How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual by Pamela Spiro Wagner

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma
and steel-tipped boots,
or your white collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust. 

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later on it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don’t even notice,
close this manual.

Congratulations.
You can now read poetry.

Go far; Come near by Walter de la Mare

Go far; come near;
You still must be
The centre of your own small mystery.
Range body and soul –
Gone on to further goal,
Still shall you find
At end, nought else but thee.
Oh, in what straitened bounds
Of thought and aim –
And even sights and sounds –
Your earthly lot is doomed to stay!

And yet, your smallest whim
By secret grace
To look the simplest flower in the face
Gives an inevitable reflection back,
Not of your own self only,
But of one
Who, having achieved its miracle,
Rests there, and is not gone;
Who still o’er your own darker deeps holds sway
Into whatever shallows you may stray.

Whatever quicksands loom before you yet, –
Indifference, the endeavour to forget,
Whatever truce for which your soul may yearn,
Gives you but smaller room
In which to turn,
Until you reach the haven
Of the tomb.

“The haven?” Count the chances … Is that so?
You are your Universe. Could death’s quick dart
Be aimed at aught less mortal than the heart?
Could body’s end,
Whereto it soon shall go,
Be end of all you mean, and are, my friend?

Ah, when clocks stop, and no-more-time-begins,
May he who gave the flower
Its matchless hour,
And you the power
To win the love that only loving wins,
Have mercy on your miseries and your sins.

The Tune from The Uncelestial City by Humbert Wolfe

Draw back the bolt; swing the gate;
it is evening. How
shall you refuse the traveller,
gate-warden, now?

He brings nothing with him
but a shadowy burden
that will mix with the darker
shade of your garden.

He walked with love once.
It is evening. Let him
pass where all knew love,
and all forget him.

He has built castles;
they have fallen. Thou
shalt let him rebuild them
of shadow now.

He dreamed, he desired.
Give him the wage
of silence
after pilgrimage.

He has brought his sorrow,
his failure, his sin.
And therefore let him
enter in.

Alone by Walter de la Mare

A very old woman
Lives in yon house—
The squeak of the cricket,
The stir of the mouse,
Are all she knows
Of the earth and us.

Once she was young,
Would dance and play,
Like many another
Young popinjay;
And run to her mother
At dusk of day.

And colours bright
She delighted in;
The fiddle to hear,
And to lift her chin,
And sing as small
As a twittering wren.

But age apace
Comes at last to all;
And a lone house filled
With the cricket’s call;
And the scampering mouse
In the hollow wall.

Little Nell’s Funeral by Charles Dickens

And now the bell, — the bell
She had so often heard by night and day
  And listened to with solemn pleasure,
        E’en as a living voice, —
Rung its remorseless toll for her,
  So young, so beautiful, so good.

  Decrepit age, and vigorous life,
And blooming youth, and helpless infancy,
  Poured forth, — on crutches, in the pride of strength
        And health, in the full blush
        Of promise, the mere dawn of life, —
To gather round her tomb. Old men were there,
        Whose eyes were dim
        And senses failing, —
Grandames, who might have died ten years ago,
And still been old, — the deaf, the blind, the lame,
        The palsied,
The living dead in many shapes and forms,
To see the closing of this early grave.
  What was the death it would shut in,
To that which still could crawl and keep above it!

Along the crowded path they bore her now;
        Pure as the new fallen snow
That covered it; whose day on earth
        Had been as fleeting.
Under that porch, where she had sat when Heaven
In mercy brought her to that peaceful spot,
  She passed again, and the old church
  Received her in its quiet shade.

     They carried her to one old nook,
Where she had many and many a time sat musing,
  And laid their burden softly on the pavement.
           The light streamed on it through
The colored window, — a window where the boughs
        Of trees were ever rustling
     In the summer, and where the birds
           Sang sweetly all day long.

My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see,
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed!

When you are Old by W.B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

‘T was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below;
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid, on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys,—and St. Nicholas too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump—a right jolly old elf;
And I laughed, when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”