Poetry for Earth Day: “And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song”: Poems about Nature and Human NaturePosted: April 22, 2016
Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
It’s an earth song ––
And I’ve been waiting long
For an earth song.
It’s a spring song!
I’ve been waiting long
For a spring song:
Strong as the bursting of young buds.
Strong as the shoots of a new plant,
Strong as the coming of the first child
From its mother’s womb ––
An earth song!
A body song!
A spring song!
And I’ve been waiting long
For an earth song.
. . .
Helene Johnson (1906-1995)
Is this the sea?
This calm emotionless bosom,
Serene as the heart of a converted Magdalene ––
This lisping, lulling murmur of soft waters
Kissing a white beached shore with tremulous lips;
Blue rivulets of sky gurgling deliciously
O’er pale smooth-stones ––
This sudden birth of unrestrained splendour,
Tugging with turbulent force at Neptune’s leash;
This passionate abandon,
This strange tempestuous soliloquy of Nature,
All these –– the sea?
. . .
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961)
When April’s here and meadows wide
Once more with spring’s sweet growths are pied,
I close each book, drop each pursuit,
And past the brook, no longer mute,
I joyous roam the countryside.
Look, here the violets shy abide
And there the mating robins hide –
How keen my senses, how acute,
When April’s here.
And list! down where the shimmering tide
Hard by that farthest hill doth glide,
Rise faint streams from shepherd’s flute,
Pan’s pipes and Berecynthian lute.
Each sight, each sound fresh joys provide
When April’s here.
. . .
Remica L. Bingham (born Phoenix, Arizona)
The Ritual of Season
The candles we burned each monsoon night in August
stained the wooden holders that kept them in place.
As storm beat mauve to night and night beat mauve to damp morning,
we extinguished fire and bore the day like a crown.
dogged air nipped our faces
as we lay in formation
along the stiff ground – the young tribe
waiting mouths open
longing for snow
daily the heavens held back their glory
and we swept angels
into hard earth –
donning the silt of adobe wings
mocking the sun
The swollen hum, circadian rhythm,
displaced cockcrow, heralded dawn.
We toured the tan flatland, the ages
marked in furrowed caverns –
empty, cactus-ridden – sacred
secret paintings the only life
left on cave drawn walls.
Noon day, come high sun and oasis,
the headland showed her fury.
Dust would flare and we’d call it devil –
sheathing our faces, yielding to copper
coating our skin.
Under desert sun, road became wavering river.
The shimmer of heat, salamander swift, crossed
the burning middle of July.
When the moon, large as ancestry, conquered the sky,
our weapons were bare feet and laughter –
a porchswing vigil staving off the day.
. . .
Shara McCallum (born 1972)
The Spider Speaks
No choice but to spin,
the life given.
Mother warned me
I would wake one dawn
to a sun no longer yellow,
to an expanse of blue,
no proper word
to name it. Weaving
the patterned threads
of my life, each day
another web and the next.
If instead I could carve
my message in stone,
would it mean more?
I have only this form
to give. When the last
silvery strand leaves
my belly, I will see
what colour the sun
Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)
I shall come back when dogwood flowers are going
And passing drakes are honking toward the south
With eager necks, I shall come back knowing
The old unanswered question on your mouth.
When frost is on the manzonita shoots
And dogwoods at the spring are turning brown,
There between the interlacing roots
With folded arms I shall at last go down.
. . .
Ed Roberson (born 1939)
Neither New Hampshire nor Midwestern farm,
nor the summer home in some Hamptons garden
thing, not that Nature, not a satori
-al leisure come to terms peel by peel, not that core
whiff of beauty as the spirit. Just a street
pocket park, clean of any smells, simple quiet ––
simple quiet not the same as no birds sing,
definitely not the dead of no birds sing:
The bus stop posture in the interval
of nothing coming, a not quite here running
sound underground, sidewalk’s grate vibrationless
in open voice, sweet berries ripen in the street
hawk’s kiosks. The orange is being flown in
this very moment picked of its origin.
. . .
C.S. Giscombe (born 1950)
Air over the place partially occupied by crows going places every evening; the extent unseen from sidewalk or porch but obvious, because of the noise, even from a distance. Noise glosses – harsh, shrill, a wild card. Sundown’s a place for the eye, crows alongside that. Talk’s a rough ride, to me, what with the temptation to out-talk. At best long term memory’s the same cranky argument – changeless, not a tête-à-tête – over distance: to me, the category animals excludes birds, the plain-jane ones and birds of passage, both.To me, song’s even more ambiguous – chant itself, the place of connection and association. It’s birdless, bereft. I’m impartial, anhedonic. I’m lucky about distance but I would be remiss if I didn’t hesitate over image before going on.
