Monday, January 30, 2012


Robert Frost famously wrote that "happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length."  The same might also be said for poetry.  In my view, some of the shortest poems have the deepest meanings.

Set forth below are a few of the small poems that are included in the poetry anthologies I've been reading this winter.  If you have a favorite small poem and would like to include it in your comments, please feel free to do so.

                                            THE RED WHEELBARROW
                                                 William Carlos Williams

                                                      so much depends

                                                      a red wheel 

                                                      glazed with rain

                                                      beside the white

                                                 THE SECRET SITS
                                                        Robert Frost
                                   We dance round in a ring and suppose,
                                   But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

                                                        Dorothy Parker

                                     Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
                                     A medley of extemporanea;
                                     And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
                                     And I am Marie of Roumania.

                                      TODAY, LIKE EVERY OTHER DAY

                                  Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
                                  and frightened.  Don't open the door to the study
                                  and begin reading.  Take down a musical instrument.

                                  Let the beauty we love be what we do.
                                  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

                                                LOVING THE RITUALS
                                               Palladus (4th Century A.D.)

                                      Loving the rituals that keep men close,
                                      Nature created means for friends apart;

                                      pen, paper, ink, the alphabet,
                                      signs for the distant and disconsolate heart.

                                                           Denise Levertov

                                                   Sometimes the mountain
                                                   is hidden from me in veils
                                                   of cloud, sometimes
                                                   I am hidden from the mountain
                                                   in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
                                                   when I forget or refuse to go
                                                   down to the shore or a few yards
                                                   up the road, on a clear day,
                                                   to reconfirm
                                                   that witnessing presence.

                                                           AUTO MIRROR
                                                           Adam Zagajewski
                                    (translation by Czelaw Milosz and Robert Hass)

                                               In the rear-view mirror suddenly
                                               I saw the bulk of the Beauvais Cathedral; 
                                               great things dwell in small ones
                                               for a moment.

                                                        A LONG LIFETIME
                                                           Kenneth Rexroth

                                                        A long lifetime
                                                        Peoples and places
                                                        And the crisis of mankind—
                                                        What survives is the crystal—
                                                        Infinitely small—
                                                        Infinitely large—

                                                        MY FIFTIETH YEAR
                                                         William Butler Yeats

                                               My fiftieth year had come and gone,
                                               I sat, a solitary man,
                                               In a crowded London shop,
                                               An open book and empty cup
                                               On a marble table-top.

                                               While on the shop and the street I gazed
                                               My body of a sudden blazed;
                                               And twenty minutes more or less
                                               It seemed, so great my happiness,
                                               That I was blessed and could bless.


  1. When we say "No"
    to something or to someone
    In the same time
    We say "Yes"
    to something else or to someone else.

    I think, each step in the life is a choice. Saying a "no" seems negative at first but knowing there is a "yes" behind it's helpfull.

    Well, it's much a quote than a poem. I heard this years ago but I don't know who said that.

    I like "Auto mirror" Depending the point of view things have another size, look. Thi

  2. So may good things in small packages here, George — I specially like the Rumi and the Levertov (and, indeed, all her short, meditative Mt Rainier poems).

    Fot some reason I feel inclined to share this atmospheric poem by Carl Sandburg:

    The fog comes
    on little cat feet.
    It sits looking

    over harbour and city
    on silent haunches
    and then moves on.

    Just perfect!

    And here's the wonderful Gary Snyder. Levertov's Mt Rainier is Snyder's Cold Mountain:

    Once at Cold Mountain, troubles cease —
    No more tangled, hung-up mind.
    I idly scribble poems on the rock cliff,
    Taking whatever comes, like a drifting boat.

  3. Thanks for your comments, THROUGHIDEAS. I love your quote and the idea behind it. Indeed, saying "no" to one thing is saying "yes" to another. The converse is also true, I suppose.

  4. Thanks for the comments, ROBERT. I think the Levertov and the Rumi were also my favorites among these small poems, although "The Red Wheelbarrow" continues to stir my imagination. It seems to reek with Zen mindfulness.

    I love both of the small poems you provided. Sandburg's poem is yet another example of how much feeling and mood can be captured in just a few words.

    I also like the Gary Snyder poem, which is another example of a big idea dressed in just a few words. "Taking whatever comes, like a drifting boat"—that's a huge idea!

  5. Merwin's three-line "Separation" is marvelous.

    A contemporary of ours, Lorna Cahall, writes some quite wonderful short poems.

  6. Hello George, Rumi's complex meanings stated so simply always make me think. I am an admirer of Mark Strand who seems to distill meaning with few words. One of my favorites:

    Keeping Things Whole

    In a field
    I am the absence
    of field.
    This is
    always the case.
    Wherever I am
    I am what is missing.

    When I walk
    I part the air
    and always
    the air moves in
    to fill the spaces
    where my body's been.

    We all have reasons
    for moving.
    I move
    to keep things whole.

  7. Thanks, MAUREEN. If you would like to provide Merwin's poem, "Separation," by a separate comment, I think many of us would like to see it. I don't have access to my Merwin's books here in South Carolina, and I have been unable to locate the poem online.

  8. Yes, yes, BARB! This Mark Strand poem is one of my favorites.

  9. Very fine, George. The Rumi is one of my favorites, especially when read by Colman Barks. There is a wonderful recording of it, but I can't find it. I always go back to the WCW, too. And also the Mark Strand. Often the small poems pack more emotion for me than others.

