Miscellaneous Poems and Texts

Lewis Carroll: "Humpty Dumpty Explicates ’Jabberwocky’"

Billy Collins: “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes”
E.E. Cummings: “l(a”

Allen Ginsberg: "A Further Proposal"

Hashin: "[No sky and no earth]"

Dorothy Livesay: “Other”

Roger McCough: “Here I Am”

Pat Mora: “La Migra

Richard Murphy: Green Martyrs,”
       “Orange March,”







Lewis Carroll: "Humpty Dumpty Explicates ’Jabberwocky’"

Humpty Dumpty Explicates "Jabberwocky"
from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Chapter 6

"You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir," said Alice. "Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called Jabberwocky?"

"Let’s hear it," said Humpty Dumpty. "I can explain all the poems that ever were invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet."

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

"’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."

"That’s enough to begin with," Humpty Dumpty interrupted: "there are plenty of hard words there, ’Brillig’ means four o’clock in the afternoon—the time when you begin broiling things for dinner."

"That’ll do very well," said Alice: "and "slithy’?’

"Well, ’slithy’ means ’lithe and slimy.’ ’Lithe’ is the same as ’active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word."

"I see it now," Alice remarked thoughtfully: "and what are ’toves’?"

"Well, toves’ are something like badgers—they’re something like lizards—and they’re something like corkscrews."

"They must be very curious creatures."

"They are that," said Humpty Dumpty: "also they make their nests under sun-dials—also they live on cheese."

"And what’s to ’gyre’ and to ’gymble’?"

"To ’gyre’ is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To ’gimble’ is to make holes like a gimlet."

"And the ’wabe’ is the grass plot round a sundial, I suppose?" said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

"Of course it is. It’s called ’wabe,’ you know because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it—"

"And a long way beyond it on each side," Alice added.

"Exactly so. Well, the ’mimsy’ is ’flimsy and miserable’ (there’s another portmanteau for you). And a borogove’ is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round—something like a live mop."

"And then ’mome raths’?" said Alice. "If I’m not giving you too much trouble."

"Well, a ’rath’ is a sort of green pig: but ’mome’ I’m not certain about. I think it’s short for ’from home’—meaning that they’d lost their way, you know."

"And what does ’outgrabe’ mean?"

"Well, ’outgribing’ is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you’ll hear it done, maybe—down in the wood yonder—and when you’ve once heard it you’ll be quite content. Who’s been repeating all that hard stuff to you?"

"I read it in a book," said Alice.

Source: Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Electronic Text Center (University of Virginia)


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Billy Collins: “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes”

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything—
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers;
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.


Source: Hunter, J. Paul. and Alison Booth, eds.  The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Eighth Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


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E. E. Cummings: “l(a”



Source: wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com


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Allen Ginsberg: "A Further Proposal"

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will some old pleasures prove.
Men like me have paid in verse
This costly courtesy, or curse;

But I would bargain with my art
(As to the mind, now to the heart),
My symbols, images, and signs
Please me more outside these lines.

For your share and recompense,
You will be taught another sense:
The wisdom of the subtle worm
Will turn most perfect in your form.

Not that your soul need tutored be
By intellectual decree,
But graces that the mind can share
Will make you, as more wise, more fair,

Till all the world’s devoted thought
Find all in you it ever sought,
And even I, of skeptic mind,
A Resurrection of a kind.

This compliment, in my own way,
For what I would receive, I pay;
Thus all the wise have write thereof,
And all the fair have been their love.


Source: Hunter, J. Paul. and Alison Booth, eds.  The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Eighth Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


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Hashin: [No sky and no earth]

No sky and no earth
At all. Only the snowflakes
Fall incessantly. 

ca. 1900?

Source: Hunter, J. Paul. and Alison Booth, eds.  The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Eighth Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


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Dorothy Livesay: “Other”

Men prefer an island
With its beginning ended:
Undertone of waves
Trees overbended.

Men prefer a road
Circling, shell-like
Convex and fossiled
Forever winding inward.

Men prefer a woman
Limpid in a sunlight
Held as a shell
On a sheltering island . . .

Men prefer an island.

But I am a mainland
O I range
From upper country to the inner core:
From sageland, brushland, marshland
To the sea’s floor.

Show me an orchard where I have not slept,
A hollow where I have not wrapped
The sage about me, and above, the still
Stars clustering
Over the ponderosa pine, the cactus hill.

Tell me a time,
I have not loved,
A mountain left unclimbed:
A prarie field
Where I have not furrowed my tongue,
Nourished it out of the mind’s dark places;
Planted with tears unwept
And harvested as friends, as faces.

O find me a dead-end road
I have not trodden
A logging road that leads the heart away
Into the secret evergreen of cedar roots
Beyond the sun’s farthest ray—
Then, in a clearing’s sudden dazzle,
There is no road; no end; no puzzle.

