in Northamptonshire until 1814.
During their first six years of marriage, Felicia gave birth to five sons, including Charles Isidore Hemans, and then the couple separated. Marriage had not, however, prevented her from continuing her literary career, with several volumes of poetry being published by the respected firm of John Murray in the period after 1816, beginning with “The Restoration of the works of art to Italy” (1816) and “Modern Greece” (1817). “Tales and historic scenes” was the collection which came out in 1819, the year of their separation.
From 1831 onwards, she lived in Dublin, where her younger brother had settled, and her poetic output continued. Her major collections, including The Forest Sanctuary (1825), Records of Woman and Songs of the Affections (1830) were immensely popular, especially with female readers. Her last books, sacred and profane, are the substantive Scenes and Hymns of Life and National Lyrics, and Songs for Music. She was by now a well-known literary figure, highly regarded by contemporaries such as Wordsworth, and with a popular following in the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. When she died of dropsy, Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor composed memorial verses in her honor.
Felicia Hemans’ works appeared in nineteen individual books during her lifetime. After her death in 1835 they were republished widely, usually as collections of individual lyrics and not the longer, annotated works and integrated series that made up her books. For surviving women poets, she was a valued model, or (for Elizabeth Barrett Browning) a troubling predecessor; and for male poets including Tennyson and Longfellow, an influence less acknowledged. To many readers she offered a woman’s voice confiding a woman’s trials; to others a lyricism apparently consonant with Victorian chauvinism and sentimentality. In her most successful book, “Records of Woman” (1828), she chronicles the lives of women, both famous and anonymous.
Despite her illustrious admirers, her stature as a serious poet gradually declined, partly due to her success in the literary marketplace. Her poetry was considered morally exemplary, and was often assigned to schoolchildren; as a result, Hemans came to be seen a poet for children rather than taken seriously on the basis of her entire body of work.
Observations about Hemans
Hughes’s Memoir of Mrs. Hemans.
“The young poetess was then only fifteen; in the full glow of that radiant beauty which was destined to fade so early. The mantling bloom of her cheeks was shaded by a profusion of natural ringlets, of a rich golden brown, and the ever-varying expression of her brilliant eyes gave a changeful play to her countenance, which would have made it impossible for any painter to do justice to it. The recollection of what she was at that time, irresistibly suggests a quotation from Wordsworth’s graceful poetic picture:
Moir’s Memoirs of Mrs. Hemans.
“Mrs. Hemans was about the middle height, and rather slenderly made than otherwise. To a countenance of great intelligence and expression, she united manners alike unassuming and playful, and with a trust arising out of the purity of her own character—which was beyond the meanness of suspicion in others—she remained untainted by the breath of worldly guile.”
Rossetti’s Notice of Mrs. Hemans.
“An engraved portrait of her by the American artist William E. West—one of three which he painted in 1827, shows us that Mrs. Hemans, at the age of thirty-four, was eminently pleasing and good-looking, with an air of amiability and sprightly gentleness, and of confiding candour which, while none the less perfectly womanly, might almost be termed childlike in its limpid depth. The features are correct and harmonious; the eyes full; and the contour amply and elegantly rounded. In height she was neither tall nor short. A[Pg 127] sufficient wealth of naturally clustering hair, golden in early youth, but by this time of a rich auburn, shades the capacious but not over-developed forehead, and the lightly pencilled eyebrows. The bust and form have the fulness of a mature period of life; and it would appear that Mrs. Hemans was somewhat short-necked and high-shouldered, partly detracting from delicacy of proportion, and of general aspect of impression on the eye. We would rather judge of her by this portrait (which her sister pronounces a good likeness) than by another engraved in Mr. Chorley’s Memorials. This latter was executed in Dublin in 1831, by a young artist named Edward Robinson. It makes Mrs. Hemans look younger than in the earlier portrait by West, and may on that ground alone be surmised unfaithful, and, though younger, it also makes her heavier and less refined.”
Records of Women: With Other Poems
A brief selection of Heman’s work is included here. To read the entire book, published in 1828, click here.
Gertrude, or Fidelity Till Death
The Baron Von Der Wart, accused, though it is believed unjustly, as an accomplice in the assassination of the Emperor Albert, was bound alive on the wheel, and attended by his wife Gertrude, throughout his last agonizing hours, with the most heroic devotedness. Her own sufferings, with those of her unfortunate husband, are most affectingly described in a letter which she afterwards addressed to a female friend, and which was published some years ago, at Haarlem, in a book entitled “Gertrude Von Der Wart, or Fidelity unto Death.”
Dark lowers our fate,
And terrible the storm that gathers o’er us;
But nothing, till that latest agony
Which severs thee from nature, shall unloose
This fix’d and sacred hold. In thy dark prison-house,
In the terrific face of armed law,
Yea, on the scaffold, if it needs must be,
I never will forsake thee.
HER hands were clasp’d, her dark eyes rais’d,
The breeze threw back her hair;
Up to the fearful wheel she gaz’d–
All that she lov’d was there.
The night was round her clear and cold,
The holy heaven above,
Its pale stars watching to behold
The might of earthly love.
“And bid me not depart,” she cried,
“My Rudolph, say not so!
This is no time to quit thy side,
Peace, peace! I cannot go.
Hath the world aught for me to fear,
When death is on thy brow?
The world!–what means it?–mine is here–
I will not leave thee now.
“I have been with thee in thine hour
Of glory and of bliss;
Doubt not its memory’s living power
To strengthen me thro’ this!
And thou, mine honour’d love and true,
Bear on, bear nobly on!
We have the blessed heaven in view,
Whose rest shall soon be won.”
And were not these high words to flow
From woman’s breaking heart?
Thro’ all that night of bitterest woe
She bore her lofty part;
But oh! with such a glazing eye,
With such a curdling cheek–
Love, love! of mortal agony,
Thou, only thou, should’st speak!
The wind rose high–but with it rose
Her voice, that he might hear:
Perchance that dark hour brought repose
To happy bosoms near;
While she sat striving with despair
Beside his tortured form,
And pouring her deep soul in prayer
Forth on the rushing storm.
She wiped the death-damps from his brow
With her pale hands and soft,
Whose touch upon the lute-chords low
Had still’d his heart so oft.
She spread her mantle o’er his breast,
She bath’d his lips with dew,
And on his cheek such kisses press’d
As hope and joy ne’er knew.
Oh! lovely are ye, Love and Faith,
Enduring to the last!
She had her meed–one smile in death–
And his worn spirit pass’d.
While ev’n as o’er a martyr’s grave
She knelt on that sad spot,
And, weeping, bless’d the God who gave
Strength to forsake it not!
Indian Woman’s Death Song
An Indian woman, driven to despair by her husband’s desertion of her for another wife, entered a canoe with her children, and rowed it down the Mississippi towards a cataract. Her voice was heard from the shore singing a mournful death-song, until overpowered by the sound of the waters in which she perished. The tale is related in Long’s Expedition to the source of St. Peter’s River.
Non, je ne puis vivre avec un coeur brisé. Il faut que je retrouve la joie, et que je m’unisse aux esprits libres de l’air.
Bride of Messina,
Translated by MADAME DE STAËL.
Let not my child be a girl, for very sad is the life of a woman.
