"Black Oaks"

Okay, not one can write a symphony, or a dictionary,
   or even a letter to an old friend, full of remembrance
   and comfort.

Not one can manage a single sound though the blue jays
   carp and whistle all day in the branches, without 

   the push of the wind. 

But to tell the truth after a while I'm pale with longing 
   for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen 

and you can't keep me from the woods, from the tonnage 
   of their shoulders, and their shining green hair. 

Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a 
   little sunshine, a little rain. 

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from 
   one boot to another -- why don't you get going? 

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees. 

And to tell the truth I don't want to let go of the wrists 
   of idleness, I don't want to sell my life for money, 
   I don't even want to come in out of the rain.

-- by Mary Oliver

What a gorgeous poem, yes? For those of us who get a little drunk by a walk through the woods, Oliver's words are a perfect pocket companion.

Which leads me to a request: can any of you point me to your favorite "place-infused" poem? I'm gearing up for The Poetry of Place workshop I'm leading in May, and I'd like to put together a reading list that hovers with inspiration.  Thanks for the help, friends!


  1. Frost:
    Putting in the Seed
    Stopping by a Woods
    And many more.
    I am a devoted rereader of frost. Have walked his farm in NH

    1. Clyde, so have I! What a very special view of the White Mountains he had, huh? It's not surprising that he was inspired by the natural world around him. Thank you for this list!

  2. What a delicious invitation! both invitations, in fact: Mary Oliver's to come into the alluring woods, and yours to nominate poems.

    For me, it's almost anything by Edward Thomas (try 'the chalk pit' or 'as the team's head brass'), or by his brilliant namesake RS Thomas (try 'Llananno', which I talk about on my blog here: http://printedland.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/a-sacred-space.html, or try 'Soil'.

    And enjoy your workshop!


    1. Thank you, Ian! I'm not familiar with much of Thomas' work, so I'm excited to dive in. So helpful!

  3. Emily:

    OMG! I just read this poem two days ago. I often return to my Mary Oliver collections for inspiration.

    I suggest "Even in Quiet Places" - William Stafford, particularly the afterword, written by Kim Stafford, pp. 109-116.

    Also, in the introduction: ""Have you a place where, when the wrold ends, you want to be?" Plus poem p. 100: "You Reading This: Stop"


    1. Perfect!

      I've been reading the poems in Oliver's BLUE IRIS one by one, three times each, aloud to Elliot almost every day. It's amazing how even babies can recognize cadence, natural breaks, etc. And what a way for me to anticipate spring while I share language with my darling.

      Love that quote. Will be using it!

  4. If you're looking for "place" poetry published in Minnesota, I'd recommend the literary magazine, Lake Region Review, publishing its third volume this year. Here's the link: http://lakeregionwriters.net/lake-region-review/

    1. Great! Thanks, Audrey. Good idea to reference current local talent. :)

  5. Here's one by Jim Moore: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/state-of-the-arts/archive/2010/03/minnesota-poetry-jim-moores-a-summer-afternoon-venice.shtml
    It's called, "A Summer Afternoon, Venice", and is from his book, The Freedom of History. Hope you like it!

    1. Ah, Jim Moore. Beautiful. Thanks for pointing me to it, these lines in particular:

      "...Everyone/ is going for a walk on that road/ one time soon."

  6. The Wild Swans at Coole
    W.B. Yeats

    The trees are in their autumn beauty,
    The woodland paths are dry,
    Under the October twilight the water
    Mirrors a still sky;
    Upon the brimming water among the stones 5
    Are nine and fifty swans.

    The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
    Since I first made my count;
    I saw, before I had well finished,
    All suddenly mount 10
    And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
    Upon their clamorous wings.

    I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
    And now my heart is sore.
    All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, 15
    The first time on this shore,
    The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
    Trod with a lighter tread.

    Unwearied still, lover by lover,
    They paddle in the cold, 20
    Companionable streams or climb the air;
    Their hearts have not grown old;
    Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
    Attend upon them still.

    But now they drift on the still water 25
    Mysterious, beautiful;
    Among what rushes will they build,
    By what lake’s edge or pool
    Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
    To find they have flown away?

    1. Another home run, Clyde. In the future, my workshop participants are already thanking you. And I love that you posted the whole poem here. This post is becoming a depository of beautiful words.

