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Once upon a time men and women of sense and sensibility knew by heart dozens of poems - Shakespeare's sonnets, stirring patriotic verse, odes to churchyards and elegies for the departed, the music of Swinburne or Poe or Yeats. Poems are meant to be voiced and A Poem a Day includes 366 poems old and new - one for each day of the year - worth learning by heart. Only two criteria were demanded of each poem for inclusion in this collection - it had to be short enough to learn in a day, and good enough to stand among the great poetry of the English language, from Chaucer to Sylvia Plath.
A Poem a Day is a book for the bedside. It contains many of the most familiar poems in the language and others that will come as a surprise. Most are complete and most are short, easily contained in a single page. But a few are substantial works, like Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" and Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din." Some have been read by every high school student (Andrew Marvel, "To His Coy Mistress") while others will be new to most readers (Thomas Hardy, "The Voice"). But all share the compression and charged meaning which are the soul of poetry.
In its British version the book went through seven printings in a year and was a bestseller. Now Karen McCosker has added a new foreword and fifty new poems for an American audience willing to make poetry a part of life.
About the Author
Karen McCosker is a poet who lives in Maine and teaches at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
Nicholas Albery (1948–2001) was the founder of the Institute for Social Inventions. He was also a writer, activist, and lover of poetry. He lived in London. Albery's other publications are Alternative Gomera (1994), The Book Of Visions (1993), The Problem Solving Pocketbook (1989), and How To Feel Reborn: The Varieties Of Primal And Rebirthing Experiences (1985).
Read an Excerpt
New every morning
Every day is a fresh beginning, Listen my soul to the glad refrain, And, spite of old sorrows And older sinning, Troubles forecasted And possible pain, Take heart with the day and begin again.
Susan Coolidge (29 January 1835 - 9 April 1905)
This poem has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients. Susan Coolidge (the pseudonym of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in January 1835. She composed three volumes of verse, wrote the Katy books and other unsentimental stories in a natural style for girls, and edited the letters of Jane Austen and Fanny Burney.
Bloody men are like bloody buses
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.
Wendy Cope (21 July 1945 -)
Wendy Cope notes: "When I wrote this, in 1957, I must already have been a bit shortsighted. Nowadays, if I'm wearing glasses, I have no difficulty in reading thedestination on buses."
'I have no name:
'I am but two days old.'
What shall I call thee?
'I happy am,
'Joy is my name.'
Sweet joy befall thee!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while,
Sweet joy befall thee!
William Blake (28 November 1757 - 12 August 1827)
There are children in Shakespeare and there were nursery rhymers aplenty, but Blake was the first poet to speak to and for small children in their own right, in their condition of innocence.
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings
I know why the caged bird sings!
Paul Laurence Dunbar (27 June 1872 - 9 February 1906)
The importance of Dunbar's success to the black writers who would follow him was so significant that one wrote, "A Negro poet had not won recognition in the United States in the century and a quarter since the family of John Wheatly of Boston emancipated their slave girl, Phillis, in recognition of her Poems ... (1773)."
i fear that i shall never make
a poem slippier than a snake
or oozing with as fine a juice
as runs in girls or even spruce
no i wont make not now nor later
pnomes as luverlee as pertaters
trees is made by fauns or satyrs
but only taters make pertaters
& trees is grown by sun from sod
& so are the sods who need a god
but poettrees lack any clue
they just need me & maybe you
(13 May 1904 -)
This poem is a parody of the six-stanza poem 'Trees' by Joyce Kilmer, published in 1914, which starts "I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree" and which ends "Poems are made by fools like me, / But only God can make a tree."
Earle Birney grew up in Calgary and on a farm in British Columbia. In the 1930s he had to leave the States because of his involvement in Trotskyist causes. He served in the Canadian Army from 1942 to 1945, and was an active writer until a severe heart attack in 1980. His poetry collections include Pnomes, and Jukollages and Other Stanzas, his memoirs are entitled Child Addict in Alberta, and he edited Twentieth Century Canadian Poetry.
from Twelfth night sweet-and-twenty
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear! your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.
