The HyperTexts

The Best Nature Poems

This page contains some of the best nature poems in the English language. I have also provided my admittedly highly subjective list of the greatest nature poems in the English language, below.

Is this the world's ugliest animal ... or is it kinda cute, in a Ghostbusters ectoplasmic kind of way? It's called the Blobfish.

by Michael R. Burch

The Blobfish
by Michael R. Burch

You can call me a "blob"
with your oversized gob,
but what's your excuse,
gargantuan Zeus:
whose picturesque abs
are now marbleized flab?

But what really alarms me
(I wish you'd abstain!)
is when you start using
that oversized "brain."

The Sick Rose
by William Blake

O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Ah! Sunflower
by William Blake

Ah! sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;

Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves and aspire;
Where my sunflower wishes to go.

My Top Twenty Nature Poems (most appear on this page)

(20) "The Sick Rose" and "Ah! Sunflower" by William Blake
(19) "The Turtle," "The Wasp," "The Guppy," "The Cow," "The Termite" and "The Ostrich" by Ogden Nash
        "The Bee" by Matsuo Basho
        "No Droning Bee" and "A Younger Filly" by Sappho
        "The Hippopotamus" by Hillaire Belloc
(18) "Sweet Rose of Virtue" by William Dunbar
(17) "Whoso List to Hunt" by Sir Thomas Wyatt
(16) "Hope Is a Thing with Feathers," "Come Slowly Eden" and "I Heard a Fly Buzz" by Emily Dickinson
(15) "A Blessing" by James Wright
        "Wild Asters" by Sarah Teasdale
(14) "The Tyger" and "The Little Lamb" by William Blake
(13) "The Badger" and "Mouse's Nest" by John Clare
(12) "The Windhover" by Gerard Manley Hopkins
(11) "Cold-Blooded Creatures" and "The Eagle and the Mole" by Elinor Morton Wylie
(10) "The Armadillo" and "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop
  (9) "Skunk Hour" by Robert Lowell
  (8) "Hurt Hawks" by Robinson Jeffers
  (7) "The Hinds of the Field" passage from the Song of Solomon (King James Bible)
        "It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free" and "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold" by William Wordsworth
  (6) "The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy
  (5) "The Death of a Toad" by Richard Wilbur
  (4) "A Noiseless Patient Spider" and "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer" by Walt Whitman
  (3) "A Red, Red Rose," "Afton Water," "To a Mouse" and "To a Louse" by Robert Burns
  (2) "To Earthward," "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "Birches," "Design" and "The Most of It" by Robert Frost
  (1) "The Wild Swans at Coole," "Innisfree" and "Leda and the Swan" by William Butler Yeats

Sappho, fragment 113
loose translation by by Michael R. Burch

No droning bee,
nor even the bearer of honey
for me!

Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that is held most dear―
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I saw flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet everywhere, no odor but bitter rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.

To Earthward
by Robert Frost

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of — was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young:
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass or sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

Whoso List to Hunt
by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas!, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Noli me tangere means "Touch me not." According to the Bible, this is what Jesus said to Mary Magdalene when she tried to embrace him after the resurrection. In May 1536, Wyatt was imprisoned in the Tower of London for allegedly committing adultery with Anne Boleyn. He was released from the Tower later that year, thanks to his friendship and his father's friendship with Thomas Cromwell. But during his stay in the Tower, Wyatt may have witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn from his cell window, and the executions of the five other men with whom she was accused of committing adultery. A common interpretation of this poem is that the deer (dear) is Anne Boleyn, and that Caesar is King Henry VIII, who had her and her lovers beheaded.

A Blessing
by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold
by William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm And Free

by William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

Wild Asters
by Sara Teasdale

In the spring I asked the daisies
  If his words were true,
And the clever, clear-eyed daisies
  Always knew.

Now the fields are brown and barren,
  Bitter autumn blows,
And of all the stupid asters
  Not one knows.

A Red, Red Rose

by Robert Burns

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
Oh my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

The Hippopotamus

by Hillaire Belloc

I shoot the Hippopotamus
With bullets made of platinum,
Because if I use leaden ones
His hide is sure to flatten 'em.

Leda and the Swan

by William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                                            Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Come slowly, Eden
by Emily Dickinson

Come slowly—Eden
Lips unused to thee—
Bashful—sip thy jasmines—
As the fainting bee—

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums—
Counts his nectars—alights—
And is lost in balms!

