Great Poetry Quotes

A Thousand Mornings
By Mary Oliver

Penguin Books, 2012

Three Things to Remember –
As long as you’re dancing, you can

break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

Upstream: Selected Essays
By Mary Oliver

Penguin Books, 2016

“Teach the children…. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautify blossoms.
Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
Upstream, page 8. 

“I am myself, three selves at least.” Of Power and Time, page 24.

“But dawn – dawn is a gift. Much is revealed about a person by his or her passion, or indifference, to this opening of the door of day. No one who loves dawn, and is abroad to see it, could be a stranger to me.” Wordsworth’s Mountain, page 110.

“All the questions that the spider’s curious life made me ask, I know I can find answered in some book of knowledge, of which there are many. But the palace of knowledge is different from the palace of discovery, in which I am, truly, a Copernicus. The world is not what I thought, but different, and more! I have seen it with my own eyes!” Swoon, page 125.

“Imagine lifting the lid from a jar and finding it filled not with darkness but with light. Bird was like that. Startling, elegant, alive.” Bird, page 132.

Song of Myself
by Walt Whitman

I am old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine.

by William Shakespeare

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in its petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

by Tennyson

We are not now the strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 

Kobayashi Issa
(One of my favorite poets is Kobayashi Issa, a master poet for the common person.  His haiku and tanka reflect the reality of life for most of us who live on the lines.  I hope you enjoy reading these translated poems, but also visualizing the scenes in your mind.)

This world of dew 
is only the world of dew–
and yet… oh and yet…

I must be crazy
not to be crazy in this
crazy spring nightmare

A parent’s mind may
not be unenlightened and
one may nonetheless
lose one’s way completely
over love for one’s child.

What you do or don’t
say really doesn’t matter:
talking to dead trees

Passing high above
our village, migrating birds cry,
“Nobody needs you!”

A butterfly
flutters past–my body feels
the dust of the ages

Thus spring begins: old
stupidities repeated,
new errors invented

I wish she were here
to listen to my bitching
and enjoy this moon

A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

Gratitude for gifts,
even snow on my bedspread
a gift from the Pure Land

A world of trials,
and if the cherry blossoms,
it simply blossoms

While the street-corner
priest continues to blather–

Just to say the word
home, that one word alone,
so pleasantly cool

O summer snail,
you climb but slowly, slowly
to Fuji’s summit

Song of Myself
by Walt Whitman
(WW is my favorite American poet.  Like Issa, he writes for the common person, expressing our thoughts and lives as they are lived out in the fields and valleys.) 

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Four Quartets
by T.S. Eliot
(A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1971)

Burnt Norton I:

            Time present and time past
            Are both perhaps present in time future,
            And time future contained in time past.
            If all time is eternally present
            All time is unredeemable.
            What might have been an abstraction
            Remaining a perpetual possibility
            Only in a world of speculation.
            What might have been and what has been
            Point to one end, which is always present.
            Footfalls echo in the memory
            Down the passage which we did not take
            Towards the door we never opened
            Into the rose-garden.  My words echo
            Thus, in your mind.
                        But to what purpose
            Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
            I do not know.

            * *

            Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
            Cannot bear very much reality.
            Time past and time future
            What might have been and what has been
            Point to one end, which is always present.

Burnt Norton III

*  * *

            Distracted from distraction by distraction

            *  * *

Little Gidding IV

            The dove descending breaks the air
            With flame of incandescent terror
            Of which the tongues declare
            The one discharge from sin and error.
            The only hope, or else despair
                        Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre–
                        To be redeemed from fire by fire.

                        Who then devised the torment?  Love.
            Love is the unfamiliar Name
            Behind the hands that wove
            The intolerable shirt of flame
            Which human power cannot remove.
                        We only live, only suspire
                        Consumed by either fire or fire.