DOWN a broad river of the western wilds,
Piercing thick forest glooms, a light canoe
Swept with the current: fearful was the speed
Of the frail bark, as by a tempest’s wing
Borne leaf-like on to where the mist of spray
Rose with the cataract’s thunder.–Yet within,
Proudly, and dauntlessly, and all alone,
Save that a babe lay sleeping at her breast,
A woman stood. Upon her Indian brow
Sat a strange gladness, and her dark hair wav’d
As if triumphantly. She press’d her child,
In its bright slumber, to her beating heart,
And lifted her sweet voice that rose awhile
Above the sound of waters, high and clear,
Wafting a wild proud strain, her Song of Death.
Roll swiftly to the Spirit’s land, thou mighty stream and free!
Father of ancient waters, 5 roll! and bear our lives with thee!
The weary bird that storms have toss’d would seek the sunshine’s calm,
And the deer that hath the arrow’s hurt flies to the woods of balm.
Roll on!–my warrior’s eye hath look’d upon another’s face,
And mine hath faded from his soul, as fades a moonbeam’s trace;
My shadow comes not o’er his path, my whisper to his dream,
He flings away the broken reed–roll swifter yet, thou stream!
The voice that spoke of other days is hush’d within his breast,
But mine its lonely music haunts, and will not let me rest;
It sings a low and mournful song of gladness that is gone,–
I cannot live without that light–Father of waves! roll on!
Will he not miss the bounding step that met him from the chase?
The heart of love that made his home an ever sunny place?
The hand that spread the hunter’s board, and deck’d his couch of yore?–
He will not!–roll, dark foaming stream, on to the better shore!
Some blessed fount amidst the woods of that bright land must flow,
Whose waters from my soul may lave the memory of this wo;
Some gentle wind must whisper there, whose breath may waft away
The burden of the heavy night, the sadness of the day.
And thou, my babe! tho’ born, like me, for woman’s weary lot,
Smile!–to that wasting of the heart, my own! I leave thee not;
Too bright a thing art thou to pine in aching love away,
Thy mother bears thee far, young Fawn! from sorrow and decay.
She bears thee to the glorious bowers where none are heard to weep,
And where th’ unkind one hath no power again to trouble sleep;
And where the soul shall find its youth, as wakening from a dream,–
One moment, and that realm is ours.–On, on, dark rolling stream!
- Author biography adapted from “Felicia Dorothea Hemans” and used under the CC BY SA.
- “Observations about Hemans” from Word Portraits of Famous Writers, under the Public Domain.
- Records of Women: With Other Poems under Public Domain.
Charlotte Turner Smith was an English Romantic poet and novelist. She initiated a revival of the English sonnet, helped establish the conventions of Gothic fiction, and wrote political novels of sensibility.
Smith was born into a wealthy family and received a typical education for a woman during the late 18th century. However, her father’s reckless spending forced her to marry early. In a marriage that she later described as prostitution, she was given by her father to the violent and profligate Benjamin Smith. Their marriage was deeply unhappy, although they had twelve children together.
Charlotte joined Benjamin in debtor’s prison, where she wrote her first book of poetry, Elegiac Sonnets. Its success allowed her to help pay for Benjamin’s release. Benjamin’s father attempted to leave money to Charlotte and her children upon his death, but legal technicalities prevented her from ever acquiring it.
Charlotte Smith eventually left Benjamin and began writing to support their children. Smith’s struggle to provide for her children and her frustrated attempts to gain legal protection as a woman provided themes for her poetry and novels; she included portraits of herself and her family in her novels as well as details about her life in her prefaces. Her early novels are exercises in aesthetic development, particularly of the Gothic and sentimentality. Her later novels, including The Old Manor House, often considered her best, support the ideals of the French Revolution.
Smith was a successful writer, publishing ten novels, three books of poetry, four children’s books, and other assorted works, over the course of her career. She always saw herself as a poet first and foremost, however, as poetry was considered the most exalted form of literature at the time. Scholars credit Smith with transforming the sonnet into an expression of woeful sentiment that would pave the way for poets such as Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelly and Keats.
Read Turner’s novel Emmaline, Orphan of the Castle.
Listen to Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets and Other Poems.
Excerpts from Elegiac Sonnets.
Read the entire book here.
WRITTEN AT THE CLOSE OF SPRING.
THE garlands fade that Spring so lately wove,
Each simple flower, which she had nursed in dew,
Anemonies, that spangled every grove,
The primrose wan, and hare-bell mildly blue.
No more shall violets linger in the dell,
Or purple orchis variegate the plain,
Till Spring again shall call forth every bell,
And dress with humid hands her wreaths again.—
Ah! poor Humanity! so frail, so fair,
Are the fond visions of thy early day,
Till tyrant Passion and corrosive Care,
Bid all thy fairy colours fade away!
Another May new buds and flowers shall bring;
Ah! why has happiness——no second spring?
TO A FRIEND.
CHARM’D by thy suffrage, shall I yet aspire
(All inauspicious as my fate appears,
By troubles darken’d, that increase with years,)
To guide the crayon, or to touch the lyre?
Ah me!——the sister Muses still require
A spirit free from all intrusive fears,
Nor will they deign to wipe away the tears
Of vain regret, that dim their sacred fire.
But when thy envied sanction crowns my lays,
A ray of pleasure lights my languid mind,
For well I know the value of thy praise;
And to how few the flattering meed confin’d,
That thou,—their highly favour’d brows to bind,
Wilt weave green myrtle and unfading bays!
COMPOSED DURING A WALK ON THE DOWNS, IN NOVEMBER 1787.
THE dark and pillowy cloud, the sallow trees,
Seem o’er the ruins of the year to mourn;
And, cold and hollow, the inconstant breeze
Sobs thro’ the falling leaves and wither’d fern.
O’er the tall brow of yonger chalky bourn,
The evening shades their gather’d darkness fling,
While, by the lingering light, I scarce discern
The shrieking night-jar sail on heavy wing.
Ah! yet a little——and propitious Spring
Crown’d with fresh flowers shall wake the woodland strain;
But no gay change revolving seasons bring
To call forth pleasure from the soul of pain!
Bid Syren Hope resume her long-lost part,
And chase the vulture Care—that feeds upon the heart!
- Biography adapted from “Charlotte Turner Smith” and licensed under CC BY SA 3.0.
- Elegiac Sonnets in the Public Domain. Licensed under CC BY SA.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a poet who inspired devotion. In the present day, it is worth remembering that some poets were celebrities on the level of modern day actors and musicians, with fan followings, fan letters, and requests for autographs. The public admired her politics as well as her artistry; she wrote abolitionist poems, and works such as “The Cry of the Children” (1842) are believed to have created popular support for child labor laws passed in 1844.
One of her admirers was the poet Robert Browning: six years younger than she was and not yet famous. In his first letter to her in January 1845 (over five hundred of their letters survive), he declares his love not only of her poems, but of her. At that point, Elizabeth had been an invalid for years, for some time confined in her room by a controlling father who refused to allow any of his twelve children to marry. Twenty months later, Robert and Elizabeth eloped (her father disowned her), traveling to Italy, where Elizabeth recovered some of her health and gave birth to their son in 1849.
During those early years, the love poems that she wrote to Robert became Sonnets from the Portuguese; unlike her other poetry, Elizabeth was hesitant at first to admit that she wrote the passionate poems, originally claiming that she had simply translated them from a Portuguese collection. She continued to write on a full range of topics, including the most popular work in her lifetime, the verse-novel Aurora Leigh. She died after another bout of illness in Florence, Italy, in the arms of her husband.
Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Robert’s nickname for Elizabeth was “my little Portuguese,” making this collection all the sweeter. Sonnet 33 and 43 and the most famous of this collection of sonnets. Click here to read the rest of them.
Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips plied,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God—call God!—so let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
- Sonnets from the Portuguese is licensed under Public Domain.
- “Elizabeth Barrett Browning” adapted from Compact Anthology of World Literature II: Volume 5 and licensed under CC BY SA.
Now one of the best-known American poets, Emily Dickinson was not known during her lifetime; ten poems were published anonymously, and the rest were published after her death. Dickinson’s poetry resists easy categorization within literary movements. Traditionally Romantic themes such as nature and passion are presented in the startlingly direct—or even blunt—manner of Realism; while not truly Transcendentalist, the poems concern themselves with finding meaning in one’s self, rather than in material possessions or earthly concerns; her unconventional use of language, punctuation, and approximate rhyme (or “slant rhyme’) rejects traditional styles in the way that later Modernists would embrace. In fact, it was only with the advent of Modernism that Dickinson’s poems received the kind of widespread acclaim for their innovation and daring that would mark her as one of the most significant poets of the 19th century.
Although she spent most of her adult life in seclusion in her family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson maintained contact with the outside world through her letters, over a thousand of which have survived. After her death, Dickinson’s family published the almost 1800 poems that she had written; most of the poems were not titled, and editors have had to choose how to organize the poems.
The poems often use common meter as a starting point (a pattern of an eight syllable line followed by a six syllable line, sometimes referred to as hymn meter), but develop other patterns—or lack of pattern—from there.
Dickinson’s poems often surprise the reader: the poem “A Bird came down the Walk” begins with a Romantic subject—nature—but switches quickly to a slightly gross realism. Poems such as “Because I could not stop for Death” approach serious subjects with unexpected humor. Her unusual approaches to common themes such as love, death, nature, and identity remain engaging to readers to the present day.
Just a few of her 1500+ poems are included here. Visit here to read the rest.
The verses of Emily Dickinson belong emphatically to what Emerson long since called “the Poetry of the Portfolio,”—something produced absolutely without the thought of publication, and solely by way of expression of the writer’s own mind. Such verse must inevitably forfeit whatever advantage lies in the discipline of public criticism and the enforced conformity to accepted ways. On the other hand, it may often gain something through the habit of freedom and the unconventional utterance of daring thoughts. In the case of the present author, there was absolutely no choice in the matter; she must write thus, or not at all. A recluse by temperament and habit, literally spending years without setting her foot beyond the doorstep, and many more years during which her walks were strictly limited to her father’s grounds, she habitually concealed her mind, like her person, from all but a very few friends; and it was with great difficulty that she was persuaded to print, during her lifetime, three or four poems. Yet she wrote verses in great abundance; and though brought curiously indifferent to all conventional rules, had yet a rigorous literary standard of her own, and often altered a word many times to suit an ear which had its own tenacious fastidiousness.
Miss Dickinson was born in Amherst, Mass., Dec. 10, 1830, and died there May 15, 1886. Her father, Hon. Edward Dickinson, was the leading lawyer of Amherst, and was treasurer of the well-known college there situated. It was his custom once a year to hold a large reception at his house, attended by all the families connected with the institution and by the leading people of the town. On these occasions his daughter Emily emerged from her wonted retirement and did her part as gracious hostess; nor would any one have known from her manner, I have been told, that this was not a daily occurrence. The annual occasion once past, she withdrew again into her seclusion, and except for a very few friends was as invisible to the world as if she had dwelt in a nunnery. For myself, although I had corresponded with her for many years, I saw her but twice face to face, and brought away the impression of something as unique and remote as Undine or Mignon or Thekla.
This selection from her poems is published to meet the desire of her personal friends, and especially of her surviving sister. It is believed that the thoughtful reader will find in these pages a quality more suggestive of the poetry of William Blake than of anything to be elsewhere found,—flashes of wholly original and profound insight into nature and life; words and phrases exhibiting an extraordinary vividness of descriptive and imaginative power, yet often set in a seemingly whimsical or even rugged frame. They are here published as they were written, with very few and superficial changes; although it is fair to say that the titles have been assigned, almost invariably, by the editors. In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots, with rain and dew and earth still clinging to them, giving a freshness and a fragrance not otherwise to be conveyed. In other cases, as in the few poems of shipwreck or of mental conflict, we can only wonder at the gift of vivid imagination by which this recluse woman can delineate, by a few touches, the very crises of physical or mental struggle. And sometimes again we catch glimpses of a lyric strain, sustained perhaps but for a line or two at a time, and making the reader regret its sudden cessation. But the main quality of these poems is that of extraordinary grasp and insight, uttered with an uneven vigor sometimes exasperating, seemingly wayward, but really unsought and inevitable. After all, when a thought takes one’s breath away, a lesson on grammar seems an impertinence. As Ruskin wrote in his earlier and better days, “No weight nor mass nor beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought.”
—-Thomas Wentworth Higginson
[Published in “A Masque of Poets”
at the request of “H.H.,” the author’s
fellow-townswoman and friend.]
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,
As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear!
IN A LIBRARY.
A precious, mouldering pleasure ‘t is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,
His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.
His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;
What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty.
And Sophocles a man;
When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,
He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.
His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.
She rose to his requirement, dropped
The playthings of her life
To take the honorable work
Of woman and of wife.
If aught she missed in her new day
Of amplitude, or awe,
Or first prospective, or the gold
In using wore away,
It lay unmentioned, as the sea
Develops pearl and weed,
But only to himself is known
The fathoms they abide.
I’ve seen a dying eye
Run round and round a room
In search of something, as it seemed,
Then cloudier become;
And then, obscure with fog,
And then be soldered down,
Without disclosing what it be,
‘T were blessed to have seen.
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then ‘t is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.
A SERVICE OF SONG.
Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.
Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.
God preaches, — a noted clergyman, —
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I’m going all along!
The bee is not afraid of me,
I know the butterfly;
The pretty people in the woods
Receive me cordially.
The brooks laugh louder when I come,
The breezes madder play.
Wherefore, mine eyes, thy silver mists?
Wherefore, O summer’s day?
- Poems is licensed under Public Domain.
- “Emily Dickinson” adapted from Compact Anthology of World Literature II: Volume 5 and licensed under CC BY SA.
Christina Rossetti was born the youngest child in a famous and accomplished family of artists, poets and scholars. Educated at home, she was by nature reserved and pious, like her mother. A devout evangelical Christian, she rejected suitors she considered not sufficiently serious in their faith. She suffered from neuralgia and angina for much of her life and lived very quietly, working for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and writing mostly devotional poetry.
The long poem “Goblin Market” (1862) is Rossetti’s best known work and is markedly different in style and content from any of her other poems. Published in 1862 and illustrated by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the well-known Pre-Raphael poet, the poem was controversial from the first. While she informed her publisher that the poem was not intended for children, Rossetti often insisted in public that it was intended for children.
The plot of the long narrative poem is very similar to a fairy tale: the brave and steadfast sister, Lizzie, saves her impulsive sister Laura from a deadly enchantment that has resulted from Laura succumbing to the temptation of eating goblin fruit. The poem’s dark undertones of sexuality, commodification, and religious ritual have fascinated readers since its publication. Click here to read more of Rossetti’s work.
Watch a Film Adaptation of “Goblin Market”
Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
‘Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Swart-headed mulberries, 10
Wild free-born cranberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine, 20
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; 30
Come buy, come buy.’