The Wild Swans at Coole
by William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

The Death of a Toad
by Richard Wilbur

       A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
   To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
   Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
      Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
          Low, and a final glade.

       The rare original heartsblood goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
    In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
    As still as if he would return to stone,
        And soundlessly attending, dies
           Toward some deep monotone,

       Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies.
    Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
    In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
        To watch, across the castrate lawn,
            The haggard daylight steer.

A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

The Most of It
by Robert Frost

He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree—hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder—broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter—love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff's talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

The Darkling Thrush

by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
     The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

The Tyger
by William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Eagle and the Mole
by Elinor Morton Wylie

Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.

The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps above the clouds
His cliff inviolate.

When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.

If in the eagle's track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.

If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole:
Go burrow underground.

And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.

Sappho, fragment 35
loose translation by by Michael R. Burch

Although you are very dear to me
you must marry a younger filly:
for I am far too old for you,
and this old mare is not that silly.

A friend of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns explains how he came to immortalize a lowly field mouse: "This beautiful poem was imagined while the poet was holding the plough, on the farm of Mossgiel: the field is still pointed out, and a man called Blane is still living, who says he was gaudsman to the bard at the time, and chased the mouse with the plough-pettle, for which he was rebuked by his young master, who inquired what harm the poor mouse had done him. In the night that followed, Burns awoke his gaudsman, who was in the same bed with him, recited the poem as it now stands, and said, 'What think you of our mouse now?'"

To a Mouse
by Robert Burns
modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,      Sleek, tiny, timorous, cowering beast,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!                   why's such panic in your breast?
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,              Why dash away, so quick, so rash,
Wi' bickering brattle!                                   in a frenzied flash
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,             when I would be loath to run after you
Wi' murd'ring pattle!                                    with a murderous plowstaff!

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion                   I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,               has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,                        and justifies that bad opinion
Which makes thee startle,                           which makes you startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,    when I'm your poor, earth-born companion
An' fellow-mortal!                                       and fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;    I have no doubt you sometimes thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!  What of it, friend? You too must live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave                          A random corn-ear in a shock's
'S a sma' request:                                         a small behest; it-
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,                        'll give me a blessing to know such a loss;
An' never miss't!                                         I'll never miss it!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!                Your tiny house lies in a ruin,
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!             its fragile walls wind-rent and strewn!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,          Now nothing's left to construct you a new one
O' foggage green!                                        of mosses green
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,          since bleak December's winds, ensuing,
Baith snell an' keen!                                   blow fast and keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,       You saw your fields laid bare and waste
An' weary Winter comin fast,                     with weary winter closing fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,               and cozy here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,                                you thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past                  till crash! the cruel iron ploughshare passed
Out thro' thy cell.                                        straight through your cell!

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,      That flimsy heap of leaves and stubble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!          had cost you many a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,    Now you're turned out, for all your trouble,
But house or hald.                                       less house and hold,
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,           to endure cold winter's icy dribble
An' cranreuch cauld!                                   and hoarfrosts cold!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,              But mouse-friend, you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:               in proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,     the best-laid schemes of Mice and Men
Gang aft agley,                                            go oft awry,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,         and leave us only grief and pain,
For promis'd joy!                                        for promised joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!         Still, friend, you're blessed compared with me!
The present only toucheth thee:                 Only present dangers make you flee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,              But, ouch!, behind me I can see
On prospects drear!                                    grim prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,                     While forward-looking seers, we
I guess an' fear!                                           humans guess and fear!

One Sunday while sitting behind a young lady in church, Robert Burns noticed a louse roaming through the bows and ribbons of her bonnet. The poem "To a Louse" resulted from his observations. The poor woman had no idea that she would be the subject of one of Burns' best poems about how we see ourselves, compared to how other people see us at our worst moments.

