Poems: Wordsworth, Whitman, etc.

“Freedom” by William Stafford

Freedom is not following a river.

Freedom is following a river,

though, if you want to.

It is deciding now by what happens now.

It is knowing that luck makes a difference.

No leader is free; no follower is free–

the rest of us can often be free.

Most of the world are living by

creeds too odd, chancey, and habit-forming

to be worth arguing about by reason.

If you are oppressed, wake up about

four in the morning: most places,

you can usually be free some of the time

if you wake up before other people.

“A Noiseless Patient Spider”

A noiseless patient spider,

I marked where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Marked how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launced forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

–Walt Whitman (1819-1892)


Telling lies to the young is wrong

Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.

Telling them that God’s in his heaven

and all’s well with the world is wrong.

The young know what you mean. The young are people.

Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted,

and let them see not only what will be

but see with clarity these present times.

Say obstacles exist they must encounter

sorrow happens, hardship happens.

The hell with it. Who never knew

the price of happiness will not be happy.

Forgive no error you recognize,

it will repeat itself, increase,

and afterwards our pupils

will not forgive in us what we forgave.

–Yevgeny Yevtushenko

“The Writer”

In her room at the prow of the house

Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,

My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing

From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys

Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:

I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,

As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.

A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,

And then she is at again with a bunched clamor

Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling

Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;

How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;

And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,

We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature

Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove

To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,

For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits

Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,

Beating a smooth course for the right window

And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life and death, as I had forgotten, I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.

–Richard Wilbur (b. 1921)

from Don Juan

Between two worlds life hovers like a star,

‘Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge

How little do we know that which we are!

Of time and tide rolls on and bears afar

Our bubbles; as the old burst, new emerge,

Lash’d from the foam of ages; while the graves

Of empires heave but like some passing waves.

-George Gorden, Lord Byron Don Juan XCIX

“Man’s life is like a sparrow”

Man’s life is like a sparrow–night king!

That, stealing in while by the fire you sit,

Housed with rejoicing friends is seen to flit

Safe from the storm, in comfort tarrying.

Here did it enter–there on hasty wing

Flies out, and passes on from cold to cold;

But whence it came we know not, nor behold

Whither it goes. Even such that transient thing

The human soul: not utterly unknown

While in the body lodged, her warm abode;

But from what world she came, what woe or weal

On her departure waits, no tongue hath shown.

–William Wordsworth


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth

Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–

Assorted characters of death and blight

Mixed ready to begin the morning right,

Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–

A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,

And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,

The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?

What brought the kindred spider to that height,

Then steered the white moth thither in the night?

What but design of darkness to appall?–

If design govern in a thing so small.

–Robert Frost (1874-1963)


Concepts of Home

Our destiny, our being’s heart and home,

Is with infinitude, and only there;

With hope it is, hope that can never die,

Effort, and expectation, and desire.

And something evermore about to be.

–William Wordsworth, The Prelude

To every Form of being is assigned. . . .

An active Principle;–howe’er removed

From sense and observation, it subsists

In all things, in all nature; in the stars

Of azure heaven, the uneduring clouds,

In flower and tree, in every pebble stone

That paves the brooks, the stationary rocks,

The moving waters, and the invisible air.

Whate’er exists hath properties that spread

Beyond itself, communicating good,

A simple blessing, or with evil mixed;

Spirit that knows no insulated spot,

No chasm, no solitude; from link to link

It circulates, the Soul of all the worlds.

This is the freedom of the universe;

Unfolded still the more, more visible,

The more we know; and yet is reverenced least

And least repected in the human Mind.

Its most apparent home.

Wordsworth, The Excursion Bk 9

“In every work of art there is a reconcilement of the external with the internal” (Biographia 2.258)

The days gone by Return upon me almost from the dawn

Of life: the hiding-places of man’s power

Open; I would approach them, but they close

I see by glimpses now; when age comes on,

May scarcely see at all, and I would give

While yet we may, as far as words can give,

Substance and life to what I feel (Prelude 1850)

There are in our existence spots of time,

That with distinct preeminence retain

A fructifying virtue, whence, depressed

By trivial occupations and the round

Of ordinary discourse, our minds–

Especially the imaginative power–

Are nourished and invisibly repaired;

Such moments chiefly seem to have their date

In our first childhood. (Prelude 1799 288-96)