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
‘Lie close,’ Laura said, 40
Pricking up her golden head:
‘We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?’
‘Come buy,’ call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
‘Oh,’ cried Lizzie, ‘Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.’
Lizzie covered up her eyes, 50
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
‘Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds weight.
How fair the vine must grow 60
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes.’
‘No,’ said Lizzie, ‘No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.’
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man. 70
One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather. 80
Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.
Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
‘Come buy, come buy.’ 90
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown 100
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
‘Come buy, come buy,’ was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-faced spoke a word 110
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried ‘Pretty Goblin’ still for ‘Pretty Polly;’—
One whistled like a bird.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
‘Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze 120
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.’
‘You have much gold upon your head,’
They answered all together:
‘Buy from us with a golden curl.’
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine, 130
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone. 140
Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
‘Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers 150
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago 160
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.’
‘Nay, hush,’ said Laura:
‘Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more:’ and kissed her:
‘Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow 170
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead 180
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap.’
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory 190
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars gazed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.
Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning, 200
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart, 210
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night.
At length slow evening came:
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep;
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags, 220
Then turning homeward said: ‘The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.’
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.
And said the hour was early still
The dew not fall’n, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching 230
The customary cry,
‘Come buy, come buy,’
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single, 240
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
Till Lizzie urged, ‘O Laura, come;
I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glowworm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark:
For clouds may gather
Though this is summer weather, 250
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?’
Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
‘Come buy our fruits, come buy.’
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root: 260
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.
Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain 270
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
‘Come buy, come buy;’—
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and burn
Her fire away. 280
One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth 290
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.
Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care 300
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
‘Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:’—
Beside the brook, along the glen,
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her, 310
But feared to pay too dear.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest Winter time
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp Winter time.
Till Laura dwindling 320
Seemed knocking at Death’s door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse;
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook:
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.
Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping: 330
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Cat-like and rat-like, 340
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
Hugged her and kissed her:
Squeezed and caressed her:
Stretched up their dishes, 350
Panniers, and plates:
‘Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs; 360
Pluck them and suck them,
‘Good folk,’ said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie:
‘Give me much and many:’—
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
‘Nay, take a seat with us,
Honour and eat with us,’
They answered grinning: 370
‘Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavour would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us, 380
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us.’—
‘Thank you,’ said Lizzie: ‘But one waits
At home alone for me:
So without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee.’—
They began to scratch their pates, 390
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her, 400
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.
White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,—
Like a rock of blue-veined stone 410
Lashed by tides obstreperously,—
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,—
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee,—
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet 420
Mad to tug her standard down.
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word; 430
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took, 440
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.
In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore thro’ the furze, 450
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse,—
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear; 460
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.
She cried ‘Laura,’ up the garden,
‘Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew. 470
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.’
Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
‘Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden, 480
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin,
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?’—
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth; 490
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.
Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch 500
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame;
She gorged on bitterness without a name: 510
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Like a foam-topped waterspout
Cast down headlong in the sea, 520
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?
Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves, 530
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey, 540
Her breath was sweet as May
And light danced in her eyes.
Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone 550
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town:)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands 560
Would bid them cling together,
‘For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.’
- “Goblin Market” is licensed under Public Domain.
- “Christina Rossetti” adapted from Compact Anthology of World Literature II: Volume 5 and licensed under CC BY SA.
Gertrude Stein , an American modernist writer, is often viewed as one of the principal leaders and catalysts of the modernist movement in American literature. Stein became the figurehead for the entire “Lost Generation” of American expatriate artists and writers who lived in France during the period between the First and Second World Wars. Her influence, both directly as a writer and indirectly as a patron and supporter of her fellow artists, was inestimable in the development of American literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Among those whom Stein took under her wing were novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, poets such as Ezra Pound, and artists such as Pablo Picasso.
By bringing a number of disaffected artists and writers together within her large social circle, Stein directly assisted in the rapid development of new and experimental ideas in both literature and the visual arts. Moreover, Stein’s fiction, which is among the most abstract and formally innovative of all Modernist writing, would directly inspire a number of her contemporaries to continue their own experiments with form and content that would collectively revolutionize the landscape of twentieth-century literature. Although Stein’s works are not as famous or as widely taught as those of some of her colleagues and contemporaries, she is nevertheless acknowledged as one of the seminal influences in the history of twentieth-century American fiction.
After moving to Paris in 1903, Stein started to write in earnest: novels, plays, stories, libretti, and poems. Increasingly, she developed her own highly idiosyncratic, playful, occasionally repetitive, and sometimes humorous style. Typical quotes are:
- “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
- “Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle.”
- “The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable.”
These stream-of-consciousness experiments, rhythmical word-paintings or “portraits,” were designed to evoke “the excitingness of pure being” and can be seen as an answer to cubism in literature. Many of the experimental works such as Tender Buttons have since been interpreted by critics as a feminist reworking of patriarchal language. These works were loved by the avant-garde, but mainstream success initially remained elusive.
Though Stein influenced authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Richard Wright, her work has often been misunderstood. In 1932, using an accessible style to accommodate the ordinary reading public, she wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; the book would become her first best-seller. Despite the title, it was really her own autobiography.
Read Tender Buttons here.
Here’s a video of Stein reading “If I Had Told Him…”
Following are a few poems from Geography and Plays. Read the entire selection, which includes short stories and plays, here.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado which is a told tray sure.
A lean on the shoe this means slips slips hers.
When the ancient light grey is clean it is yellow, it is a silver seller.
This is a please this is a please there are the saids to jelly. These are the wets these say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
Incy is short for incubus.
A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must.
Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink has pins. It shows a nail.
What is a nail. A nail is unison.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Sun never sets.
Napoleon the third, cathedral.
Pope’s prayers for peace.
Pins and needles ship.
A POEM ABOUT WALBERG
What I am afraid of is that they will just attract an awful bombardment on themselves in which they will have to be supported. Oh no they won’t do that.
I don’t think they will do that. What I think is that I will have to reach the country before I ask myself the way to see the city. I don’t mean this as a joke. I know very well that I know all about nurses. Who doesn’t. And who would like to see children win. I love my boy very much. His mother feeds him. I can smile and think of it. We both laugh together. Altogether I have said to them keep still.
Curtains a japanese curtain.
I never use a pass.
Of course you wouldn’t.
You wouldn’t be careful enough. I don’t mean that.
How can I hear him speak. You don’t mean a victim. Eugene Paul. What is Walberg’s name.
I don’t care for him.
I am not sorry for her.
I do not have flowers here.
Let me see. What do you say. They can take care of riches. Kiss my hand. Why. Because Russians are rich. All Russians are valuable. That is what I said.
I wish I could be as funny as he is.
Yes thank you I believe in Russia.
Schüler was born in Elberfeld, now a district of Wuppertal. Her mother, Jeannette Schüler (née Kissing) was a central figure in her poetry; the main character of her play Die Wupper was inspired by her father, Aaron Schüler, a Jewish banker. Her brother Paul died when she was 13.
Else was considered a child prodigy because she could read and write at the age of four. From 1880 she attended the Lyceum West an der Aue. After dropping out of school, she received private lessons at her parents’ home.
In 1894, Else married the physician and occasional chess player Jonathan Berthold Lasker (the elder brother of Emanuel Lasker, a World Chess Champion) and moved with him to Berlin, where she trained as an artist. On 27 July 1890 her mother died, her father followed 7 years later. On August 24, 1899, her son Paul was born and her first poems were published.