To a Louse
by Robert Burns
modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

Ha! Whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?              Hey! Where're you going, you crawling hair-fly?
Your impudence protects you sairly,                 Your impudence protects you, barely;
I canna say but ye strut rarely                            I can only say that you swagger rarely
Owre gauze and lace,                                         Over gauze and lace.
Tho' faith! I fear ye dine but sparely                  Though faith! I fear you dine but sparely
On sic a place.                                                    In such a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,                        You ugly, creeping, blasted wonder,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,                Detested, shunned by both saint and sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her—                  How dare you set your feet upon her—
Sae fine a lady!                                                   So fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner        Go somewhere else to seek your dinner
On some poor body.                                           On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's hauffet squattle:           Off! around some beggar's temple shamble:
There you may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle  There you may creep, and sprawl, and scramble,
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,                       With other kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;                                         In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle           Where horn nor bone never dare unsettle
Your thick plantations.                                       Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there! ye're out o' sight,              Now hold you there! You're out of sight,
Below the fatt'rils, snug an' tight;                       Below the folderols, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,                       No, faith just yet! You'll not be right,
Till ye've got on it—                                           Till you've got on it:
The vera tapmost, tow'ring height                      The very topmost, towering height
O' miss's bonnet.                                                 Of miss's bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out        My word! right bold you root, contrary,
As plump an' grey as onie grozet:                       As plump and gray as any gooseberry.
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,                       Oh, for some rank, mercurial resin,
Or fell, red smeddum,                                         Or dread red poison;
I'd gie ye sic a hearty dose o't,                            I'd give you such a hearty dose, flea,
Wad dress your droddum!                                  It'd dress your noggin!

I wad na been surpris'd to spy                             I wouldn't be surprised to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy:                      You on some housewife's flannel tie:
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,                          Or maybe on some ragged boy's
On's wyliecoat;                                                   Pale undervest;
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fye!                              But Miss's finest bonnet! Fie!
How daur ye do't.                                               How dare you jest?

O Jenny, dinna toss your head,                          Oh Jenny, do not toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread!                         And lash your lovely braids abroad!
You little ken what cursed speed                       You hardly know what cursed speed
The blastie's makin!                                            The creature's making!
Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread,                   Those winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin'!                                                Are notice-taking!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us                   O would some Power with vision teach us
To see oursels as ithers see us!                          To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,                  It would from many a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:                                             And foolish notions:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,            What airs in dress and carriage would leave us,
An' ev'n devotion!                                             And even devotion!

Mouse's Nest
by John Clare

I found a ball of grass among the hay
And progged it as I passed and went away;
And when I looked I fancied something stirred,
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheats
With all her young ones hanging at her teats;
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me,
I ran and wondered what the thing could be,
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood;
Then the mouse hurried from the craking brood.
The young ones squeaked, and as I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water o'er the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

The Windhover

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Cold-Blooded Creatures
by Elinor Morton Wylie

Man, the egregious egoist
(In mystery the twig is bent)
Imagines, by some mental twist,
That he alone is sentient

Of the intolerable load
That on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of his eyes.

He asks no questions of the snake,
Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a nightmare doom.

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

The Armadillo

by Elizabeth Bishop

for Robert Lowell

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! — a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

Hope Is a Thing with Feathers
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings a tune without 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 keeps so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity
It ask a crumb of me.

The Mallard
by Michael R. Burch

The mallard is a fellow
whose lips are long and yellow
with which he, honking, kisses
his bawdy, boisterous mistress;
my pond’s their loud bordello!

The Platypus
by Michael R. Burch

The platypus, myopic,
is ungainly, not erotic.
His feet for bed
are over-webbed,
and what of his proboscis?

The platypus, though, is eager
although his means are meager.
His sight is poor;
perhaps he’ll score
with a passing duck or beaver.

The Dromedary
by Michael R. Burch

There once was a dromedary
who befriended a crafty canary.
Budgie said,“You can’t sing,
but, now, here’s the thing:
just think of the tunes you can carry!

The Bee
by Matsuo Basho

Having sucked deep
In a sweet peony,
A bee creeps
Out of its hairy recesses.

"The Hinds of the Field" passage from the Song of Solomon (King James Bible)
attributed to King Solomon

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes,
and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor wake my love, till he please.

The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall,
he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance,
let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved,
and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.

The Guppy
by Ogden Nash

Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens,
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.

The Cow
by Ogden Nash

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

The Ostrich
by Ogden Nash

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I'm glad it sits to lay its eggs.

The Termite
by Ogden Nash

Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good!
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

The Turtle
by Ogden Nash

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

The Wasp
by Ogden Nash

The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamity.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.

Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno" is a 1200-line poem that the poet wrote while institutionalized, about his cat Jeoffry. The poem is too long for my purposes here, but it begins ...

Jubilate Agno
by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

The HyperTexts