What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty!
Youth's a stuff will not endure.
William Shakespeare (23 April 1564 - 23 April 1616)
On this day in 1601 Twelfth Night was entered on the Stationers Register.
This song is sung by the clown Feste in Twelfth Night, to two of the comic characters, Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch. Feste offers a love song, or a song of good life. Sir Toby replies, "A love song, a love song," and Andrew agrees, saying, "Ay, ay. I care not for good life."
Also on 6 January in 1586, John Shakespeare, Williams father, was deprived of his alderman's gown, as a consequence of his long absence from Stratford-on-Avon council meetings.
All we were going strong last night this time,
the mots were flying & the frozen daiquiris
were downing, supine on the floor lay Lise
listening to Schubert grievous & sublime,
my head was frantic with a following rime:
it was a good evening, an evening to please,
I kissed her in the kitchen ecstasies
among so much good we tamped down the crime.
The weather's changing. This morning was cold,
as I made for the grove, without expectation,
some hundred Sonnets in my pocket, old,
to read her if she came. Presently the sun
yellowed the pines & my lady came not
in blue jeans & a sweater. I sat down & wrote.
John Berryman (25 October 1914 - 7 January 1972)
When Berryman was still a child, his father died of gunshot wounds, probably by suicide. Berryman won a scholarship to Cambridge University. At Princeton University, where he was a Creative Writing Fellow from 1943 to 1944, he completed many of the poems later published as Berryman's Sonnets. In Dream Songs (1969) he wrote: "I'm cross with God who has wrecked this generation ... he gorged on Sylvia Plath. That was a first rate haul. He left alive fools I could number with a kitchen knife" His novel Recovery admitted his struggle with alcoholism. He married three times.
It will not hurt me when I am old,
A running tide where moonlight burned
Will not sting me like silver snakes;
The years will make me sad and cold,
It is the happy heart that breaks.
The heart asks more than life can give,
When that is learned, then all is learned;
The waves break fold on jewelled fold,
But beauty itself is fugitive,
It will not hurt me when I am old.
Sara Teasdale (8 August 1884 - 29 January 1933)
Strange Victory, Teasdale's final volume of poetry, containing just twenty-two short poems, is arguably her best. In retrospect, the title seems not without its irony since this literary achievement could not sustain the poet as her health declined and she faced the fear of spending her last days as an invalid dependent on others. Teasdale died from taking an overdose of barbiturates.
Accidents of birth
The approach of a man's life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here?
(The Long-Legged House, Wendell Berry)
Spared by a car- or airplane-crash or
cured of malignancy, people look
around with new eyes at a newly
praiseworthy world, blinking eyes like these.
For I've been brought back again from the
fine silt, the mud where our atoms lie
down for long naps. And I've also been
pardoned miraculously for years
by the lava of chance which runs down
the world's gullies, silting us back.
Here I am, brought back, set up, not yet
But it's not this random
life only, throwing its sensual
astonishments upside down on
the bloody membranes behind my eyeballs,
not just me being here again, old
needer, looking for someone to need,
but you, up from the clay yourself,
as luck would have it, and inching over the same little segment of earthball,
in the same little eon, to
meet in a room, alive in our skins,
and the whole galaxy gaping there
and the centuries whining like gnats
you, to teach me to see it, to see
it with you, and to offer somebody
uncomprehending, impudent thanks.
(9 January 1919 -)
William Meredith was born in New York City. He served as a naval aviator in World War II. His first poetry collection, Love Letter from an Impossible Land, was published in 1944. He has served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets as well as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
1. I see the terrifying spaces of the universe that enclose me, and I find myself attached to a corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am more in this place than in another, nor why this little time that is given me to live is assigned me at this point more than another out of all the eternity that has preceded me and out of all that will follow me (Thoughts on Religion, Pascal).