Poem Exchange

Poem Exchange: Poetry to Overcome COVID-19 


Like the mountain range that stretches before you and me, let's share the same trials and hardships together. 

Jack Ma

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses.

One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.

The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock? 

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

Wislawa Szymborska, Nothing twice

Some -
thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting schools, where one has to,
and the poets themselves,
there might be two people per thousand.

Like -
but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes having the upper hand,
one likes stroking a dog.

Poetry -
but what is poetry.
Many shaky answers
have been given to this question.
But I don't know and don't know and hold on to it
like to a sustaining railing.

Wislawa Szymborska, Some like poetry

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be. 

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Czesław Miłosz, A song of the end of the world

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Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction. 

Czeslaw Milosz, Incantation

Grass, grass up to my knees!
Grow up to the sky
So that there won't seem to be
Any you or I

So that I will turn all green
And blossom to my bones,
So that my words won't come between
Your freshness and my own.

So that for the two of us
There will be one name:
Either for both of us - grass,
Or both both of us - tuwim.

Julian Tuwin, Grass

While the Earth is still spinning,
While light still has not turned black,
God, may you give to everyone
Whatever they may lack:

A head to the man of wisdom,
A horse to the cowardly,
Money to him who’s happy...
And don’t forget about me.

While the Earth is still spinning —
God Almighty, you rule!
Let him who is striving for power
Devour that power in full,

Give a break to the generous
However brief it may be.
Let Cain be given Contrition...
And don’t forget about me.

I know: there’s nothing beyond you,
I trust in your being wise,
Same way as the perished soldier
Believes he is in paradise,

Same way each ear is trustful
Of your quiet words being true,
Same way we are all believing,
Though we know not what we do. 

God my Lord in Heaven,
My dear that has green eyes!
While the Earth is still spinning,
Much so to its own surprise,

While it still has in storage
Some fire and vivacity,
Give everyone just a little...
And don’t forget about me.

Bulat Okudzhava, The prayer of Francois Villon

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W. B. Yeats, He wishes for the cloths of heaven


TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,      
And sorry I could not travel both     
And be one traveler, long I stood     
And looked down one as far as I could        
To where it bent in the undergrowth;          

Then took the other, as just as fair,  
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;      
Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,           
And both that morning equally lay   
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!        

Yet knowing how way leads on to way        
I doubted if I should ever come back.            
I shall be telling this with a sigh       
Somewhere ages and ages hence:    
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,          
I took the one less traveled by,         
And that has made all the difference.             

Robert Frost, The road not taken 


in time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how 

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so(forgetting seem)

in time of roses(who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek(forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me

E.E. Cummings, In time of daffodils 


SWEET and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one sleeps. - 

Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother's breast,
Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the next,
Silver sails all out of the west
Under the silver moon;
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep. 

Alfred Tennyson, Sweet and low, sweet and low 

BY June our brook’s run out of song and speed.     
Sought for much after that, it will be found 
Either to have gone groping underground    
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,                 
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)—     
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,  
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent   
Even against the way its waters went.          
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet            
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat—
A brook to none but who remember long.   
This as it will be seen is other far     
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

Robert Frost, Hyla Brook 

When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.'

Robert Frost, Acceptance

Seated here attached to the present of this royal place

We are a singing joy , you and I.
Two in form two in figure , two to the outward eye
We're one in one, you and I .
The grove's verdant green picked in birdsong
Treat us kindly with a trace of eternity
As we enter the garden, you and I.
The unnumbered eyes of the stars gaze on us
We turn on them the moon's face, you and I
Set apart from the dross of empty words , you and I.
We are, you in I and In you, the envy of gorgeous.
Birds of paradise when we melt in secret laughter,
You and I , the mystery is you and I as we sit
Together in this royal place, yet in this cusp
Of being in this shade of common bliss we are one 
You and I
You and I
We are at once in Iraq and Khorasan
You and I.


When blizzards utter beastly roars,
Disgruntled and relentless,
Do not attempt to shut your doors,
Unlock your dwelling's entrance.

If for a long and distant roam
You're summoned by an omen,
Do not forget to leave your home
Unlocked, and doors wide open.

And on the night when you depart,
Decide and prove your sternness:
Mix flame of pine with flame of heart
Inside your dwelling's furnace.

Let every wall give warmth at night,
And bench give up its coarseness...
A door shut tight ain't worth a mite,
A lock is just as worthless!

Bulat Okudzhava, The song of the open door

Love letter in a viral pandemic
Bagpipes played in Scotland
Tenors sing from verandas in Italy
The dead will not hear them
And the living want to mourn their dead in silence
Who do they want to cheer?
The children?
But children are also dying

In my circumstance
I may die
Wondering if I will ever see you again
But before I die
I want you to know
How much I care for you
How much I worry about you
How much I remember shared and cherished
Moments then
Eternities now
The sea
The feather that the gull took to our table
Gold cuff links
The magnolia
The hospital
Socks pijama and other thoughtful things
All moments then
Eternities now
As I may die and you must die
in your living the hope of my lasting

Maria de Sousa, April 3, 2020

if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

David Whyte, 2017, Sometimes

Country of April is the site of the poem
Does not stay on the terraces of longing 
does not stay on the long lands. It's right here 
so close that it seems far away.

It has pine trees and sea has rivers
there's a lot of people and a lot of loneliness 
feast days that are sad days inside out 
it's street and dream is painful intimacy.

País de Abril é o sítio do poema.
Não fica nos terraços da saudade
não fica nas longas terras. Fica exactamente aqui
tão perto que parece longe.

Tem pinheiros e mar tem rios
tem muita gente e muita solidão
dias de festa que são dias tristes às avessas
é rua e sonho é dolorosa intimidade.

