It turns out February is a big month for famous poets' birthdays. It's quite a line-up--all those mentioned, plus Christopher Marlowe! Below are my favorite poems by some of the birthday guys and gals . . .
Love Is Not All by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again; Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; Yet many a man is making friends with death Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution's power, I might be driven to sell your love for peace, Or trade the memory of this night for food. It well may be. I do not think I would.
by Elizabeth Bishop
The roaring alongside he takes for granted, and that every so often the world is bound to shake. He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward, in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet of interrupting water comes and goes and glazes over his dark and brittle feet. He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.
- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs, he stares at the dragging grains.
The world is a mist. And then the world is minute and vast and clear. The tide is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which. His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something. Poor bird, he is obsessed! The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.
FOR THE LAST WOLVERINE by James Dickey
They will soon be down
To one, but he still will be For a little while still will be stopping
The flakes in the air with a look, Surrounding himself with the silence Of whitening snarls. Let him eat The last red meal of the condemned
To extinction, tearing the guts
From an elk. Yet that is not enough For me. I would have him eat
The heart, and, from it, have an idea Stream into his gnawing head That he no longer has a thing To lose, and so can walk
Out into the open, in the full
Pale of the sub-Arctic sun Where a single spruce tree is dying
Higher and higher. Let him climb it With all his meanness and strength. Lord, we have come to the end Of this kind of vision of heaven,
As the sky breaks open
Its fans around him and shimmers And into its northern gates he rises
Snarling complete in the joy of a weasel With an elk's horned heart in his stomach Looking straight into the eternal Blue, where he hauls his kind. I would have it all
My way: at the top of that tree I place
The New World's last eagle Hunched in mangy feathers giving
Up on the theory of flight. Dear God of the wildness of poetry, let them mate To the death in the rotten branches, Let the tree sway and burst into flame
And mingle them, crackling with feathers,
In crownfire. Let something come Of it something gigantic legendary
Rise beyond reason over hills Of ice SCREAMING that it cannot die, That it has come back, this time On wings, and will spare no earthly thing:
That it will hover, made purely of northern
Lights, at dusk and fall On men building roads: will perch
On the moose's horn like a falcon Riding into battle into holy war against Screaming railroad crews: will pull Whole traplines like fibers from the snow
In the long-jawed night of fur trappers.
But, small, filthy, unwinged, You will soon be crouching
Alone, with maybe some dim racial notion Of being the last, but none of how much Your unnoticed going will mean: How much the timid poem needs
The mindless explosion of your rage,
The glutton's internal fire the elk's Heart in the belly, sprouting wings,
The pact of the "blind swallowing Thing," with himself, to eat The world, and not to be driven off it Until it is gone, even if it takes
Forever. I take you as you are
And make of you what I will, Skunk-bear, carcajou, bloodthirsty
Lord, let me die but not die
The Electric Slide Boogie by Audre Lorde
New Year's Day 1:16 AM and my body is weary beyond time to withdraw and rest ample room allowed me in everyone's head but community calls right over the threshold drums beating through the walls children playing their truck dramas under the collapsible coatrack in the narrow hallway outside my room
The TV lounge next door is wide open it is midnight in Idaho and the throb easy subtle spin of the electric slide boogie step-stepping around the corner of the parlor past the sweet clink of dining room glasses and the edged aroma of slightly overdone dutch-apple pie all laced together with the rich dark laughter of Gloria and her higher-octave sisters
Like Anne Sexton, the business of words often keeps me awake. My favorite tulip? Queen of the Night. My books include The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception and Reckless Lovely. I also wrote a book of 366 writing prompts, one for every day of the year, with Kelli Russell Agodon: The Daily Poet, curate Beacon Bards, a 2nd Wednesday of the month poetry reading series at The Station in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood, and edit Crab Creek Review. Poems are forthcoming in Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, Orion, Southern Indiana Review, & Crab Orchard Review.