She published her first full volume of poetry, Styx, three years later, in 1902. On 11 April 1903, she and Berthold Lasker divorced and on 30 November, she married Georg Lewin, artist, and founder of the Expressionist magazine Der Sturm. His pseudonym, Herwarth Walden, was her invention.
Lasker-Schüler’s first prose work, Das Peter-Hille-Buch, was published in 1906, after the death of Hille, one of her closest friends. In 1907, she published the prose collection Die Nächte der Tino von Bagdad, followed by the play Die Wupper in 1909, which was not performed until later. A volume of poetry called Meine Wunder, published in 1911, established Lasker-Schüler as the leading female representative of German expressionism.
After separating from Herwarth Walden in 1910 and divorcing him in 1912, she found herself penniless and dependent on the financial support of her friends, in particular Karl Kraus. In 1912, she met Gottfried Benn. An intense friendship developed between them which found its literary outlet in a large number of love poems dedicated to him.
Despite winning the Kleist Prize in 1932, as a Jew she was physically harassed and threatened by the Nazis, She emigrated to Zürich but there, too, she could not work and subsequently went to the Holy Land in 1934, and finally settled in Jerusalem in 1937. In 1938 she was stripped of her German citizenship and the outbreak of World War II prevented any return to Europe.
In her final years, Lasker-Schüler worked on her drama IchundIch (IandI), which remained a fragment. However, she finished her volume of poems, Mein Blaues Klavier (1943, My Blue Piano), printed in a limited edition of 330 copies.
In 1944 Lasker-Schüler’s health deteriorated. She suffered a heart attack on January 16, and died in Jerusalem on January 22, 1945. She was buried on the Mount of Olives.
For more reading, here’s an interesting article from the Jewish Women’s Archive.
Selected Works from Book of Gesichte (Faces)
The book is available in German here. The following poems have been translated using Google Translate.
Albert Heine – Herod V. elevator.
We went down behind your proud, eternal eyelash,
Moody stars burned on your lid.
Your big hand bent the sea
And broke the pearls from the bottom.
The desert was your shield
In the battle.
Only poets can think of you,
Only mourn kings and queens with you.
All bodies in the city curl up
Toxic around your body.
Your sister spat on the dream stone of your love.
You, a robbed palace,
Judas swaying pillar,
Only a creator likes so badly
His empire burst.
It’s made of gold –
When he steps on stage
She lights up.
His hand is a scepter
When she directs.
The funeral games of Strindberg
He puts on crowns,
From Ibsen’s seals
Does he get the black pearls all.
He can only play the king himself
In the game.
Tomorrow he will be king –
I’m looking forward.
- Biography adapted from “Else Lasker-Schüler” and licensed under CC SA.
- Text Book of Gesichte under Public Domain.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was a lyrical poet and playwright and the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. During her own time, Millay was almost as famous for her unusual, Bohemian lifestyle and opinions on social matters as she was for her actual poetry. During much of her career she lived the life of a minor celebrity. In time, however, critical estimation of her poetry has caught up with her celebrity, and in recent decades it has become increasingly clear just how important Millay is for the history of early twentieth-century American literature.
Millay lived and wrote during the early decades of the twentieth-century, a period in which the literary Modernism of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound dominated American poetry. Millay, however, was a distinctly un-Modern poet whose works have much more in common with those of Robert Frost or Thomas Hardy; her poetry is always formal, masterfully written to the strictures of rhyme and meter.
During her lifetime, a number of poets and critics argued fiercely over the form poetry should take in the rapidly changing times of the twentieth-century; Millay, for her part, was not particularly vocal in these debates because her works speak for themselves.
Millay rose to fame with her poem “Renascence” (1912), and on the strength of this poem alone she was awarded a scholarship to Vassar College. After her graduation in 1917, she moved to New York City. “Renascence” provides a glimpse at Millay’s early style, which would remain largely unchanged as her technique matured to perfection.
In New York, Millay lived in Greenwich Village. Millay spent a number of years continuing to write poetry; to support herself financially she wrote hack-work for newspapers under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd. She published Renascence along with a number of other poems in 1917, but her great breakthrough would be in in 1923 when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with the publication of The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems. “The Harp-Weaver” is still considered one of Millay’s most memorable poems; like Renascence, the poem is written in a simple, lyrical style that includes a number of highly symbolical sequences and extended metaphors.
Millay proved that the old forms could retain their validity in a changing world. Her sonnets are often considered to be the finest written in the twentieth-century, and her short, lyrical poems are unrivaled for their elegance and musicality.
Millay’s influence extends to a number of poets of the latter twentieth-century, Elizabeth Bishop notably among them. Millay’s poetry provides a glimpse at another form of poetry, full of sweetness and light, that remained stable and clear throughout the turmoil of Modernism.
Edna St. Vincent Millay reads “Love is Not All”:
Selected Poems from The Harp-Weaver
Read the full collection here.
THE BALLAD OF THE HARP-WEAVER
“Son,” said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
“You’ve need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.
“There’s nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.
“There’s nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
Nobody will buy,”
And she began to cry.
That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you
Makes your mother’s blood crawl,–
“Little skinny shoulder-blades
Sticking through your clothes!
And where you’ll get a jacket from
God above knows.
“It’s lucky for me, lad,
Your daddy’s in the ground,
And can’t see the way I let
His son go around!”
And she made a queer sound.
That was in the late fall.
When the winter came,
I’d not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.
I couldn’t go to school,
Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
Passed our way.
“Son,” said my mother,
“Come, climb into my lap,
And I’ll chafe your little bones
While you take a nap.”
And, oh, but we were silly
For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
Dragging on the floor,
To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hour’s time!
But there was I, a great boy,
And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
To sleep all day,
In such a daft way?
Men say the winter
Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
And food was dear.
A wind with a wolf’s head
Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
And sat upon the floor.
All that was left us
Was a chair we couldn’t break,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Nobody would take,
For song or pity’s sake.
The night before Christmas
I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
Like a two-year-old.
And in the deep night
I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
With love in her eyes.
I saw my mother sitting
On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
From I couldn’t tell where,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Leaned against her shoulder.
Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Many bright threads,
From where I couldn’t see,
Were running through the harp-strings
And gold threads whistling
Through my mother’s hand.
I saw the web grow,
And the pattern expand.
She wove a child’s jacket,
And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
And wove another one.
She wove a red cloak
So regal to see,
“She’s made it for a king’s son,”
I said, “and not for me.”
But I knew it was for me.
She wove a pair of breeches
Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
And a little cocked hat.
She wove a pair of mittens,
She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
In the still, cold house.
She sang as she worked,
And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke.
And when I awoke,–
There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder,
And not a day older,
A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
And piled up beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
Just my size.
IV-III LOVE IS NOT BLIND
Love is not blind. I see with single eye
Your ugliness and other women’s grace.
I know the imperfection of your face,–
The eyes too wide apart, the brow too high
For beauty. Learned from earliest youth am I
In loveliness, and cannot so erase
Its letters from my mind, that I may trace
You faultless, I must love until I die.
More subtle is the sovereignty of love:
So am I caught that when I say, “Not fair,”
‘Tis but as if I said, “Not here–not there–
Not risen–not writing letters.” Well I know
What is this beauty men are babbling of;
I wonder only why they prize it so.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay adapted from New World Encyclopedia and licensed under CC BY 3.0.
- Poetry licensed under the Public Domain.
