World Poetry Day: 5 favourites

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Poetry is a window onto the breath-taking diversity of humanity. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General 

Today is World Poetry Day. It is held every year on 21 March to celebrate “one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity.” It is a day to honour all poets for expressing the things that most of us can’t, certainly not in the way poetry does. Nothing connects, science, art, nature and our humanness like poetry. I have chosen five of my favourites to share, including two from Africa – one by Ian McCallum who is so many good things rolled into one special human being – and one by Douglas Livingstone also a man of many parts. There could, of course, been hundreds more …

Wilderness

By Ian McCallum

Have we forgotten

that wilderness is not a place,

but a pattern of the soul

where every tree, every bird and beast

is a soul maker?

Have we forgotten

that wilderness is not a place

but a moving feast of stars,

footprints, scales and beginnings?

Since when

did we become afraid of the night

and that only the bright stars count?

Or that our moon is not a moon

unless it is full?

By whose command

were the animals

through groping fingers,

one for each hand,

reduced to the big five and the little five?

Have we forgotten

that every creature is within us

carried by tides

of Earthly blood

and that we renamed them?

Have we forgotten

that wilderness is not a place,

but a season

and that we are in its

final hour?

Mending Wall

By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there,

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

 

I know why the caged bird sings

 by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back

of the wind and floats downstream

till the current ends and dips his wing

in the orange suns rays

and dares to claim the sky.

 

But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage

can seldom see through his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

of things unknown but longed for still

and his tune is heard on the distant hill for

the caged bird sings of freedom.

 

the free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through

the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright

lawn and he names the sky his own.

 

But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

The caged bird sings with

a fearful trill of things unknown

but longed for still and his

tune is heard on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

 

Binsey Poplars

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled;

Of a fresh and following folded rank

Not spared, not one

That dandled a sandalled

Shadow that swam or sank

On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

 

O if we but knew what we do

When we delve or hew —

Hack and rack the growing green!

Since country is so tender

To touch, her being só slender,

That, like this sleek and seeing ball

But a prick will make no eye at all,

Where we, even where we mean

To mend her we end her,

When we hew or delve:

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.

Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve

Strokes of havoc unselve

The sweet especial scene,

Rural scene, a rural scene,

Sweet especial rural scene.

 

Lake Morning in Autumn

By Douglas Livingstone

 

Before sunrise the stork was there

resting the pillow of his body

on stick legs growing from the water.

 

A flickering gust of pencil-slanted rain

swept over the chill autumn morning:

and he, too tired to arrange

 

His wind-buffeted plumage,

perched swaying a little

neck flattened, ruminative,

 

beak on chest, contemplative eye

filmy with star vistas and hollow

black migratory leagues, strangely,

 

ponderously alone and some weeks

early. The dawn struck and everything

sky, water, bird, reeds

 

was blood and gold. He sighed.

Stretching his wings he clubbed

the air; slowly, regally, so very tired,

 

aiming his beak carefully climbed

inclining to his invisible tunnel of sky,

his feet trailing a long, long time.

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About Author

Peter has a career in publishing and conservation spanning more than four decades. His most recent project has been the development of Untold Africa, a meeting place for intelligent, engrossing and entertaining dialogue for a global community of like-minded people - people who share a common passion for the wild places of Africa, the creatures that inhabit them, and the breadth of African culture. See more

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