But do not show me! For I know
The country I caress:
A place where none shall trespass
None possess:
A mainland mastered
From its inaccess.


Men prefer an island.


Source: Hunter, J. Paul. and Alison Booth, eds.  The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Eighth Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


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Roger McCough: “Here I Am”

Here I am
getting on for seventy
and never having gone to work in ladies’ underwear

Never run naked at night in the rain
Made love to a girl I’d just met on a plane

At that awkward age now between birth and death
I think of all the outrages unperpetrated
opportunities missed

The dragons unchased
The maidens unkissed
The wines still untasted
The oceans uncrossed
The fantasies wasted
The mad urges lost

Here I am
as old as Methuselah
was when he was my age
and never having stepped outside for a fight

Crossed on red, pissed on rosé (or white)
Pretty dull for a poet, I suppose, eh? Quite.


Source: Hunter, J. Paul. and Alison Booth, eds.  The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Eighth Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


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Pat Mora: “La Migra


Let’s play La Migra
I’ll be the Border Patrol.
You be the Mexican maid.
I get the badge and sunglasses.
You can hide and run,
but you can’t get away
because I have a jeep.
I can take you wherever
I want, but don’t ask
questions because
I don’t speak Spanish.
I can touch you wherever
I want but don’t complain
too much because I’ve got
boots and kick—if I have to,
and I have handcuffs.
Oh, and a gun.
Get ready, get set, run.


Let’s play La Migra
You be the Border Patrol.
I’ll be the Mexican woman.
Your jeep has a flat,
and you have been spotted
by the sun.
All you have is heavy: hat
glasses, badge, shoes, gun.
I know this desert,
where to rest,
where to drink.
Oh, I am not alone.
You hear us singing
and laughing with the wind,
Agua dulce brota aquí
aquí, aquí,* but since you
can’t speak Spanish.
you do not understand
Get ready.


*Sweet water springs here, here, here.

Source: Hunter, J. Paul. and Alison Booth, eds.  The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Eighth Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


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Richard Murphy:


Green Martyrs

I dream of a headless man
Sitting on a charger, chiselled stone.

A woman is reading from an old lesson:
'...who died in the famine.

Royal bulls on my land,
I starved to feed the absentee with rent.

Aughrim's great disaster
Made him two hundred years my penal master.

Rapparees, whiteboys, volunteers, ribbonmen,
Where have they gone?

Coerced into exile, scattered
Leaving a burnt gable and a field of ragwort.'

July the Twelfth, she takes up tongs
To strike me for a crop of calf-bound wrongs.

Her weekly half-crowns have built
A grey cathedral on the old gaol wall.

She brings me from Knock shrine
John Kennedy's head on a china dish.



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“Orange March”

On bowler hats and Sunday suits,
Orange sashes, polished boots,
Atavistic trainbands come
To blow the fife and beat the drum.

Apprentices uplift their banner
True blue-dyed with "No Surrender"
Claiming Aughrim as if they'd won
Last year, not 1691

On Belfast silk, Victoria gives
Bibles to kneeling Zulu chiefs.
Read the moral, note the date:
The secret that made Britain great.

Derry, oakwood of bright angels,
Londonderry, dingy walls
Chalked at night with "Fuck the Queen!"
Bygone canon, bygone spleen.



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The Wolfhound

A wolfhound sits under a wild ash
Licking the wound in a dead ensign's neck .

When guns cool at night with bugles in fog
She points over the young face.

All her life a boy's pet.
Prisoners are sabred and the dead are stripped.

Her ear pricks like a crimson leaf on snow,
The horse-carts creak away.

Vermin by moonlight pick
The tongues and sockets of six thousand skulls.

She pines for his horn to blow
To bay in triumph down the tracks of wolves.

Her forelegs stand like pillars through a siege,
His Toledo sword corrodes.

Nights she lopes to the scrub
And trails back at dawn to guard a skeleton.

Wind shears the berries from the rowan tree,
The wild geese have flown.

She lifts her head to cry
As a woman keens in a famine for her son.

A redcoat, stalking, cocks
His flintlock when he hears the wolfhound growl.

Her fur bristles with fear at the new smell,
Snow has betrayed her lair.

"I'll sell you for a packhorse,
You antiquated bigoted papistical bitch!"

She springs: in self-defence he fires his gun,
People remember this.

By turf embers she gives tongue
When the choirs are silenced in wood and stone.


Source: Kinsella, Thomas, ed. The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse. Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 2001.


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Poems on this page are reproduced for educational purposes only. All copyrights remain the original owners’.
Brian T. Murphy

Last Revised: Saturday, 24 January 2015
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