A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn


“The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928):

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

(From Christmas Poems, copyright (symbol) 2008 New Directions Publishing Corporation. Image: Piero della Francesca’s unfinished painting of the Nativity Scene, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn


“The Magi” by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939):

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

(From Christmas Poems © 2008 New Directions Publishing Corporation. Image: James Tissot’s “The Magi Journeying,” circa 1890, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Friday

by Alice Quinn


“A Morning” by Mark Strand (1934-2014):

I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.

The Dish looked back at Strand’s life and work after his recent death here.

(From Selected Poems by Mark Strand © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Photo of a small boat off of Prince Edward Island, where Strand was born, by Angus MacAskill)

A Poem For Thursday

by Alice Quinn


“The Afternoon According to Saint Matthew” by Mary Ruefle:

There’s the black truck
with orange flames
on its hood. There’s the girl
in the pink pajamas. There’s her sister
in a bumblebee suit.
They are playing with dirt.
When they find bugs
they scream
but no one hears them.
Their minds are growing though.
In the late afternoon light
they scoop the dirt into tin cans
so they can bury it
in the backyard.
I think we have a case
of two women grinding at the mill—
one will be taken and one
will be left,
but it’s way too early
to tell.

(From Trances of the Blast © 2013 by Mary Ruefle. Used by permission of Wave Books. Photo by David Poe)

A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn


“Julia Tutwiler State Prison for Women” by Andrew Hudgins:

On the prison’s tramped-hard Alabama clay
two green-clad women walk, hold hands,
and swing their arms as though they’ll laugh,
meander at their common whim, and not
be forced to make a quarter turn each time
they reach a corner of the fence. Though they
can’t really be as gentle as they seem
perhaps they’re better lovers for their crimes,
the times they didn’t think before acting—
or thought, and said to hell with the consequences.
Most are here for crimes of passion.
They’ve killed for jealousy, anger, love,
and now they sleep a lot. Who else
is dangerous for love—for love
or hate or anything? Who else would risk
a ten-year walk inside the fenced in edge
of a field stripped clean of soybeans or wheat?
Skimming in from the west and pounding hard
across the scoured land, a summer rain
raises puffs of dust with its first huge drops.
It envelopes the lingering women. They hesitate,
then race, hand in hand, for shelter, laughing.

(From Saints and Strangers by Andrew Hudgins. Copyright © 1985 by Andrew Hudgins. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. The poem also can be found in Poems of the American South, Everyman Pocket Poets. Photo by Eugen Anghel)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn


For many years, LuAnn Walther, editorial director of Vintage Books, Anchor Books, and Everyman’s Library has orchestrated one of the greatest poetry publishing enterprises in America, bringing out nearly one hundred anthologies in the Everyman Pocket Poets series, including single-author titles such as superb selections of the work of Emily Bronte and W.H. Auden and themed anthologies ranging from Lullabies and Poems for Children and Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink to Marriage Poems, Jazz Poems, Poems of the Sea, and Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems.

The newest in this enchanting set of books is Poems of the American South, edited by David Biespiel. We’ve drawn some gems from it for our poems this week.

From “The Ozark Odes” by C.D. Wright:


Mother had one. She and Bernice racing for the river
to play with their paperdolls
because they did not want any big ears
to hear what their paperdolls were fixing to say.

Dry County Bar

Bourbon not fit to put on a sore. No women enter;
their men collect in every kind of weather
with no shirts on whatsoever.


I can still see the Cuddihy’s sisters
trimming the red tufts
under one another’s arms.

Lake Return

Why I come here: need for a bottom, something to refer to;
where all things visible and invisible commence to swarm.

