That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Tag: Poetry


CurlewIndignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old Paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;
Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind
A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought
That on the lonely height where all are in God’s eye,
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.

— William Butler Yeats, 1914

Millay: ‘I shall go back again’

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed shall escape my door
But by a yard or two; and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand.
I shall be gone to what I understand,
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung.
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the only 20th-century poets I know who worked seriously with the sonnet form: there’s a whole book of her sonnets, from which this gem is taken. e. e. cummings was another modern sonnet-lover; his are more modernist, as you might expect, but often formally strict.
The image above is a panoramic view of Maine’s Penobscot Bay, where Millay grew up. No doubt she had its rocky shores in mind when she wrote this.

Yeats: To a child dancing in the wind

To a Child Dancing in the Wind

Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?

— William Butler Yeats, 1914

A favorite of mine by undoubtedly my favorite poet.


A Woman Cleaning Lentils

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

— Zahrad

Zahrad was the pen name of Armenian poet Zareh Yaldizciyan (1924 – 2007).
I found this oddly haunting poem in an odd place, a cookbook. Madhur Jaffrey quotes it in the introduction to the legumes section of her Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. I thank her.

A Bukowski threnody

Bukowski himself

to Jane Cooney Baker, died 1-22-62

I will not find you on the street
nor will the phone ring, and each moment will not
let me be in peace.
it is not enough that there are many deaths
and that this is not the first;
it is not enough that I may live many more days,
even perhaps, more years.
it is not enough.
the phone is like a dead animal that will
not speak. and when it speaks again it will
always be the wrong voice now.
I have waited before and you have always walked in through
the door. now you must wait for me.

— Charles Bukowski, in Open All Night

This is the first (I think) of a series of poems that Bukowski wrote to Jane Baker, beginning not long after she died (from complications of chronic heavy drinking) and continuing for decades afterward. Their painful, inebriated relationship is the (fictionalized) subject of the movie Barfly.
This poem seems to me like a near-perfect expression of the most primal experience of separation when a loved one is lost to death: “I can’t reach you.” As Bukowski says, when the phone rings “it will always be the wrong voice now.”

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)

My name is Lazarus and I live

G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936)

Lazarus Saturday, which precedes Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church, is a traditional time for the baptism of converts. My son’s church received five “newly chosen warriors of Christ” as the service puts it, on this past Saturday, which reminded me of this fine poem by G. K. Chesterton, an English convert to Roman Catholicism.

The Convert

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one… It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

— Rainer Maria Rilke (Robert Bly translation)

The image is a painting of Rilke’s grave in Raron, Switzerland.

Time for another Bukowski poem

Bukowski himself

the smoking car

they stop out front here
it looks as if the car is on fire
the smoke blazes blue from the hood and exhaust
the motor sounds like cannon shots
the car humps wildly
one guy gets out,
Jesus, he says, he takes a long drink from a
canvas water bag
and gives the car an eerie look.
the other guy gets out and looks at the car,
Jesus, he says,
and he takes a drink from a pint of whiskey,
then passes the bottle to his
they both stand and look at the car,
one holding the whiskey, the other the water bag.
they are not dressed in conventional hippie garb
but in natural old clothes
faded, dirty and torn.
a butterfly goes past my window
and they get back in the
and it bucks off in low
like a rodeo bronc
they are both laughing
and one has the bottle
the butterfly is gone
and outside there is a globe of smoke
40 feet in circumference.

first human beings I’ve seen in Los Angeles
in 15 years.

— Charles Bukowski, in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

If I read this in a Lit Crit class, I’d be asked, (1) What’s with the butterfly? and (2) What’s with the “eerie look”?
So I’m glad that I’m not in any Lit Crit classes.

Robinson Jeffers, “The Answer”

Jeffers, himselfI think I admire Jeffers, like Gary Snyder, more for his thoughts than for his poetry. But his thoughts are powerful, powerul.

The Answer
Robinson Jeffers

Then what is the answer? — Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know the great civilizations have broken down into violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing, and man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history…for contemplation or in fact…
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken.