‘The Hill We Climb’ ~ inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman

(Stock Photo)

The Hill We Climb by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry.
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. §

Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate and first national youth poet laureate, delivered her poem The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Simply reading the words of her poem is like reading the lyrics to a song. To truly capture the rhythm, rhyme, mood, and promise of this powerful poem, please experience Gorman’s beautiful inauguration day performance. You can watch it at https://youtu.be/LZ055ilIiN4

‘Merry Autumn’ – a seasonal poem and art project

I had so much fun making this wax paper, crayon, and leaf collage. Make your own to relax, flex your creativity, and celebrate fall!

While we were preoccupied with our collective concerns during this difficult year, spring and summer came and went and autumn faithfully arrived in all its golden glory. Immersing ourselves in a seasonal poem and simple art project can bring calm, creativity, and celebration of a new season.

For some reason, many classic poems about autumn are a bit depressing. Shakespeare referred to this time of year “As the deathbed when it must expire.” Robert Frost penned, “Then leaf subsides to leaf, so Eden sank to grief.” Emily Bronte wrote of fall, “I shall sing when night’s decay ushers in a drearier day.”

As beautiful as those poems may be, they don’t exactly inspire cheer. Thankfully, Paul Lawrence Dunbar favors a merry autumn over a solemn one. I especially love the lines, “The earth is just so full of fun, it really can’t contain it.”

Merry Autumn by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

It’s a farce, – these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing.
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd –
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow:
And e’ven the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year, –
The highest time of living! –
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, born in 1872, was one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition. His heartwarming short story ‘The Finish of Patsy Barnes’ is one of my favorites.

Reading and thinking about Dunbar’s Merry Autumn, may put you in the mood to do this art project. No matter how grown-up we get, throwing ourselves into something fun and creative can do wonders for our mental health.

Fall Art ProjectWax Paper Leaf Collage:

Supplies: wax paper, leaves, crayons, dull knife, piece of cloth, iron
Basic Instructions:
1. Go outside and collect a few colorful leaves.
2. Arrange leaves on a piece of wax paper.
3. Using a dull knife, cut a few crayons into small pieces. (I made mine about the size of peppercorns.)
4. Scatter crayon pieces around leaves on wax paper.
5. Lay another piece of wax paper on top of leaves and crayon pieces.
6. Place a piece of cloth over wax paper. (A cloth napkin works well.)
7. Press heated iron onto cloth until crayons melt and wax paper is fused together. Do not let iron directly touch wax paper. Lift and press iron to keep colors from running together too much.
7. Display your fall art project in a window or wherever makes you happy.

Question of the Week: What is your favorite thing about autumn? Leave your answer and any other reaction to today’s post in the comment section. I’d love to see a photo of your fall art project! Please email it to me at Alicia@thesimpleswan.com. Wishing you a week spent enjoying “autumn’s time of splendor.”

Time to Fill the Well

I’ve felt a little drained lately. It seems I’m in good company, so maybe you can relate. When my well is empty, I always trust it will be refilled. And drop by drop, it always is.

A loon singing in the early morning mist. Drip Drop.

A fuzzy green fern unfurling from the ground. Drip Drop.

A red fox sneaking down the porch steps. Drip Drop.

A kind gesture from a loved one or a stranger. Drop. Drop. Drop.

I’m going to take a little break from writing The Simple Swan, but I will return. I leave you for now with the gifts of some other creative souls. I hope it fills your well, as it fills my own.

A haiku and watercolor by my sister, Melinda ~

melinda

A haiku by a reader, Cindy ~

Bulbs

They rise from the ground
After a long winter sleep
Like us in springtime

And one by my husband, Mike ~

Orchid

You’re like an orchid
Simple, delicate, stunning
And quite beautiful

And finally, this week my talented friend Nikki included a poem I wrote in her video about living a beautiful life at home. I’m sure you’ll want to watch the whole video and follow Nikki on YouTube and Patreon at Inspired by Nikki. My poem Forever in a Day is featured at the 10:00 mark. Her lovely voice, painting, music and videography truly lift my simple poem off the page, encouraging me to heed my own words and focus on living a beautiful life day by day by day.  §

Pandemic Poetry ~ It’s Rhyme Time

National Poetry Month couldn’t have come at a better time. The Coronavirus pandemic has extended our stay-at-home orders at least through the rest of April, giving us plenty of time to let poetry soothe and strengthen us.

Last week we explored haikus, and I was thrilled to receive some of your original poetry! This week, let’s write a poem that rhymes. Please share your poem here or email it to me at aliciawoodward4@aol.com. I plan to feature readers’ poetry later this month.

Poetry might be just what the doctor ordered to get us through an unfathomable time in our global history. It helps us express our emotions and fills our heads and hearts with loftier thoughts. Our country’s Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”

Poetry reminds us we’re not alone and nothing we experience is unique to the human condition. I urge you to curl up with a poetry book you have lying around your house or search out poetry online. The Academy of American Poets hosts a wonderful poetry site at poets.org. Reading poetry is also a sure way to get our own creative juices flowing.

Just get out a piece of paper or fire up your laptop and start writing. If you’re anything like me, whatever you start writing about will transform into something completely different and surprisingly therapeutic.

This week I’m hoping you’ll try to write a poem that rhymes. Certainly the pandemic is giving the feels to the most stoic among us. Whatever emotion you’re experiencing could become the theme of your poem.

Here are some common types of rhymes found in poetry ~

  • End Rhymes –  rhyming the final words in the lines of a poem
  • Internal Rhymes – rhyming of two words within the same line of poetry
  • Slant Rhymes – a near rhyming of two words that share the same vowel or consonant sound (like heart and star)
  • Rich Rhymes – a rhyme of words that have the same sound (like raise and raze)
  • Eye Rhymes – rhymes on words that look the same but are pronounced differently (like bough and rough)
  • Identical Rhymes – simply using the same word twice

I don’t consider myself much of a poet, but I wrote this poem containing end rhymes in celebration of Easter morning and every morning. It suggests a simple, gratitude-filled approach to life inspired by the hope and promise of daily, seasonal and infinite renewal and rebirth.

Forever in a Day

To see forever in a day
Wake up and lift your voice to pray
Watch sunlight spread across the land
Just as it’s done since time began

Feel the earth so lush and green
Where brown and dormant ground had been
Hear sweet birdsong fill the air
Smell the flowers everywhere

To see forever in a day
Ask for wisdom come what may
Seek timeless lessons to be learned
Toil for honest wages earned

Heed tales told by wrinkled eyes
Sing a baby lullabies
Reach for a neighbor’s hand in love
We look the same from up above

To see forever in a day
Have faith that stones can roll away
Let starlight fall upon your face
Older than the human race

Allow great mysteries to unfold
Dream of ancient stories told
Sleep peacefully until the morn
Each break of dawn we are reborn §

Pandemic Poetry ~ Let’s Write a Haiku

There’s something wonderful on April’s calendar that hasn’t been cancelled or postponed. It’s National Poetry Month. The celebration is taking on new meaning and importance this year as people all over the world turn to poetry for comfort, creativity and connection during this challenging time.

Each Sunday in April, The Simple Swan will offer a brief workshop of sorts to explore a certain type of poetry and encourage you to write and share your own poems. This week, let’s take a look at a familiar Japanese form of poetry called haiku.

Haikus were always a favorite of my literature students for an obvious reason ~ they’re short. Well-known for the rule of 5-7-5, a haiku consists of just three unrhymed lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. (You probably remember tapping your pencil on the desk to learn syllables in school. For example, the word frog has one syllable. The word silent has two syllables.)

Nature often inspires poetry, but a haiku, by definition, is about nature. It can be traced back to 9th century Japan where it evolved as poetry that specifically celebrated the natural world. Matsuo Basho wrote one of the most famous haikus in the 1600s.

“The Old Pond” 

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond –

Splash! Silence again. 

