Inspired by a friend posting a new poem that I’m sure will be a favorite, and apropos of nothing, here’s a short list of my favorite poems. In no particular order.
Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision. Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears. Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.
Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say "please" before you open the latch, go through, walk down the path. A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted front door, as a knocker, do not touch it; it will bite your fingers. Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat nothing. However, if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it. If it cries to you that it hurts, if you can, ease its pain. From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood. The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's realm; there is another land at the bottom of it. If you turn around here, you can walk back, safely; you will lose no face. I will think no less of you. Once through the garden you will be in the wood. The trees are old. Eyes peer from the under- growth. Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman. She may ask for something; give it to her. She will point the way to the castle. Inside it are three princesses. Do not trust the youngest. Walk on. In the clearing beyond the castle the twelve months sit about a fire, warming their feet, exchanging tales. They may do favors for you, if you are polite. You may pick strawberries in December's frost. Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where you are going. The river can be crossed by the ferry. The ferry- man will take you. (The answer to his question is this: If he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to leave the boat. Only tell him this from a safe distance.) If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe. Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that witches are often betrayed by their appetites; dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always; hearts can be well-hidden, and you betray them with your tongue. Do not be jealous of your sister. Know that diamonds and roses are as uncomfortable when they tumble from one's lips as toads and frogs: colder, too, and sharper, and they cut. Remember your name. Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story. When you come back, return the way you came. Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid. Do not forget your manners. Do not look back. Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall). Ride the silver fish (you will not drown). Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur). There is a worm at the heart of the tower; that is why it will not stand. When you reach the little house, the place your journey started, you will recognize it, although it will seem much smaller than you remember. Walk up the path, and through the garden gate you never saw before but once. And then go home. Or make a home. And rest.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.