Prelude 1805 Book First

Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up

Fostered alike by beauty and by fear:

Much favoured in my birth-place, and no less

In that beloved Vale to which erelong

We were transplanted-there were we let loose

For sports of wider range. Ere I had told

Ten birth-days, when among the mountain slopes

Frost, and the breath of frosty wind, had snapped

The last autumnal crocus, ’twas my joy

With store of springes o’er my shoulder hung

To range the open heights where woodcocks run

Along the smooth green turf. Through half the night,

Scudding away from snare to snare, I plied

That anxious visitation;-moon and stars

Were shining o’er my head. I was alone,

And seemed to be a trouble to the peace

That dwelt among them. Sometimes it befel

In these night wanderings, that a strong desire

O’erpowered my better reason, and the bird

Which was the captive of another’s toil

Became my prey; and when the deed was done

I heard among the solitary hills

Low breathings coming after me, and sounds

Of undistinguishable motion, steps

Almost as silent as the turf they trod.

–William Wordsworth–1799

372 One evening (surely I was led by her)
373 I went alone into a Shepherd’s Boat,
374 A Skiff that to a Willow tree was tied
375 Within a rocky Cave, its usual home.
376 ‘Twas by the shores of Patterdale, a Vale
377 Wherein I was a Stranger, thither come
378 A School-boy Traveller, at the Holidays.
379 Forth rambled from the Village Inn alone
380 No sooner had I sight of this small Skiff,
381 Discover’d thus by unexpected chance,
382 Than I unloos’d her tether and embark’d.
383 The moon was up, the Lake was shining clear
384 Among the hoary mountains; from the Shore
385 I push’d, and struck the oars and struck again
386 In cadence, and my little Boat mov’d on
387 Even like a Man who walks with stately step
388 Though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth
389 And troubled pleasure; not without the voice
390 Of mountain-echoes did my Boat move on,
391 Leaving behind her still on either side
392 Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
393 Until they melted all into one track
394 Of sparkling light. A rocky Steep uprose
395 Above the Cavern of the Willow tree
396 And now, as suited one who proudly row’d
397 With his best skill, I fix’d a steady view
398 Upon the top of that same craggy ridge,
399 The bound of the horizon, for behind
400 Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
401 She was an elfin Pinnace; lustily
402 I dipp’d my oars into the silent Lake,
403 And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
404 Went heaving through the water, like a Swan;
405 When from behind that craggy Steep, till then
406 The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
407 As if with voluntary power instinct,
408 Uprear’d its head. I struck, and struck again
409 And, growing still in stature, the huge Cliff
410 Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
411 With measur’d motion, like a living thing,
412 Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn’d,
413 And through the silent water stole my way
414 Back to the Cavern of the Willow tree.
415 There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark,
416 And, through the meadows homeward went, with grave
417 And serious thoughts; and after I had seen
418 That spectacle, for many days, my brain
419 Work’d with a dim and undetermin’d sense
420 Of unknown modes of being; in my thoughts
421 There was a darkness, call it solitude,
422 Or blank desertion, no familiar shapes
423 Of hourly objects, images of trees,
424 Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
425 But huge and mighty Forms that do not live
426 Like living men mov’d slowly through the mind
427 By day and were the trouble of my dreams.

The Prelude 1805

As the black storm upon the mountain top

Sets off the sunbeam in the valley, so 620

That huge fermenting mass of human-kind

Serves as a solemn back-ground, or relief,

To single forms and objects, whence they draw,

For feeling and contemplative regard,

More than inherent liveliness and power.

How oft, amid those overflowing streets,

Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said

Unto myself, “The face of every one

That passes by me is a mystery!”

Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed 630

By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,

Until the shapes before my eyes became

A second-sight procession, such as glides

Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;

And once, far-travelled in such mood, beyond

The reach of common indication, lost

Amid the moving pageant, I was smitten

Abruptly, with the view (a sight not rare)

Of a blind Beggar, who, with upright face,

Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest 640

Wearing a written paper, to explain

His story, whence he came, and who he was.

Caught by the spectacle my mind turned round

As with the might of waters; and apt type

This label seemed of the utmost we can know,

Both of ourselves and of the universe;

And, on the shape of that unmoving man,

His steadfast face and sightless eyes, I gazed,

As if admonished from another world.

(The Prelude Book Seven, 1850)