. . .
Clarence Major (born 1936)
america, tom sawyer, is bigger
than your swim
hole. You meant, the union, water-
falls, one waterfall
a path near, from which you
jump, folklore, holding
your nose. a chemical change
takes place as you pollute
the water i drink. as your
jet lands, crashing my
environment. tom sawyer can’t hold
all the dead bodies upright
nor get anything
out of a lecture on control
systems. and bigger
thomas didn’t have an even
chance to study chemistry
. . .
Ishmael Reed (born 1938)
Points of View
the pioneers and the indians
disagree about a lot of things,
for example, the pioneer says that
when you meet a bear in the woods
you should yell at him and if that
doesn’t work you should fell him.
the indians say that you should
whisper to him softly and call him by
no one’s bothered to ask the bear
what he thinks.
. . .
Carl Phillips (born 1959)
The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the usual manner
of trees, slowly, but not without its clusters of spring leaves
taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,
shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it
sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if
by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,
scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do
with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much
I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree
was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook
in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with
their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in
the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.
A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is
luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,
I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for
what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and
dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more
persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,
all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:
force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,
through it. Like history. No –– history doesn’t fall, we fall
through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying
not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.
. . .
Frank X. Walker (born 1961)
The unripe cherry tomatoes, miniature red chili peppers
and small burst of sweet basil and sage in the urban garden
just outside the window on our third floor fire escape
might not yield more than seasoning for a single meal
or two, but it works wonders as a natural analgesic
and a way past the monotony of bricks and concrete,
the hum of the neighbour’s TV, back to the secret garden
we planted on railroad property when I was just a boy.
I peer into the window, searching for that look on mamma’s face,
when she kicked off her shoes, dug her toes into dirt
teeming with corn, greens, potatoes, onions, cabbage and beets;
bit into the flesh of a ripe tomato, then passed it down the row.
Enjoying our own fruit, we let the juice run down our chins,
leaving a trail of tiny seeds to harvest on hungry days like these.
. . .
Tim Seibles (born 1955)
Good to see the green world
undiscouraged, the green fire
bounding back every spring, and beyond
the tyranny of thumbs, the weeds
and other co-conspiring green genes
ganging up, breaking in,
despite small shears and kill-mowers,
ground gougers, seed-eaters.
Here they comes, sudden as graffiti
not there and then there ––
naked, unhumble, unrequitedly green ––
growing as if they would be trees
on any unmanned patch of earth,
any sidewalk cracked, crooning
between ties on lonesome railroad tracks.
And moss, the shyest green citizen
anywhere, tiptoeing the trunk
in the damp shade of an oak.
Clear a quick swatch of dirt
and come back sooner than later
to find the green friends moved in:
their pitched tents, the first bright
leaves hitched to the sun, new roots
tuning the subterranean flavours,
chlorophyll setting a feast of light.
Is it possible –– to be so glad?
The shoots rising in spite of every plot
against them. Every chemical stupidity,
every burned field, every better
home & garden finally overrun
by the green will, the green greenness
of green things growing greener.
The mad Earth publishing
her many million murmuring
how the shade pours
from the big branches – the ground,
the good ground, pubic
and sweet. The trees – who
are they? Their stillness, that
long silence, the never
. . .
Marilyn Nelson (born 1946)
Last Talk with Jim Hardwick
(a “found” poem)
When I die I will live again.
By nature I am a conserver.
I have found Nature
to be a conserver, too.
Nothing is wasted
or permanently lost
in Nature. Things
change their form,
but they do not cease
to exist. After
I leave this world
I do not believe I am through.
God would be a bigger fool
than even a man
if He did not conserve
the human soul,
which seems to be
the most important thing
He has yet done in the universe.
When you get your grip
on the last rung of the ladder
and look over the wall
as I am now doing,
you don’t need their proofs:
you will not die.
. . .
Ross Gay (born 1974)
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendour.
Say only, thank you.
. . . . .
Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966) “Black Woman” (1922) . Don’t knock at the door, little child, I cannot let you in, You know not what a world this is Of cruelty and sin. Wait in the still eternity Until I come to you, The world is cruel, cruel, child, I cannot let you in! . Don’t knock at my heart, little one, I cannot bear the pain Of turning deaf-ear to your call Time and time again! You do not know the monster men Inhabiting the earth, Be still, be still, my precious child, I must not give you birth! . . . Georgia Douglas Johnson “Common Dust” .
And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?
The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
The black, the white, the red,
And all the chromatique between,
Of whom shall it be said:
Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies the one unlabelled,
The world at large his home!
Can one then separate the dust?
Will mankind lie apart,
When life has settled back again
The same as from the start?
. . .
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) “La Vie C'est La Vie” (1922) . On summer afternoons I sit Quiescent by you in the park And idly watch the sunbeams gild And tint the ash-trees' bark. . Or else I watch the squirrels frisk And chaffer in the grassy lane; And all the while I mark your voice Breaking with love and pain. . I know a woman who would give Her chance of heaven to take my place; To see the love-light in your eyes, The love-glow on your face! . And there's a man whose lightest word Can set my chilly blood afire; Fulfillment of his least behest Defines my life’s desire. . But he will none of me, nor I Of you. Nor you of her. 'Tis said The world is full of jests like these.— I wish that I were dead. . . .
Jessie Redmon Fauset
“I can remember when I was a little young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan,
and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children;
they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’”
—Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
. I think I see her sitting bowed and black, Stricken and seared with slavery's mortal scars, Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet Still looking at the stars. . Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons, Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom's bars, Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set, Still visioning the stars! . . . Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-1981) “Hatred” (1926) . I shall hate you Like a dart of singing steel Shot through still air At even-tide, Or solemnly As pines are sober When they stand etched Against the sky. Hating you shall be a game Played with cool hands And slim fingers. Your heart will yearn For the lonely splendor Of the pine tree While rekindled fires In my eyes Shall wound you like swift arrows. Memory will lay its hands Upon your breast And you will understand My hatred. . . . Gwendolyn Bennett “Fantasy” (1927) . I sailed in my dreams to the Land of Night Where you were the dusk-eyed queen, And there in the pallor of moon-veiled light The loveliest things were seen ... . A slim-necked peacock sauntered there In a garden of lavender hues, And you were strange with your purple hair As you sat in your amethyst chair With your feet in your hyacinth shoes. . Oh, the moon gave a bluish light Through the trees in the land of dreams and night. I stood behind a bush of yellow-green And whistled a song to the dark-haired queen... . . .
Helene Johnson (1906-1995) was just that much younger than the other women poets,
and a letting-go of the conventions of 19th-century “romantic” verse form and literary style
plus an embracing of colloquial speech and Jazz rhythm is evident in the following poem, “Bottled”, which she wrote at the age of 21.
Upstairs on the third floor
Of the 135th Street Library
In Harlem, I saw a little
Bottle of sand, brown sand,
Just like the kids make pies
Out of down on the beach.
But the label said: “This
Sand was taken from the Sahara desert.”
Imagine that! The Sahara desert!
Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand.
And yesterday on Seventh Avenue
I saw a darky dressed to kill
In yellow gloves and swallowtail coat
And swirling at him. Me too,
At first, till I saw his face
When he stopped to hear a
Organ grinder grind out some jazz.
Boy! You should a seen that darky’s face!
It just shone. Gee, he was happy!
And he began to dance. No
Charleston or Black Bottom for him.
No sir. He danced just as dignified
And slow. No, not slow either.
Dignified and proud! You couldn’t
Call it slow, not with all the
Cuttin’ up he did. You would a died to see him.
The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear,
Just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’ that cane
And yellin’ out loud every once in a while.
I know the crowd thought he was coo-coo.
But say, I was where I could see his face,
And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle,
A real honest-to cripe jungle, and he wouldn’t leave on them
Trick clothes-those yaller shoes and yaller gloves
And swallowtail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing.
And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane.
He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point
Like the bayonets we had “over there.”
And the end of it would be dipped in some kind of
Hoo-doo poison. And he’d be dancin’ black and naked and
And He’d have rings in his ears and on his nose
And bracelets and necklaces of elephants teeth.
Gee, I bet he’d be beautiful then all right.
No one would laugh at him then, I bet.
Say! That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert
And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,
That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.
Trick shoes, trick coat, trick cane, trick everything-all glass-
But inside –
Gee, that poor shine!