While you keep yourself and others safe by staying at home, I hope you find the time to pen your own haiku. Maybe you can make it a family activity. Find something in nature that makes you happy and form your thoughts about it into a simple three-line poem that follows the 5-7-5 rule.

Please consider sharing your poem by leaving it in the comments or emailing it to me at  aliciawoodward4@aol.com. You might want to get really creative and illustrate your poem. Haikus are often accompanied by simple watercolor paintings. Hang it on your refrigerator as a little food for thought.

Poetic inspiration struck me early this morning when, wrapped in a blanket, I stepped out on the porch for a fresh look at the new day. I inhaled deeply and watched my exhaled breath quickly disappear in the cool spring air. From inside, I heard the television mumble news of virus and ventilators. Closing my eyes, I took a slower, more intentional breath filled with gratitude and hope.

“Air” 

Nothing more precious

A calming, life-giving flow

In and out. Just breathe. §

A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

 

feather

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“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. §
 
 

 

Love Poems

Choosing a poem for February to celebrate the beauty of both love and nature seemed a simple task. Poetry books are filled with such poems, but I couldn’t find one that was just right. Most seemed too heavy, fluffy, melodramatic, insincere, tragic or callow.

Unaware of my search for the perfect poem, my husband wrote me one for Valentine’s Day. Now that’s the kind of poem I was looking for! I’m keeping such a personal gift to myself, but it inspired me to find a poem so gentle yet sturdy.

Then I came across a poem by Daniel G. Hoffman called Yours. Hoffman was a poet, critic and educator. From 1973 to 1974, he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an appointment now called Poet Laureate. His poems were often set outdoors and explored man’s connection to the natural world.

In describing Hoffman’s poems, a scholar wrote, “In them is a lifetime of careful observance, the voice rarely raised yet passionate in its precision, the man behind it enough a lover of life to have been properly critical of the way we live it.” (I must say I’m struck by how easily these words could be said of my husband.)

Hoffman wrote this poem for his wife, Elizabeth McFarland, to whom he was married for 57 years. McFarland was also a poet and poetry editor for Ladies Home Journal from 1948 until 1961 when the magazine stopped publishing verse.

The poem has four unrhymed couplets and creates strong images of relationships found in nature ~ flower scented air, mountains in the moonlight, a tree in spring, and an island in the sea.

Anyone who has loved another can surely relate to this beautiful line found in the last stanza ~ your love is the weather of my being. §

Yours by Daniel Hoffman

I am yours as the summer air at evening is
Possessed by the scent of linden blossoms,

As the snowcap gleams with light
Lent it by the brimming moon.

Without you I’d be an unleafed tree
Blasted in a bleakness with no Spring.

Your love is the weather of my being.
What is an island without the sea? ❤

Winter Morning Poem by Ogden Nash

Winter Morning Poem by Ogden Nash

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue!
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing.
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.

About the Poet ~ Frederic Ogden Nash was one of America’s most successful poets of the twentieth century. He became well-known through his work at The New Yorker and as host of a radio quiz show called Information Please.

Nash was famous for his light-hearted verse, unconventional rhymes, puns and humor. He died in 1971 at the age of 68. The US Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Nash on the centennial of his birth in 2002.

About this Poem ~ Winter Morning Poem is about the simple joy of snow. Nash uses an end rhyme scheme that makes the poem fun to read aloud. Other poetic devices in this little poem include alliteration, sensory language and a touch of irony.

While acknowledging snow can be a mess, Nash helps us regain our childlike wonder of waking up to a winter snow. Maybe this poem can remind us not to let our grown-up practicality keep us from seeing the innocent beauty in the world.

I must admit I enjoy poetry that isn’t heavy and dark or loaded with obscure vocabulary and symbolism. I hope you agree this poem is perfect for celebrating nature on a cold January day. Though it’s slushy when it’s going, don’t you love the snowy snow when it’s snowing? §

Robert Frost’s Christmas Trees

December was always the most wonderful time of the year to share holiday classics with my literature students. The words and images in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi had magical calming effects on eighth graders whose visions of sugarplum fairies were sprinkled with raging adolescent hormones.

