The Donkey

The Donkey
G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

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Farewells from Paradise

Farewells from Paradise
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


River-spirits
HARK! the flow of the four rivers—
Hark the flow!
How the silence round you shivers,
While our voices through it go,
Cold and clear.

A softer voice
Think a little, while ye hear,
Of the banks
Where the willows and the deer
Crowd in intermingled ranks,
As if all would drink at once
Where the living water runs!—
Of the fishes’ golden edges
Flashing in and out the sedges;
Of the swans on silver thrones,
Floating down the winding streams
With impassive eyes turned shoreward
And a chant of undertones,—
And the lotus leaning forward
To help them into dreams.
Fare ye well, farewell!
The river-sounds, no longer audible,
Expire at Eden’s door.
Each footstep of your treading
Treads out some murmur which ye heard before.
Farewell! the streams of Eden
Ye shall hear nevermore!

Bird-spirit
I am the nearest nightingale
That singeth in Eden after you;
And I am singing loud and true,
And sweet,—I do not fail.
I sit upon a cypress bough,
Close to the gate, and I fling my song
Over the gate and through the mail
Of the warden angels marshall’d strong,—
Over the gate and after you!
And the warden angels let it pass,
Because the poor brown bird, alas,
Sings in the garden, sweet and true.
And I build my song of high pure notes,
Note over note, height over height,
Till I strike the arch of the Infinite,
And I bridge abysmal agonies
With strong, clear calms of harmonies,—
And something abides, and something floats,
In the song which I sing after you.
Fare ye well, farewell!
The creature-sounds, no longer audible,
Expire at Eden’s door.
Each footstep of your treading
Treads out some cadence which ye heard before.
Farewell! the birds of Eden
Ye shall hear nevermore!

More Japanese Poetry

Again, from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry

Sugawara no Michizane

Idle Thoughts on a Winter Night

Beneath eaves of white thatch, before the hearth–
the servant boy who was at my side leans against the wall, asleep.
My calendar says only a month of winter remains–
which means I have been magistrate here now for three years.
By nature I don’t like wine–but sorrow it hard to dispel;
with my heart set on poems, I cannot conduct government.
So with a thousand thoughts about my plight I sit–
while beyond the window the sky announces dawn’s approach.

An anonymous poet, from the Spring sequence of Kokinshu

It is not as though
springtime came to some villages
and not to others.
Why then may we see flowers
blooming and failing to bloom?

Another poem from the same sequence, by Tsurayuki

Observe how the haze
of spring spread its gauzy mantle
on Miwa Mountain:
might flowers be blooming there
of which men have no knowledge?

Thanatopsis

Thanatopsis
William Cullen Bryant

To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around— 
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air— 
Comes a still voice— 
                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, 
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up   
Thine individual being, shalt thou go   
To mix for ever with the elements,   
To be a brother to the insensible rock   
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain   
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak   
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.   
     Yet not to thine eternal resting-place   
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish   
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down   
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,   
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,   
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,   
All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills   
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales   
Stretching in pensive quietness between;   
The venerable woods—rivers that move   
In majesty, and the complaining brooks   
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,   
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—   
Are but the solemn decorations all   
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,   
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,   
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,   
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread   
The globe are but a handful to the tribes   
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings   
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,   
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods   
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,   
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:   
And millions in those solitudes, since first   
The flight of years began, have laid them down   
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone. 
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw   
In silence from the living, and no friend   
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe   
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh 
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care   
Plod on, and each one as before will chase   
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave   
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come 
And make their bed with thee. As the long train   
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,   
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes   
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,   
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—   
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,   
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.   
     So live, that when thy summons comes to join   
The innumerable caravan, which moves   
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,   
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Hellas

Hellas
Percy Bysshe Shelley

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.

A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus sings again,
And loves, and weeps, and dies.
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.

Oh, write no more the tale of Troy,
If earth Death’s scroll must be!
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
Which dawns upon the free:
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.

Another Athens shall arise,
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.

Saturn and Love their long repose
Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
Than many unsubdu’d:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.

Oh cease! must hate and death return?
Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
Of bitter prophecy.
The world is weary of the past,
Oh might it die or rest at last!

Japanese Poetry

As a change of pace, some selections from Traditional Japanese Poetry trans. Steven D. Carter

A poem written by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro when Prince Karu took lodging in the fields of Aki

Off to the eastward,
the first shimmer of daylight
rises on the fields–
and when I turn round to see,
the moon is sinking away

Another by the same author

You wave-plovers
of dusk on the Omi Sea–
each time you cry out
my heart withers within me,
set on things of long ago

By Sami Mansei, one of my favorites in the whole collection:

Our life in this world–
to what shall I compare it?
It is like a boat
rowing out at break of day,
leaving not a trace behind.

The Country Faith

The Country Faith
Norman Gale

Here in the country’s heart
Where the grass is green,
Life is the same sweet life
As it e’er hath been.

Trust in a God still lives,
And the bell at morn
Floats with a thought of God
O’er the rising corn.

God comes down in the rain,
And the crop grows tall—
This is the country faith,
And the best of all!

Sheep and Lambs

Sheep and Lambs
Katharine Hinkson

All in the April morning,
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road.

The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road;
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary, and crying
With a weak human cry;
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

Up in the blue, blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet:
Rest for the little bodies,
Rest for the little feet.

Rest for the Lamb of God
Up on the hill-top green;
Only a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.



Is It Nothing to You?

Is It Nothing to You?
May Probyn

WE were playing on the green together,
My sweetheart and I—
Oh! so heedless in the gay June weather,
When the word went forth that we must die.
Oh! so merrily the balls of amber
And of ivory tossed we to the sky,
While the word went forth in the King’s chamber,
That we both must die.

Oh! so idly, straying through the pleasaunce,
Plucked we here and there
Fruit and bud, while in the royal presence
The King’s son was casting from his hair
Glory of the wreathen gold that crowned it,
And, ungirdling all his garments fair,
Flinging by the jewelled clasp that bound it,
With his feet made bare,

Down the myrtled stairway of the palace,
Ashes on his head,
Came he, through the rose and citron alleys,
In rough sark of sackcloth habited,
And in a hempen halter—oh! we jested,
Lightly, and we laughed as he was led
To the torture, while the bloom we breasted
Where the grapes grew red.

Oh! so sweet the birds, when he was dying,
Piped to her and me—
Is no room this glad June day for sighing—
He is dead, and she and I go free!
When the sun shall set on all our pleasure
We will mourn him— What, so you decree
We are heartless— Nay, but in what measure
Do you more than we?



The Burning Babe

The Burning Babe
Robert Southwell

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.