Joy Harjo (born in Tulsa, Oklahoma) is a critically acclaimed poet and musician, drawing on American Indian history and storytelling tradition. She is a member of the Mvskoke (aka. Muscogee, or Creek) nation; her father was a member of the Mvskoke tribe, and her mother was Cherokee, French, and Irish.
In her work, she incorporates the history, myths, and beliefs of Native America (Creek in particular) as well as ideas that concern feminism, imperialism and colonization, contemporary America, and the contemporary world. Related to Native American storytelling is a sense of all things being connected, which often shapes her work. Inspired by the evolving nature of oral storytelling and ceremonial tradition, she integrates various forms of music, performance, and dance into her poetry, and has released award-winning CDs of original music.
Her first volume of poetry was The Last Song (1975), and her other books of poetry include How We Became Human—New and Selected Poems (2004), The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (1994), and She Had Some Horses (1983). Her CD releases include Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears (2010), and Winding Through the Milky Way (2008).
Harjo was selected Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019.
Visit here to read more about Joy Harjo’s and to read her work.
- “Joy Harjo” adapted from Compact Anthology of World Literature II: Volume 6 and licensed under CC BY SA.
Sarojini Naidu was born Sarojini Chattapadhyay. She received her education from the University of Madras at King’s College, London. She would go on to study at Girton College, Cambridge. During her time in England, she became familiar with the suffragist movement, and she continued her political interests in India. She became the first women to be president of the Indian National Congress and appointed Indian state governor.
She was a political activist, feminist, and poet. Her writing was very influential an attracted many leading intellectuals to her salon in Bombay. She went on to become a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1914. The Golden Threshold (1905) was the first of three volumes of poetry she published. Due to the musical quality of her work, which critics have compared to Walt Whitman and the Song of Solomon, she has been given the title the Nightingale of India.
It is at my persuasion that these poems are now published. The earliest of them were read to me in London in 1896, when the writer was seventeen; the later ones were sent to me from India in 1904, when she was twenty-five; and they belong, I think, almost wholly to those two periods. As they seemed to me to have an individual beauty of their own, I thought they ought to be published. The writer hesitated. “Your letter made me very proud and very sad,” she wrote. “Is it possible that I have written verses that are ‘filled with beauty,’ and is it possible that you really think them worthy of being given to the world? You know how high my ideal of Art is; and to me my poor casual little poems seem to be less than beautiful—I mean with that final enduring beauty that I desire.” And, in another letter, she writes: “I am not a poet really. I have the vision and the desire, but not the voice. If I could write just one poem full of beauty and the spirit of greatness, I should be exultantly silent for ever; but I sing just as the birds do, and my songs are as ephemeral.” It is for this bird-like quality of song, it seems to me, that they are to be valued. They hint, in a sort of delicately evasive way, at a rare temperament, the temperament of a woman of the East, finding expression through a Western language and under partly Western influences. They do not express the whole of that temperament; but they express, I think, its essence; and there is an Eastern magic in them.
Sarojini Chattopadhyay was born at Hyderabad on February 13, 1879. Her father, Dr. Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, is descended from the ancient family of Chattorajes of Bhramangram, who were noted throughout Eastern Bengal as patrons of Sanskrit learning, and for their practice of Yoga. He took his degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Edinburgh in 1877, and afterwards studied brilliantly at Bonn. On his return to India he founded the Nizam College at Hyderabad, and has since laboured incessantly, and at great personal sacrifice, in the cause of education.
Sarojini was the eldest of a large family, all of whom were taught English at an early age. “I,” she writes, “was stubborn and refused to speak it. So one day when I was nine years old my father punished me—the only time I was ever punished—by shutting me in a room alone for a whole day. I came out of it a full-blown linguist. I have never spoken any other language to him, or to my mother, who always speaks to me in Hindustani. I don’t think I had any special hankering to write poetry as a little child, though I was of a very fanciful and dreamy nature. My training under my father’s eye was of a sternly scientific character. He was determined that I should be a great mathematician or a scientist, but the poetic instinct, which I inherited from him and also from my mother (who wrote some lovely Bengali lyrics in her youth) proved stronger. One day, when I was eleven, I was sighing over a sum in algebra: it WOULDN’T come right; but instead a whole poem came to me suddenly. I wrote it down.
“From that day my ‘poetic career’ began. At thirteen I wrote a long poem a la ‘Lady of the Lake’—1300 lines in six days. At thirteen I wrote a drama of 2000 lines, a full-fledged passionate thing that I began on the spur of the moment without forethought, just to spite my doctor who said I was very ill and must not touch a book. My health broke down permanently about this time, and my regular studies being stopped I read voraciously. I suppose the greater part of my reading was done between fourteen and sixteen. I wrote a novel, I wrote fat volumes of journals; I took myself very seriously in those days.”
Before she was fifteen the great struggle of her life began. Dr. Govindurajulu Naidu, now her husband, is, though of an old and honourable family, not a Brahmin. The difference of caste roused an equal opposition, not only on the side of her family, but of his; and in 1895 she was sent to England, against her will, with a special scholarship from the Nizam. She remained in England, with an interval of travel in Italy, till 1898, studying first at King’s College, London, then, till her health again broke down, at Girton. She returned to Hyderabad in September 1898, and in the December of that year, to the scandal of all India, broke through the bonds of caste, and married Dr. Naidu. “Do you know I have some very beautiful poems floating in the air,” she wrote to me in 1904; “and if the gods are kind I shall cast my soul like a net and capture them, this year. If the gods are kind—and grant me a little measure of health. It is all I need to make my life perfect, for the very ‘Spirit of Delight’ that Shelley wrote of dwells in my little home; it is full of the music of birds in the garden and children in the long arched verandah.” There are songs about the children in this book; they are called the Lord of Battles, the Sun of Victory, the Lotus-born, and the Jewel of Delight.
“My ancestors for thousands of years,” I find written in one of her letters, “have been lovers of the forest and mountain caves, great dreamers, great scholars, great ascetics. My father is a dreamer himself, a great dreamer, a great man whose life has been a magnificent failure. I suppose in the whole of India there are few men whose learning is greater than his, and I don’t think there are many men more beloved. He has a great white beard and the profile of Homer, and a laugh that brings the roof down. He has wasted all his money on two great objects: to help others, and on alchemy. He holds huge courts every day in his garden of all the learned men of all religions—Rajahs and beggars and saints and downright villains all delightfully mixed up, and all treated as one. And then his alchemy! Oh dear, night and day the experiments are going on, and every man who brings a new prescription is welcome as a brother. But this alchemy is, you know, only the material counterpart of a poet’s craving for Beauty, the eternal Beauty. ‘The makers of gold and the makers of verse,’ they are the twin creators that sway the world’s secret desire for mystery; and what in my father is the genius of curiosity—the very essence of all scientific genius—in me is the desire for beauty. Do you remember Pater’s phrase about Leonardo da Vinci, ‘curiosity and the desire of beauty’?”
It was the desire of beauty that made her a poet; her “nerves of delight” were always quivering at the contact of beauty. To those who knew her in England, all the life of the tiny figure seemed to concentrate itself in the eyes; they turned towards beauty as the sunflower turns towards the sun, opening wider and wider until one saw nothing but the eyes.
She was dressed always in clinging dresses of Eastern silk, and as she was so small, and her long black hair hung straight down her back, you might have taken her for a child. She spoke little, and in a low voice, like gentle music; and she seemed, wherever she was, to be alone.
