Eight Poems with an Edge. To be Read in a Time of Reflection. Written by English, Scottish, German, Israeli and American poets

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
One of his best-known poems in the past 70 years in the UK. Larkin says our parents were fucked up by their parents so we can’t blame them. Public who know his poems often regard him as a national treasure.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Scottish novelist and poet, Stevenson died aged 44. Death is a return home.

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Fred Lamotte
A professor World Religions in the USA, his poem reflects collective DNA.

Just as I suspected, my great great grandfather
was a monarch butterfly.

Much of who I am is still wriggling under a stone.
I am part larva, but part hummingbird too.

There is dinosaur tar in my bone marrow.

My golden hair sprang out of a meadow in Palestine.

Genghis Khan is my fourth cousin,
but I didn’t get his dimples.

My loins are loaded with banyan seeds from Sri Lanka,
but I descended from Ravanna, not Ram.

My uncle is a mastodon.

There are traces of white people in my saliva.

3.7 billion years ago I swirled in golden dust,
dreaming of a planet overgrown with lingams and yonis.

More recently, say 60,000 B.C.
I walked on hairy paws across a land bridge
joining Sweden to Botswana.

I am the bastard of the sun and moon.

I can no longer hide my heritage of raindrops and cougar scat.

I am made of your grandmother’s tears.

You conquered rival tribesmen of your own color,
chained them together, marched them naked to the coast,
and sold them to colonials from Savannah.

I was that brother you sold, I was the slave trader,
I was the chain.

Admit it, you have wings, vast and golden,
like mine, like mine.

You have sweat, black and salty,
like mine, like mine.

You have secrets silently singing in your blood,
like mine, like mine.

Don’t pretend that earth is not one family.
Don’t pretend we never hung from the same branch.
Don’t pretend we don’t ripen on each other’s breath.
Don’t pretend we didn’t come here to forgive.


Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Much-loved US poet and much-loved poem on the call of the world and shared experience.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Mackey (1945-)
This American poet writes a meditation on Desire and lovers.

in my dreams
I hold my lovers
next to me all at once
and ask them

what was it I desired?

my hands are full
of their heads
like bunches of cut roses
blond hair, brown hair, red, black,
their eyes are pools of bewilderment
staring up at me
from the bouquet

what was it I desired?
I ask again

was it your bodies?
did I hope by draping
your flesh over me
I could escape
gray hairs shooting
towards me
from the future
like thin arrows?
did I think I could escape,
by taking your breath
into my mouth,
did I think I could escape
the responsibility
of breathing?

what did I desire in you?


did I expect the clouds to
and blue moths to fly out of the stars?
did I expect a voice
to call to me
“Here at last is the answer.”

I yell at them
shaking my lovers
what did I desire in you?

their ears fall off like petals
they shed their faces
in a pile at my feet
their bewildered eyes
pucker and close
centers of fallen flowers

the last face
floats down
circling in the darkness
at my feet

what did I desire in you? I whisper

the stems of their bodies
dry in my hands

Hanoch Levin (1943-1999)
Translated by Atar Hadari
Extract from Lives of the Death. A radical Israeli playright and poet, Levin has written a book meditation on death. Spicy, blunt, grimly mocking with dark humour. He died from cancer aged 56.

The dead man lay in his grave’s darkness and smiled his horrified grin
that all his forefathers grinned at him (and he joined in
watching the crowd of the dead, and waits expectantly
for the funny spectacle of his son’s death, his fall into the grave
and his ridiculous desire to be taken to his father’s bosom),
and they all lay, a field strewn with skulls,
each man a skull deaf and dumb
fastened into the earth and gazing up into the night sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
English version by Robert Bly from the German. We are grasped by what we cannot grasp.

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Christopher Titmuss
Christopher is a servant of the Dharma. From Poems from the Edge of Time. Poem endorses freedom from all dependency from others who try to fix our lives.

Who will you listen to when they declare,
they swirl all round you; they always know best,
and then try changing you, so then beware
upon those judges whim to fix your fate,
as though they can offer real security,
and then deceive you with maturity;
those voices will not guide, nor promise much,
you must explore the woodland’s path as such.

The wind that sways along the rolling fields,
the skylark’s song is floating down to earth,
a bird now hovers, afternoon now yields,
and horses gallop, meadows green with worth,
across the swaying grassland, hooves galore;
so listen here and catch the sound around,
to make your acts of crazy wisdom soar,
a passion beats itself upon the ground.

So dance to the drumbeat from the far shore,
and find out what you feel is wild at last,
so you can dive and see what you explore;
crestfallen, down the coalface, far below
becomes the faintest tap, a call beyond;
here you can listen, here you can respond.
If you can sense the current, learn to grow,
far from their voice that fails to correspond.

So catch the song, where judges lose their grasp,
then throw off wish to please powers around,
let go, no more of living dead for you;
so climb outside the coffin, screw and nail,
you soar above, beyond where skylarks flew,
and see expanse, a view that the gods do hail;
you live upright with vision firm and true,
and then you know what’s right and new for you


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