(From Steal Away: Selected and New Poems © 1991, 1996 by C.D.Wright. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company on behalf of Copper Canyon Press. This poem also can be found in the anthology noted above, Poems of the American South, Everyman Pocket Poets. Photo of the White River in Arkansas by Thomas and Dianne Jones)

A Poem For Monday

by Alice Quinn


From the anthology, Tudor Poetry and Prose, which I praised last week, I relish the following passage about lyrics from song-books of the time:

Singing seems to have been almost universal in Elizabeth England. The countryside, the street corner, the cottage, and the tavern rang with ballads, rounds, catches . . . . The craftsman’s shop was ‘a very bird-cage’ says [Thomas] Dekker, and [Thomas] Deloney in his Gentle Craft writes that every journeyman shoemaker had to be able to ‘sound the trumpet, or play upon his flute, and bear his part in a three-man’s song, and readily reckon up his tools in rhyme.’ Among the educated, singing was a necessary social accomplishment. The breeding of a man who could not join in the song after supper, reading his part at sight, was in question.

Songs were also a staple of plays. Here’s one of my favorites by the Restoration poet John Dryden (1631-1700), born after Elizabeth’s reign and so beyond the compass (but not the influence) of the period celebrated in the anthology, appointed Poet Laureate in 1668, and buried in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer in what later became known as Poets’ Corner.

“Song for a Girl,” from Love Triumphant, by John Dryden:

Young I am, and yet unskill’d
How to make a Lover yield:
How to keep, or how to gain,
When to love; and when to feign.

Take me, take me, some of you,
While I yet am Young and True;
E’re I can my Soul disguise;
Heave my Breasts, and roul my Eyes.

Stay not till I learn the way,
How to Lye, and to Betray:
He that has me first, is blest,
For I may deceive the rest.

Cou’d I find a blooming Youth,
Full of Love, and full of Truth,
Brisk, and of a jaunty mean
I shou’d long to be Fifteen.

(Portrait of Dryden by James Maubert, circa 1695 , via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn


Many 16th and 17th Century English poets were also musicians—perhaps chief among them Thomas Campion (1567-1620). Campion’s ayres were often pirated before he could publish them himself, and in a note introducing a selection of them, he wryly addresses this issue, “To be brief, all these songs are mine, if you express them well; otherwise they are your own. Farewell.”

Peter Warlock, composer and scholar of Elizabethan music, felt Campion was “at his best in half serious songs” of “deliciously pretty tunes.” The jaunty one below is one of my favorites, from the Book of Ayres (1601).

“I Care Not for These Ladies” by Thomas Campion:

I care not for these ladies,
That must be wooed and prayed,
Give me kind Amarillis
The wanton country maid;
Nature art disdaineth,
Her beauty is her own;
Her when we court and kiss,
She cries, forsooth, let go.
But when we come where comfort is,
She never will say no.

If I love Amarillis,
She gives me fruit and flowers,
But if we love these ladies,
We must give golden showers,
Give them gold that sell love,
Give me the nutbrown lass,
Who when we court and kiss,
She cries, forsooth, let go.
But when we come where comfort is,
She never will say no.

These ladies must have pillows,
And beds by strangers wrought,
Give me a bower of willows,
Of moss and leaves unbought,
And fresh Amarillis,
With milk and honey fed,
Who, when we court and kiss,
She cries, forsooth, let go.
But when we come where comfort is,
She never will say no.

(Photo of an Amaryllis flower by Thangaraj Kumaravel)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn


Evenings of these balmy August days, while riding my bicycle, I glimpse deer stepping out from the edges of thickets—including fawns and young bucks with delicate horns. This poem by Edmund Spenser springs naturally to mind, although it’s sweetly clear that he had something else on his. It’s one of ninety about his courtship of his wife, Elizabeth Boyle, published in 1595 with his Epithalamion, celebrating their marriage.

From Amoretti by Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599):

Lyke as a huntsman after weary chace,
Seeing the game from him escapt away,
sits downe to rest him in some shady place,
with panting hounds beguyld of their pray:
So after long pursuit and vaine assay,
when I all weary had the chace forsooke,
the gentle deare returnd the selfe-same way,
thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke.
There she beholding me with mylder looke,
sought not to fly, but fearelesse still did bide:
till I in hand her yet halfe trembling tooke,
and with her owne goodwill hir fyrmely tyde.
Strange thing me seemd to see a beast so wyld,
so goodly wonne with her owne will beguyld.

(Photo by Jereme Rauckman)