Through that soul I seemed to touch and take hold upon the East. And first there was the wisdom of the East. I have never known any one who seemed to exist on such “large draughts of intellectual day” as this child of seventeen, to whom one could tell all one’s personal troubles and agitations, as to a wise old woman. In the East, maturity comes early; and this child had already lived through all a woman’s life. But there was something else, something hardly personal, something which belonged to a consciousness older than the Christian, which I realised, wondered at, and admired, in her passionate tranquillity of mind, before which everything mean and trivial and temporary caught fire and burnt away in smoke. Her body was never without suffering, or her heart without conflict; but neither the body’s weakness nor the heart’s violence could disturb that fixed contemplation, as of Buddha on his lotus-throne.
And along with this wisdom, as of age or of the age of a race, there was what I can hardly call less than an agony of sensation. Pain or pleasure transported her, and the whole of pain or pleasure might be held in a flower’s cup or the imagined frown of a friend. It was never found in those things which to others seemed things of importance. At the age of twelve she passed the Matriculation of the Madras University, and awoke to find herself famous throughout India. “Honestly,” she said to me, “I was not pleased; such things did not appeal to me.” But here, in a letter from Hyderabad, bidding one “share a March morning” with her, there is, at the mere contact of the sun, this outburst: “Come and share my exquisite March morning with me: this sumptuous blaze of gold and sapphire sky; these scarlet lilies that adorn the sunshine; the voluptuous scents of neem and champak and serisha that beat upon the languid air with their implacable sweetness; the thousand little gold and blue and silver breasted birds bursting with the shrill ecstasy of life in nesting time. All is hot and fierce and passionate, ardent and unashamed in its exulting and importunate desire for life and love. And, do you know that the scarlet lilies are woven petal by petal from my heart’s blood, these little quivering birds are my soul made incarnate music, these heavy perfumes are my emotions dissolved into aerial essence, this flaming blue and gold sky is the ‘very me,’ that part of me that incessantly and insolently, yes, and a little deliberately, triumphs over that other part—a thing of nerves and tissues that suffers and cries out, and that must die to-morrow perhaps, or twenty years hence.”
Then there was her humour, which was part of her strange wisdom, and was always awake and on the watch. In all her letters, written in exquisite English prose, but with an ardent imagery and a vehement sincerity of emotion which make them, like the poems, indeed almost more directly, un-English, Oriental, there was always this intellectual, critical sense of humour, which could laugh at one’s own enthusiasm as frankly as that enthusiasm had been set down. And partly the humour, like the delicate reserve of her manner, was a mask or a shelter. “I have taught myself,” she writes to me from India, “to be commonplace and like everybody else superficially. Every one thinks I am so nice and cheerful, so ‘brave,’ all the banal things that are so comfortable to be. My mother knows me only as ‘such a tranquil child, but so strong-willed.’ A tranquil child!” And she writes again, with deeper significance: “I too have learnt the subtle philosophy of living from moment to moment. Yes, it is a subtle philosophy, though it appears merely an epicurean doctrine: ‘Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die.’ I have gone through so many yesterdays when I strove with Death that I have realised to its full the wisdom of that sentence; and it is to me not merely a figure of speech, but a literal fact. Any to-morrow I might die. It is scarcely two months since I came back from the grave: is it worth while to be anything but radiantly glad? Of all things that life or perhaps my temperament has given me I prize the gift of laughter as beyond price.”
Her desire, always, was to be “a wild free thing of the air like the birds, with a song in my heart.” A spirit of too much fire in too frail a body, it was rarely that her desire was fully granted. But in Italy she found what she could not find in England, and from Italy her letters are radiant. “This Italy is made of gold,” she writes from Florence, “the gold of dawn and daylight, the gold of the stars, and, now dancing in weird enchanting rhythms through this magic month of May, the gold of fireflies in the perfumed darkness—’aerial gold.’ I long to catch the subtle music of their fairy dances and make a poem with a rhythm like the quick irregular wild flash of their sudden movements. Would it not be wonderful? One black night I stood in a garden with fireflies in my hair like darting restless stars caught in a mesh of darkness. It gave me a strange sensation, as if I were not human at all, but an elfin spirit. I wonder why these little things move me so deeply? It is because I have a most ‘unbalanced intellect,’ I suppose.” Then, looking out on Florence, she cries, “God! how beautiful it is, and how glad I am that I am alive to-day!” And she tells me that she is drinking in the beauty like wine, “wine, golden and scented, and shining, fit for the gods; and the gods have drunk it, the dead gods of Etruria, two thousand years ago. Did I say dead? No, for the gods are immortal, and one might still find them loitering in some solitary dell on the grey hillsides of Fiesole. Have I seen them? Yes, looking with dreaming eyes, I have found them sitting under the olives, in their grave, strong, antique beauty—Etruscan gods!”
In Italy she watches the faces of the monks, and at one moment longs to attain to their peace by renunciation, longs for Nirvana; “then, when one comes out again into the hot sunshine that warms one’s blood, and sees the eager hurrying faces of men and women in the street, dramatic faces over which the disturbing experiences of life have passed and left their symbols, one’s heart thrills up into one’s throat. No, no, no, a thousand times no! how can one deliberately renounce this coloured, unquiet, fiery human life of the earth?” And, all the time, her subtle criticism is alert, and this woman of the East marvels at the women of the West, “the beautiful worldly women of the West,” whom she sees walking in the Cascine, “taking the air so consciously attractive in their brilliant toilettes, in the brilliant coquetry of their manner!” She finds them “a little incomprehensible,” “profound artists in all the subtle intricacies of fascination,” and asks if these “incalculable frivolities and vanities and coquetries and caprices” are, to us, an essential part of their charm? And she watches them with amusement as they flutter about her, petting her as if she were a nice child, a child or a toy, not dreaming that she is saying to herself sorrowfully: “How utterly empty their lives must be of all spiritual beauty IF they are nothing more than they appear to be.”
She sat in our midst, and judged us, and few knew what was passing behind that face “like an awakening soul,” to use one of her own epithets. Her eyes were like deep pools, and you seemed to fall through them into depths below depths.
The following are just three of the poems included in The Golden Threshold. Click here to read more.
Lightly, O lightly we bear her along,
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song;
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream,
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.
Gaily, O gaily we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
Softly, O softly we bear her along,
She hangs like a star in the dew of our song;
She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide,
She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride.
Lightly, O lightly we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
(Written to one of their Tunes)
Where the voice of the wind calls our wandering feet,
Through echoing forest and echoing street,
With lutes in our hands ever-singing we roam,
All men are our kindred, the world is our home.
Our lays are of cities whose lustre is shed,
The laughter and beauty of women long dead;
The sword of old battles, the crown of old kings,
And happy and simple and sorrowful things.
What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall we sow?
Where the wind calls our wandering footsteps we go.
No love bids us tarry, no joy bids us wait:
The voice of the wind is the voice of our fate.
Weavers, weaving at break of day,
Why do you weave a garment so gay? . . .
Blue as the wing of a halcyon wild,
We weave the robes of a new-born child.
Weavers, weaving at fall of night,
Why do you weave a garment so bright? . . .
Like the plumes of a peacock, purple and green,
We weave the marriage-veils of a queen.
Weavers, weaving solemn and still,
What do you weave in the moonlight chill? . . .
White as a feather and white as a cloud,
We weave a dead man’s funeral shroud.
- Golden Threshold is licensed under Public Domain.