Manuel Alegre

Here’s my hat.
It holds my head,
the thoughts I’ve had
and the things I’ve read.

It keeps out the wind.
It keeps off the rain.
It hugs my hair
and warms my brain.

There’s me below it,
the sky above it.
It’s my lid.
And I love it.

Tony Mitton

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear:
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

Joy Harjo, Mad Love and War, 1990

I am nothing
I shall never be anything.
I cannot even wish to be anything.
Apart from this, I have within me all the dreams of the world.

Não sou nada.
Nunca serei nada.
Não posso querer ser nada.
À parte isso, tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mundo.

Álvaro de Campos (Fernando Pessoa)

At the gates of the tavern I saw the angels knock
Kneaded this clay we call human, and made it talk.

The residents of the Celestial Court and the heavenly bloc
Drank from the Wine of Love, with me, upon our common walk.

The earth and the skies could not keep this trust of the clock
Yet the poor insane me was stuck with such tough luck.

People find good reason for the wars in which they are stuck
Since Truth they cannot see, to fantasies they would flock.

In our midst, thank God, the dogs of war are put in chain and lock.
The angels gratefully drink, gracefully dance, from block to block.

Fire is not a flickering glow that a candle flame would mock
Fire is the flame of a heap of moths that lightning has just struck.

None like Hafiz, the mask of deceitful intellect can pluck
Till the hair of Bride of Verses was brushed lock after lock.

Hafiz Ghazal, 184

As every blossom fades
and all youth sinks into old age,
so every life’s design, each flower of wisdom,
attains its prime and cannot last forever.
The heart must submit itself courageously
to life’s call without a hint of grief,
A magic dwells in each beginning,
protecting us, telling us how to live.

High purposed we shall traverse realm on realm,
cleaving to none as to a home,
the world of spirit wishes not to fetter us
but raise us higher, step by step.
Scarce in some safe accustomed sphere of life
have we establish a house, then we grow lax;
only he who is ready to journey forth
can throw old habits off.

Maybe death’s hour too will send us out new-born
towards undreamed-lands,
maybe life’s call to us will never find an end
Courage my heart, take leave and fare thee well.

Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend
Dem Alter weicht, blüht jede Lebensstufe,
Blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend
Zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern.
Es muß das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe
Bereit zum Abschied sein und Neubeginne,
Um sich in Tapferkeit und ohne Trauern
In andre, neue Bindungen zu geben.
Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.
Wir sollen heiter Raum um Raum durchschreiten,
An keinem wie an einer Heimat hängen,
Der Weltgeist will nicht fesseln uns und engen,
Er will uns Stuf´ um Stufe heben, weiten.
Kaum sind wir heimisch einem Lebenskreise
Und traulich eingewohnt, so droht Erschlaffen;
Nur wer bereit zu Aufbruch ist und Reise,
Mag lähmender Gewöhnung sich entraffen.
Es wird vielleicht auch noch die Todesstunde
Uns neuen Räumen jung entgegen senden,
Des Lebens Ruf an uns wird niemals enden,
Wohlan denn, Herz, nimm Abschied und gesunde.

Herman Hess, 1941, Steps

Who had the idea of slicing time into pieces,
which were given the name of year,
was a genius person.
Industrialized hope
pushing it to the limits of its exhaustiveness.
Twelve months are enough for any human being to get tired and give up
Then comes the miracle of renovation and all stars once again
we pick up another number wishing that
from now on everything will be different..
...For you,
I wish your dreams fulfilled.
The love you waited.
Hope renewed.
For you,
I wish all the colors of life.
All happiness you can smile to
All songs you can thrill.
For you in this new year,
Wish all friends to be better,
May your family be more united,
May your life be more lived.
I would like to wish you so many things.
But nothing would be enough...
So, I wish only that you have many wishes.
Big wishes and may they move you further every single minute,
on route to your happiness!

Quem teve a ideia de cortar o tempo em fatias,
a que se deu o nome de ano,
foi um indivíduo genial.
Industrializou a esperança,
fazendo-a funcionar no limite da exaustão.
Doze meses dão para qualquer ser humano se cansar
e entregar os pontos.
Aí entra o milagre da renovação
e tudo começa outra vez, com outro número
e outra vontade de acreditar
que daqui para diante tudo vai ser diferente.
Para você, desejo o sonho realizado,
o amor esperado,
a esperança renovada.
Para você, desejo todas as cores desta vida,
todas as alegriar que puder sorrir,
todas as músicas que puder emocionar.
Para você, neste novo ano,
desejo que os amigos sejam mais cúmplices,
que sua família seja mais unida,
que sua vida seja mais bem vivida.
Gostaria de lhe desejar tantas coisas...
Mas nada seria suficiente...
Então desejo apenas que você tenha muitos desejos,
desejos grandes.
E que eles possam mover você a cada minuto
ao rumo da sua felicidade.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Paul McCartney and John Lennon (Beatles)

And people stayed home
and read books and listened
and rested and exercised
and made art and played
and learned new ways of being
and stopped
and listened deeper
someone meditated
someone prayed
someone danced
someone met their shadow
and people began to think differently
and people healed
and in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways,
dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
even the earth began to heal
and when the danger ended
and people found each other
grieved for the dead people
and they made new choices
and dreamed of new visions
and created new ways of life
and healed the earth completely
just as they were healed themselves.

Kathleen O'Meara, 1869


"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Emily Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1999

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With this farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W. H. Auden, In Memory of W. B. Yeats


In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. 

Albert Camus


In a long white hall
there are only my steps and the shadows that are following me
But the minutes are long
And into every minute one whole eternity can fit in

I know, you are fighting
I see your face in a joyful pain
It radiates with beauty
And now carries a new joy

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