Though sometimes panned as boring by my students, one of my favorite holiday poems is Christmas Trees by Robert Frost. I’m partial to anything written by Frost who, like me, loved writing about the simplicity of nature. How I wish I’d written this lovely line. Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon. Sigh.

Frost wrote Christmas Trees in 1916 to address consumerism at Christmastime. (My, what he would think of it today!) The speaker in the poem is a country farmer who tells the story of being approached by a slick businessman who wants to buy the young trees in his woods to sell as Christmas trees back in the city.

The businessman offers to purchase a thousand trees for a total of thirty dollars. The farmer is wise enough to know that Christmas trees are sold in the city for a dollar, so the offer amounted to a mere three cents a tree. The reader understands the farmer loves his trees and would not likely sell them for any price. I doubt if I was tempted for a moment to sell them off their feet to go in cars and leave the slope behind the house all bare.

In the end, the farmer is writing Christmas letters to friends and thinks of giving them one of his trees. Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter. I can’t help wishing I could send you one, in wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy this free-verse poem as much as I do. It reminds me to focus on my relationships with nature and people above money and material things at Christmastime and always. §

Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

An Artist, a Tree, a Poet and Me

In the heart of Nashville, Indiana, on a walking trail that runs along the banks of the Salt Creek is a sycamore tree that would stop most observant travelers in their tracks. If they heed the call to come closer, they are rewarded with gifts of man and nature’s creative collaboration.

The tree stands about a hundred feet tall with two big trunks of equal size rising from a massive exposed root system. The thick roots naturally form what looks like a bench, perfect for a person to rest, or think or pray.

Upon closer examination, the gnarled roots at one end of the bench are expertly carved to look like a large benevolent hand. Five sturdy curved fingers rise out of the flat root bench to gently hug anyone who stops to sit under the sycamore on the bank of the Salt Creek.

As I relaxed in the tree’s embrace and absorbed the beauty of nature and art, I was struck by the deep relationship between the two. I imagined the sculptor reverently asking the sycamore for its permission to cut into its roots to co-create something that would celebrate its magnificence.

When I rose from the comforting spot, I noticed a piece of paper hanging by a nail on the primary trunk of the tree. I climbed up the roots to get a closer look. At the top of the page it read ~ Friends, if you like this poem, please take a copy. The poem was titled View of Life by Andrew Hubbard.

Ceremoniously, I removed the white laminated paper off the rusty nail. My heart soared before I even read the poem. Under the fading fall canopy of a sycamore, I felt I’d stumbled upon a secret society of poets, artists and mystics as inspired by nature as I.

The irony of a poet posting a poem on a tree amused me. At a time when people hastily share their every thought on social media and the Internet, I found Hubbard’s post refreshingly clever, quaint and genuine.

On the back of his poem, Hubbard wrote that this month marks five years since he began hanging poems on the tree “partly in an attempt to publicize myself, and partly just for fun.” He posts a poem every other month and replaces copies as they are taken.

With my eyes on my gift from the sycamore tree, I slowly walked down the Salt Creek Trail feeling crispy leaves crunch underfoot. The dappled sun danced on the page through yellowing limbs and wild sounds along the creek vibrated as I read Hubbard’s poem and contemplated my own tiny mark. §

View of Life

Of all nature’s metaphors

The one that takes my breath

Is the blast of October wind

(Sometimes with a slap of rain)

Tearing loose a million leaves

And twirling them to crisp drifts

That will fade and collapse 

Under the stern weight of winter.

On every tree each fallen leaf 

Left a tiny mark, a place

For a new leaf to push 

Its way into sunlight

When the infinitely slow, infinitely certain

Pulse of spring sings to it.

The ones who went before, 

Leaves and people,

Have little trace or memory

And there is sadness in that

But grandeur also.     

Andrew Hubbard is a poet who lives in Nashville, Indiana. He has published three books of poetry titled “Things That Get You”, “The Divining Rod”, and “Meeting the Moon Halfway”. Hubbard’s books are available at Amazon.com or by contacting him at ahubbard1050@yahoo.