- “Sarojini Naidu” adapted from Compact Anthology of World Literature II: Volume 6 and licensed under CC BY SA.
Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969) which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Angelou recited her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. She was highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees.
Angelou’s first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing, describes her early life and her experience of confronting racism, a central feature of her work. She used the caged bird as a metaphor for the imprisoning nature of racial bigotry on her life.
At the time of her death, tributes to Angelou and condolences were paid by artists, entertainers, and world leaders, including President Barack Obama, whose sister had been named after Angelou, and former President Bill Clinton. Harold Augenbraum, from the National Book Foundation, said that Angelou’s “legacy is one that all writers and readers across the world can admire and aspire to.”
Angelou has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors include a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me A Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Bantam Books, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List. She has served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008. She has been awarded over 30 honorary degrees. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Interview with Oprah Winfrey “Caged Bird”:
Read “Caged Bird.”
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Film:
Read “Phenomenal Woman”
Listen to Maya Angelou recite “Phenomenal Woman”:
Marge Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Bert (Bunnin) Piercy and Robert Piercy. While her father was presbyterian, she was raised Jewish by her mother and maternal grandmother who gave Piercy the Hebrew name of Marah.
On her childhood and Jewish identity, Piercy said: “Jews and blacks were always lumped together when I grew up. I didn’t grow up ‘white.’ Jews weren’t white. My first boyfriend was black. I didn’t find out I was white until we spent time in Baltimore and I went to a segregated high school. I can’t express how weird it was. Then I just figured they didn’t know I was Jewish.”
An indifferent student in her early childhood, Piercy developed a love of books when she came down with the German measles and rheumatic fever in her mid-childhood and could do little but read.
Upon graduation from Mackenzie High School, Piercy became the first in her family to attend college, studying at the University of Michigan. Winning a Hopwood Award for Poetry and Fiction (1957) enabled her to finish college and spend some time in France. She earned a M.A. from Northwestern University in 1958.
After graduating college, Piercy and her first husband went to France, then returned to the United States. Living in Chicago, she supported herself working various part time jobs while unsuccessfully trying to get her novels published. It was during this time that Piercy realized she wanted to write fiction that focused on politics, feminism, and working-class people. In 1968, Piercy’s first book of poetry, Breaking Camp, was published, and her first novel was accepted for publication that same year.
Piercy was involved in the civil rights movement, New Left, and Students for a Democratic Society. She is a feminist, environmentalist, marxist, social, and anti-war activist.
In 1977, Piercy became an associate of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP), an American nonprofit publishing organization that works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.
Piercy is the author of more than seventeen volumes of poems, among them The Moon Is Always Female (1980, considered a feminist classic) and The Art of Blessing the Day (1999). She has published fifteen novels, one play (The Last White Class, co-authored with her current (and third) husband Ira Wood), one collection of essays (Parti-colored Blocks for a Quilt), one non-fiction book, and one memoir.
Her novels and poetry often focus on feminist or social concerns, although her settings vary. While Body of Glass (published in the US as He, She and It) is a science fiction novel that won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, City of Darkness, City of Light is set during the French Revolution. Other novels, such as Summer People and The Longings of Women are set during modern times. All of her books share a focus on women’s lives.
Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) mixes a time travel story with issues of social justice, feminism, and the treatment of the mentally ill. This novel is considered a classic of utopian “speculative” science fiction as well as a feminist classic. William Gibson has credited Woman on the Edge of Time as the birthplace of Cyberpunk, as Piercy mentions in an introduction to Body of Glass.
Many of Piercy’s novels tell their stories from the viewpoints of multiple characters, often including a first-person voice among numerous third-person narratives. Piercy’s poetry tends to be highly personal free verse and often centered on feminist and social issues. Her work shows commitment to social change—what she might call, in Judaic terms, tikkun olam, or the repair of the world). It is rooted in story, the wheel of the Jewish year, and a range of landscapes and settings.
Visit Marge Piercy’s website.
Read “Connections” here.
Piercy reading “To Be of Use”
Read “To Be of Use” here.
Read “Barbie Doll” here.
Read “What are Big Girls Made of” here.
Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and feminist.
Her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by renowned poet W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. Auden went on to write the introduction to the published volume. She famously declined the National Medal of Arts, protesting the vote by House Speaker Newt Gingrich to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1953, Rich married Alfred Haskell Conrad, an economics professor at Harvard University she met as an undergraduate. They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had three sons. In 1955, she published her second volume, The Diamond Cutters, a collection she said she wished had not been published. That year she also received the Ridgely Torrence Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.
The 1960s began a period of change in Rich’s life: she received the National Institute of Arts and Letters award (1960), her second Guggenheim Fellowship to work at the Netherlands Economic Institute (1961), and the Bollingen Foundation grant for the translation of Dutch poetry (1962). In 1963, Rich published her third collection, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, which was a much more personal work examining her female identity, reflecting the increasing tensions she experienced as a wife and mother in the 1950s, marking a substantial change in Rich’s style and subject matter.
Moving her family to New York in 1966, Rich became involved with the New Left and became heavily involved in anti-war, civil rights, and feminist activism. Her husband took a teaching position at City College of New York. In 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. Her collections from this period include Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971), which reflect increasingly radical political content and interest in poetic form.
In 1971, she was the recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and spent the next year and a half teaching at Brandeis University. Diving into the Wreck, a collection of exploratory and often angry poems, split the 1974 National Book Award for Poetry with Allen Ginsberg. Declining to accept it individually, Rich was joined by the two other feminist poets nominated, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, to accept it on behalf of all women.
Rich wrote several pieces that explicitly tackle the rights of women in society. In Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law she offers a critical analysis of the life of being both a mother and a daughter-in-law, and the impact of their gender in their lives. Diving Into the Wreck was written in the early ‘seventies, and the collection marks the start of her darkening tone as she writes about feminism and other social issues. In particular, she writes openly about her outrage with the patriarchal nature of the greater society. In doing so, she becomes an example for other women to follow in the hopes that continued proactive work against sexism will eventually counteract it.
Her poems are also famous for their feminist elements. One such poem is “Power”, which was written about Marie Curie, one of the most important female icons of the 20th century for discovering radiation. In this poem, she discusses the element of power and feminism.
Besides poems and novels, Rich also wrote and published a number of nonfiction books that tackle feminist issues. Some of these books are: Of Woman Born, Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Blood, Bread and Poetry, etc. Especially the Bread and Poetry contains the famous feminist essay entitled “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, and Feminism and Community.
Read an essay on Rich here.
A commemoration of Rich’s life:
Rich reads “Diving into the Wreck”
Rich reads “What Kind of Times are These?”
Read Rich’s poetry here.
Carmen Boullosa is a Latin American poet, novelist, and playwright. She was born in Mexico City, Mexico, and is currently a professor at Macauley Honors College in New York, New York (Source).
A prolific writer, she has written 17 novels, 15 collections of poetry, four plays, two short fiction collections, and one screenplay. Her first novel, La Milagrosa, was published in 1993. Her latest novel, The Book of Anna, was published in 2020. Boullosa’s writing focuses on feminism and gender roles in Latin America.
She has won numerous awards, including the Rosalia de Castro Award (2018), the Café Gijón Award (2008), and the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize (1989) (Source).
Carmen Boullosa discusses Spanish-Speaking Women Writers from 1500-1970s:
An interview with Carmen Boullosa:
Carmen Boullosa Poetry:
Here is an audio recording of Boullosa reading some of her poems.
Read English translations of three of Boullosa’s poems here.
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