  7. An amazing, epic poem My favorite line:And to tell the truth I don't want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don't want to sell my live for money, I don't even want to come in out of the rain". This describes me, exactly.

    And one of my favorite place poems is"

    Lost in the forest...

    Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
    and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
    maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
    a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

    Something from far off it seemed
    deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
    a shout muffled by huge autumns,
    by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

    Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
    sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
    climbed up through my conscious mind

    as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
    cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood---
    and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.

    -Pablo Neruda

    Hope you like this.

    1. Bill, Bill, Bill. Neruda has been my favorite poet since I was in high school, and somehow I've never come across this poem. Gorgeous.

      And I know exactly what you mean about those last lines. Yours was also my reaction. This poem I read to Elliot many more times than just three, and after, I said to him, "Someday, if you're lucky, you might feel this way, too."

    2. You are a big Pablo Neruda fan too? His passion with words is unparalleled in my humble opinion, although I have to admit. Since "meeting" you I have become a very big Mary Oliver fan. Her writing evokes emotion, nearly every time I read it!

      Tell your baby that he has a terrific Mom!

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  9. As one with ties to Illinois,I suggest Sandburg's "Chicago," and all of Spoon River Anthology."

  10. One of the best of all place poems. "To kneel where prayer has been valid" is a line that haunts me.
    Little Gidding

    Midwinter spring is its own season
    Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
    Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
    When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
    The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
    In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
    Reflecting in a watery mirror
    A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
    And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
    Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
    In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
    The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
    Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
    But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
    Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
    Of snow, a bloom more sudden
    Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
    Not in the scheme of generation.
    Where is the summer, the unimaginable
    Zero summer?

    If you came this way,
    Taking the route you would be likely to take
    From the place you would be likely to come from,
    If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
    White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
    It would be the same at the end of the journey,
    If you came at night like a broken king,
    If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
    It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
    And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
    And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
    Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
    From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
    If at all. Either you had no purpose
    Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
    And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
    Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
    Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
    But this is the nearest, in place and time,
    Now and in England.

    If you came this way,
    Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
    At any time or at any season,
    It would always be the same: you would have to put off
    Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
    Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
    Or carry report. You are here to kneel
    Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
    Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
    Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
    And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
    They can tell you, being dead: the communication
    Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
    Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
    Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

    1. Beautiful words here! Simply mesmerizing! Thanks for posting this.

    2. Agree. Wow. I feel breathless at the end of this one, Clyde. Thank you!

  11. Oh, of course someone would have mentioned "Little Gidding"! But there's more place-poetry than that in "The Four Quartets". No one has captured the ambiguity of The River better than Eliot - a remnant of his American life that stayed with him.

    I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
    Is a strong brown god - sullen, untamed and intractable,
    Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
    Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
    The only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
    The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
    By the dwellers in cities - ever, however, implacable.
    Keeping his seasons, and rages, destroyer, reminder
    Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
    By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
    His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
    In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
    In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
    And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

    The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
    The sea is the land's edge also, the granite,
    Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
    Its hints of earlier and other creation:
    The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
    The pools where it offers to our curiosity
    The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
    It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
    The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
    And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
    Many gods and many voices.

    And speaking of many gods, I think my absolutely favorite poems about place are by Cavafy - "Ithaca" and "The God Abandons Antony". I prefer Durrell's translation within his "Alexandrian Quartet", but I can't find that text online, so this will have to do.

    When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
    an invisible procession going by
    with exquisite music, voices,
    don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
    work gone wrong, your plans
    all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
    As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
    say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
    Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
    it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
    don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
    As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
    as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
    go firmly to the window
    and listen with deep emotion, but not
    with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
    listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
    to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
    and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

    It just occurred to me that my favorite poem is the "Four Quartets" and my favorite novel(s) is "The Alexandria Quartet". I have no idea what that means, but it's interesting.

    1. I knew you'd come through with something stunning, Linda. Thank you for these, and I think just the word "quartet" is a lovely thing to spend an afternoon musing over. :)

  12. Beautiful! I've not read of this before and it is lovely. Thank you.

  13. I'm missing your voice here, Emily, and can only imagine how full (overflowing) your hours are these days. Much love to you and the writer within who no-doubt needs a little love and affirmation that there will, indeed, be time for her down the road.

    1. Yes and yes. Thank you dear woman-who-has-gone-before. There is and will ever be magic in the madness, I'm sure. xo


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