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Feeling terrible right now? Maybe some poetry will help.

poetry

Today is a hard day. America has just elected a president who embodies white populist nationalism, who will cost 21 million people their health insurance, who has said he wants to punish women who get abortions, whose views on global warming are so out of line with scientific consensus that they could have apocalyptic consequences. And that’s just the start.

Today is a hard day, and at times like this, it can feel frivolous and even morally wrong to do anything but watch the news, and bear witness, and think fatalistic thoughts about how democracy is ending and we were all stupid to ever think it could be otherwise.

But one of the ways we can get through hard days like this is through art. Art can help us express what is otherwise too difficult to stomach. It can help us bear witness actively, and it can strengthen our souls for the work we need to do.

Today is a hard day, and I hope that this poetry will help you get through it, and through all of the hard days to come.

“Evil,” by Langston Hughes

Looks like what drives me crazy

Don’t have no effect on you —

But I’m gonna keep on at it

Till it drives you crazy, too.

“Musee des Beaux Arts,” by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

“Election,” by John Holmes

[There are a few versions of this poem online. I’m including one that Konstantin Kakaes shared via Twitter, but you can read another version here.]

“Directive,” by Robert Frost

Back out of all this now too much for us,

Back in a time made simple by the loss

Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off

Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,

There is a house that is no more a house

Upon a farm that is no more a farm

And in a town that is no more a town.

The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you

Who only has at heart your getting lost,

May seem as if it should have been a quarry –

Great monolithic knees the former town

Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.

And there's a story in a book about it:

Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels

The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,

The chisel work of an enormous Glacier

That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.

You must not mind a certain coolness from him

Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.

Nor need you mind the serial ordeal

Of being watched from forty cellar holes

As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.

As for the woods' excitement over you

That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,

Charge that to upstart inexperience.

Where were they all not twenty years ago?

They think too much of having shaded out

A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.

Make yourself up a cheering song of how

Someone's road home from work this once was,

Who may be just ahead of you on foot

Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.

The height of the adventure is the height

Of country where two village cultures faded

Into each other. Both of them are lost.

And if you're lost enough to find yourself

By now, pull in your ladder road behind you

And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

Then make yourself at home. The only field

Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.

First there's the children's house of make-believe,

Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,

The playthings in the playhouse of the children.

Weep for what little things could make them glad.

Then for the house that is no more a house,

But only a belilaced cellar hole,

Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.

This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.

Your destination and your destiny's

A brook that was the water of the house,

Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,

Too lofty and original to rage.

(We know the valley streams that when aroused

Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)

I have kept hidden in the instep arch

Of an old cedar at the waterside

A broken drinking goblet like the Grail

Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,

So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.

(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)

Here are your waters and your watering place.

Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.