    I wrote a little haiku-like poem now, inspired by your wabi-sabi blog-self, and this post for small poems:

    unshuttered room
    painted with light
    through a broken window

  10. Thanks, RUTH. Hope all is well with young James.

    Yes, "The Red Wheelbarrow" continues to fascinate me. I think it's the mind-grabbing opening line: "So much depends . . ." And can you imagine what the world would be like if it were impossible to have a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens"?

    I love your haiku. Like the Sandburg poem mentioned in Robert's comments, your haiku is very atmospheric, and, as you would guess, the notion of light coming through the broken window of an unshuttered room is a perfect fit for my temperament.

  11. My wheelbarrows have provided me with some wonderful days. I've even blogged about my history of wheelbarrows. I have two now that were here when I arrived. I've named them Henry and Mr. Chalmers. Henry is still active, but Mr. Chalmers is retired and lives next to the shed. He prefers living outdoors where the action is. Yes, that poem resounds with meaning for me.

    With your invitation came this immediate response, from Rumi:
    "This moment this love comes to rest in me
    Many beings in one being
    In one wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks
    Inside the needle's eye
    A turning night of stars."

  12. Thanks for your lovely comments, TERESA. Love that Rumi poem, especially the last line: "A turning night of stars."

  13. I love the Yeats one George - I had not heard it before. My favourite Yeats poems is fairly short - The song of the wandering Aengus. Do you know it?

    I went out to the hazel wood,
    Because a fire was in my head,
    And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
    and hooked a berry to a thread;
    and when white moths were on the wing,
    and moth-like stars were flickering out,
    I dropped the berry in a stream
    and caught a little silver trout.

    When I had laid it on the floor
    I went to blow the fire aflame,
    But something rustled on the floor,
    and someone called me by my name:
    It had become a glimmering girl
    with apple blossom in her hair
    who called me by my name and ran
    and faded through the brightening air.

    Though I am old with wandering
    through hollow lands and hilly lands,
    I will find out where she is gone
    and kiss her lips and take her hands;
    and walk among long dappled grass,
    and pluck till time and times are done
    the silver apples of the moon,
    the golden apples of the sun.

    I also love to hear Christy Moore singing it - wonderful.

  14. Thank you so much, PAT! Yes, this is one of my favorite poems of Yeats. There has always been something magical, something mystically inviting, about those last two lines: "The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun."

    What a joy that you took the time to type this out in your comments. Thanks again for spreading the joy!

  15. Thank you for leaving such a wonderful comment on my blog post on Grace... I love poems long or short..and the short ones here are 'meditative'.

  16. Thanks, DONNA. I enjoyed your posting and the comments on grace. And, yes, I agree that there is something in the small poems that puts one in a meditative state.

  17. Wow...a few days away, hiking and biking and I come home to a veritable feast!! George and all the commentary...amazing. I feel like it could take me all week to read and absorb and enjoy this one posting alone!! Thanks!! :-)

  18. Thanks, KARIN. Welcome home. It sounds like you've have a great few days. Glad that you enjoyed this post.

  19. These were all gems, Rumi's my favourite. I shall seek out more small poems, you have inspired me.

  20. Thanks for your comments, CAIT. Glad you were inspired by this post.

  21. I said I would come back and I always keep my promises.


    My steps in the street
    In another street
    Where I hear my steps
    Walking down this street.

    Nothing is real but the mist.

    Octavio Paz

    And Finally, no doubt:

    Friend, you have read enough,
    If you desire still more,
    Then be the poem yourself,
    And all that it stands for.

    Angelus Silesius (From the Cherubic Wanderer)

  22. Thanks so much, FRIKO, for returning with two superb gifts. I like both of the poems, but the last one strikes at the heart. "To be the poem yourself, and all that it stands for"—that is indeed our challenge. Could it be that one of the reasons we read poetry is to discover what we should be?

  23. All I know, George, is that poetry stills my soul. Without poetry life would be a very bleak place.

  24. Yes indeed, FRIKO! I agree with you completely.

  25. The gems are true pearls of wisdom, George.

    My favorites are the ultra-visual poems about the wheelbarrow and the rear-view mirror.

    I have often wanted to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, perfectly framed in my rear-view mirror, just before I duck into the Waldo Tunnel in Marin County. Alas, I'm always either driving or I am a passenger without a camera.

    I added the wheelbarrow poem in a post I wrote back in 2009:
    It seemed the perfect complement.

    Thanks for sharing these with us!

  26. Thanks for your lovely comments, DUTCHBABY. Glad you liked these small poems. Like you, I have a special affinity for the ultra-visual poems; they invite so much from our imaginations.

  27. Such a fine collection of poems. It is such a good thing to find the attention to meaning and rich discussion. Thanks.

  28. Thanks for your kind comments, Lorna, and thanks for dropping by. I hope you will return and participate in the ongoing discussion. Happy Valentines!

  29. That Rumi poem is wonderful. I've added it to a mental list of mine.

    This list is a list of things which bring people from the past vividly alive on a strikingly intimate human level. Another example would be this portrait of Montaigne. The face is so complex, I think, that it really communicates something (I hope) of the man himself. I'd quite like to go for a pint with him.

    On a lighter note, one of my favourite short poems has to be John Cooper Clarke's haiku:

    to express yourself
    in seventeen syllables
    is very diffic

  30. Thanks for the comments, DOMINIC, and please let me know where you and Montaigne will be having a pint. I would like to join you. And thanks for your contribution of the seventeen syllable poem, which proves that even the difficult is often achievable.

  31. such a beautiful strand of pearls ~

  32. Thanks, TAMMIE LEE. Your lovely comment is most appreciated.