Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poems to Live By

It often happens that I am asked to provide a friend with a selection of poems suitable for reading at a major life occasion -- a big birthday, anniversary, wedding, memorial, or even Valentine's Day.

It famously happened to Naomi Shihab Nye, who took the occasion of the request for a gentle chide to her correspondent which became one of her best poems ever:

Valetine for Ernest Mann

I'm going to start accumulating an online collection of links to poems suitable for these occasions, in case you get this kind of request and can't remember exactly where you put that favorite and perfectly suitable poem.

The above would be a good one for Valentine's Day. As I often get the request for a wedding-appropriate poem, I would say you could use this lovely piece from English poet Alice Oswald:


From time to time our love is like a sail
And when the sail begins to alternate
From tack to tack, it's like a swallowtail
And when the swallow flies it's like a coat;
And if the coat is yours, it has a tear
Like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
To draw the wind, it's like a trumpeter
And when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions –
And this, my love, when millions come and go
Beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
And when the trick begins, it's like a toe
Tiptoeing on a rope, which is like luck;
And when the luck begins, it's like a wedding,
Which is like love, which is like everything.

Alice Oswald


  1. So this is Alice Oswald. Well that is a fine little sonnet. (The Valentine poem is good too, although not perhaps more suited to Valentine's day than a pair of skunks. Which might or might not mean, well-suited.)

  2. Wonderful accumulation of images in Oswald's poem. Thanks for posting this.

    Nye's poem is one I've used in the classroom for years. Great piece. You have to like the skunks in this, and the heart that gives them.

  3. Anonymous7:38 PM

    Dear Rachel,

    Just discovered your blog through another blogger's blog whose blog name escapes me by its very nebulous blogginess.

    In any case, the wedding poem was to die for, literally. Never read a better one. For my older brother's wedding I wrote one sonnet, they weren't happy, so I wrote another more traditional, and they were.

    Rare that poets get called upon to do such things unless friends and family respect their art.

    So congratulations for being in such demand!

    C. E. Chaffin

  4. C.E. - how nice to catch up with you again! It's been since The Pedestal reading, I'm thinking. Hope you're well. I'm happy to find your blog and will blogroll it here. Thanks for your congrats, though I'm afraid it's Alice Oswald who deserves them. The Wedding Poem is hers. Though I have located poems for friends to use at weddings, funerals, birthdays and anniversaries.

    My specialty seems to be birthday poems. Probably because I'm just a kid at heart.


  5. Anonymous8:28 AM

    in :
    More than 5000 Love Poems in a very user friendly interface with little ads