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As promised, GoodPoetry was on hiatus until May 2019— and… we’re back! The break was refreshing, and we have new content to share. Question— are there any poems which you’d like to see featured on GoodPoetry? GoodPoetry is more than a website. You can listen to poetry at Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Podomatic.

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“Tuskegee” by Leslie Pinckney Hill (1880 – 1960)


Wherefore this busy labor without rest?
Is it an idle dream to which we cling,
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best.
By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.”
So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test?
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know—
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.

“The Dreamer” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)


Temples he built and palaces of air,
And, with the artist’s parent-pride aglow,
His fancy saw his vague ideals grow
Into creations marvelously fair;
He set his foot upon Fame’s nether stair.
But ah, his dream,—it had entranced him so
He could not move. He could no farther go;
But paused in joy that he was even there!

He did not wake until one day there gleamed
Thro’ his dark consciousness a light that racked
His being till he rose, alert to act.
But lo! What he had dreamed, the while he dreamed,
Another, wedding action unto thought,
Into the living, pulsing world had brought.
from "The Book of American Negro Poetry"
by James Weldon Johnson

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

“Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes


"Mother to Son"
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.

But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

“Cinq Ans Apres” by Frank Gelette Burgess (1866 – 1961)


Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!



 

“The Art of Poetry [an excerpt]” by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636 – 1711)


The Art of Poetry [an excerpt]

Gently make haste, of Labour not afraid;
A hundred times consider what you’ve said:
Polish, repolish, every Colour lay,
And sometimes add; but oft’ner take away.
‘Tis not enough, when swarming Faults are writ,
That here and there are scattered Sparks of Wit;
Each Object must be fix’d in the due place,
And diff’ring parts have Corresponding Grace:
‘Till, by a curious Art dispos’d, we find
One perfect whole, of all the pieces join’d.
Keep your subject close, in all you say;
Nor for a sounding Sentence ever stray.

“I Broke the Spell That Held Me Long” by William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)


“I Broke the Spell That Held Me Long”

I broke the spell that held me long,
The dear, dear witchery of song.
I said, the poet’s idle lore
Shall waste my prime of years no more,
For Poetry, though heavenly born,
Consorts with poverty and scorn.
I broke the spell–nor deemed its power
Could fetter me another hour.
Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget
Its causes were around me yet?
For wheresoe’er I looked, the while,
Was Nature’s everlasting smile.
Still came and lingered on my sight
Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,
And glory of the stars and sun; –
And these and poetry are one.
They, ere the world had held me long,
Recalled me to the love of song.

“A Learned Man Came to Me Once” by Stephen Crane (1871 – 1900)


A learned man came to me once.
He said, "I know the way, -- come."
And I was overjoyed at this.
Together we hastened.
Soon, too soon, were we
Where my eyes were useless,
And I knew not the ways of my feet.
I clung to the hand of my friend;
But at last he cried, "I am lost."

“A Man” by Louis Untermeyer (1885 – 1977)


A Man

(For My Father)
I listened to them talking, talking,
That tableful of keen and clever folk,
Sputtering . . . followed by a pale and balking
Sort of flash whenever some one spoke;
Like musty fireworks or a pointless joke,
Followed by a pointless, musty laughter. Then
Without a pause, the sputtering once again . . .
The air was thick with epigrams and smoke;
And underneath it all
It seemed that furtive things began to crawl,
Hissing and striking in the dark,
Aiming at no particular mark,
And careless whom they hurt.
The petty jealousies, the smiling hates
Shot forth their venom as they passed the plates,
And hissed and struck again, aroused, alert;
Using their feeble smartness as a screen
To shield their poisonous stabbing, to divert
From what was cowardly and black and mean.
Then I thought of you,
Your gentle soul,
Your large and quiet kindness;
Ready to caution and console,
And, with an almost blindness
To what was mean and low.
Baseness you never knew;
You could not think that falsehood was untrue,
Nor that deceit would ever dare betray you.
You even trusted treachery; and so,
Guileless, what guile or evil could dismay you?
You were for counsels rather than commands.
Your sweetness was your strength, your strength a sweetness
That drew all men, and made reluctant hands
Rest long upon your shoulder.
Firm, but never proud,
You walked your sixty years as through a crowd
Of friends who loved to feel your warmth, and who
Knowing that warmth, knew you.
Even the casual beholder
Could see your fresh and generous completeness,
Like dawn in a deep forest, growing and shining through.
Such faith has soothed and armed you. It has smiled
Frankly and unashamed at Death; and, like a child,
Swayed half by joy and half by reticence,
Walking beside its nurse, you walk with Life;
Protected by your smile and an immense
Security and simple confidence.
Hearing the talkers talk, I thought of you . . .
And it was like a great wind blowing
Over confused and poisonous places.
It was like sterile spaces
Crowded with birds and grasses, soaked clear through
With sunlight, quiet and vast and clean.
And it was forests growing,
And it was black things turning green.
And it was laughter on a thousand faces . . .
It was, like victory rising from defeat,
The world made well again and strong—and sweet.
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