“May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve.”Sappho, c.630-570 BC
Poetry has existed for thousands of years as an expression of human curiosity, pain, love, confusion, grief and everything else it is possible to feel. Poets from as early as 2000 BC have been attempting to capture what it means to be human: our struggles, joys and anxieties borne from the complicated ordeal of living.
Though much of the poetry canon has been dominated by male voices, female voices have been present throughout history. They have catalysed social, political and emotional change. They have been met with praise, criticism and outright denial. They have been celebrated, censored and studied. And they remain critically important to our understanding of what it means to live.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered a small selection of poems. We hope they offer a moment of reflection within the busyness of life, and pay tribute to some of the individuals who are able to communicate emotion across time, space and circumstance.
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
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.
“Yet, never, in extremity,Emily Dickinson
It asked a crumb of me.”
Excerpt from My God, It’s Full of Stars
Tracy K. Smith
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.
Credit: Tracy K. Smith, excerpts from “My God, It’s Full of Stars” from Such Color: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Excerpt from Six Fragments for Atthis
Sappho (c.630-570 BC)
Someone will remember us
even in another time
Excerpt from August
When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart…
“When my eyes are weeds,Dorothy Parker
And my lips are petals…”
Excerpt from Reinforcements
Still water—waiting to change the course or dismiss
The idea of movement, till forced to. The words of the Greeks
Ring in our ears, but they are vain in comparison with a sight like this.
The pulse of intention does not move so that one
Can see it, and moral machinery is not labelled, but
The future of time is determined by the power of volition.
Excerpt from Journey
Edna St. Vincent Millay
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.
“… My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.”Edna St. Vincent Millay