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