National poetry month

It’s all the buzz around here, so it’s my turn to share some interesting verse with you. Death and dying is a common topic of discussion with my patients and colleagues.

Some of these are well-known to all, some of them aren’t, but I enjoy all of them.

Conscientious Objector
–Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Do not go gentle into that good night
–Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And from one of America’s greatest poets, a humorous one tangentially involving a doctor—maybe.

Motorpsycho Nightmare
—Bob Dylan (ne Robert Zimmerman)

I pounded on a farmhouse
Lookin’ for a place to stay.
I was mighty, mighty tired,
I had gone a long, long way.
I said, “Hey, hey, in there,
Is there anybody home?”
I was standin’ on the steps
Feelin’ most alone.
Well, out comes a farmer,
He must have thought that I was nuts.
He immediately looked at me
And stuck a gun into my guts.

I fell down
To my bended knees,
Saying, “I dig farmers,
Don’t shoot me, please!”
He cocked his rifle
And began to shout,
“You’re that travelin’ salesman
That I have heard about.”
I said, “No! No! No!
I’m a doctor and it’s true,
I’m a clean-cut kid
And I been to college, too.”

Then in comes his daughter
Whose name was Rita.
She looked like she stepped out of
La Dolce Vita.
I immediately tried to cool it
With her dad,
And told him what a
Nice, pretty farm he had.
He said, “What do doctors
Know about farms, pray tell?”
I said, “I was born
At the bottom of a wishing well.”

Well, by the dirt ‘neath my nails
I guess he knew I wouldn’t lie.
“I guess you’re tired,”
He said, kinda sly.
I said, “Yes, ten thousand miles
Today I drove.”
He said, “I got a bed for you
Underneath the stove.
Just one condition
And you go to sleep right now,
That you don’t touch my daughter
And in the morning, milk the cow.”

I was sleepin’ like a rat
When I heard something jerkin’.
There stood Rita
Lookin’ just like Tony Perkins.
She said, “Would you like to take a shower?
I’ll show you up to the door.”
I said, “Oh, no! no!
I’ve been through this before.”
I knew I had to split
But I didn’t know how,
When she said,
“Would you like to take that shower, now?”

Well, I couldn’t leave
Unless the old man chased me out,
‘Cause I’d already promised
That I’d milk his cows.
I had to say something
To strike him very weird,
So I yelled out,
“I like Fidel Castro and his beard.”
Rita looked offended
But she got out of the way,
As he came charging down the stairs
Sayin’, “What’s that I heard you say?”

I said, “I like Fidel Castro,
I think you heard me right,”
And ducked as he swung
At me with all his might.
Rita mumbled something
‘Bout her mother on the hill,
As his fist hit the icebox,
He said he’s going to kill me
If I don’t get out the door
In two seconds flat,
“You unpatriotic,
Rotten doctor Commie rat.”

Well, he threw a Reader’s Digest
At my head and I did run,
I did a somersault
As I seen him get his gun
And crashed through the window
At a hundred miles an hour,
And landed fully blast
In his garden flowers.
Rita said, “Come back!”
As he started to load
The sun was comin’ up
And I was runnin’ down the road.

Well, I don’t figure I’ll be back
There for a spell,
Even though Rita moved away
And got a job in a motel.
He still waits for me,
Constant, on the sly.
He wants to turn me in
To the F.B.I.
Me, I romp and stomp,
Thankful as I romp,
Without freedom of speech,
I might be in the swamp.

And a brief one, not about death, and not funny

The trees are windy

“The trees are windy,” you said.
“You’re right,” I said.
“They sound very windy,” you said.
“Your right,” I said.
“They look windy, too, Daddy.”
“They do,” I said.
“I love you,” you said.
I said nothing.

And one from Dr. William Carlos Williams, a physician who also painted with words.

To a poor old woman
—William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on

the street a paper bag

of them in her hand

They taste good to her

They taste good

to her. They taste

good to her

You can see it by

the way she gives herself

to the one half

sucked out in her hand


a solace of ripe plums

seeming to fill the air

They taste good to her

9 thoughts on “National poetry month”

  1. Nice.Here’s my favorite death poem:

    On My First Son
    by Ben Jonson

    Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
    My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
    Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
    Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
    Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
    Will man lament the state he should envy?
    To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
    And if no other misery, yet age !
    Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
    Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
    For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
    As what he loves may never like too much

  2. The Trifler

    Death’s the lover that I’d be taking;
    Wild and fickle and fierce is he.
    Small’s his care if my heart be breaking-
    Gay young Death would have none of me.

    Hear them clack of my haste to greet him!
    No one other my mouth had kissed.
    I had dressed me in silk to meet him-
    False young Death would not hold the tryst.

    Slow’s the blood that was quick and stormy,
    Smooth and cold is the bridal bed;
    I must wait till he whistles for me-
    Proud young Death would not turn his head.

    I must wait till my breast is wilted.
    I must wait till my back is bowed,
    I must rock in the corner, jilted-
    Death went galloping down the road.

    Gone’s my heart with a trifling rover.
    Fine he was in the game he played-
    Kissed, and promised, and threw me over,
    And rode away with a prettier maid.

    Dorothy Parker

  3. Braggart

    The days will rally, wreathing
    Their crazy tarantelle;
    And you must go on breathing,
    But I’ll be safe in hell.

    Like January weather,
    The years will bite and smart,
    And pull your bones together
    To wrap your chattering heart.

    The pretty stuff you’re made of
    Will crack and crease and dry.
    The thing you are afraid of
    Will look from every eye.

    You will go faltering after
    The bright, imperious line,
    And split your throat on laughter,
    And burn your eyes with brine.

    You will be frail and musty
    With peering, furtive head,
    Whilst I am young and lusty
    Among the roaring dead.

  4. You know, it never occurred to me to call this an open thread, but I’m glad it’s going that way. Please continue to post any poems you’d like to…this is fun.

  5. Meditations on Turning Eight
    by Lisa Simpson

    I had a cat named Snowball
    She died! She died!
    Mom said she was sleeping
    She lied! She lied!
    Why oh why is my cat dead?
    Couldn’t that Chrysler hit me instead?
    I had a hamster named Snuffy
    He died…
    (at this point, Homer interrupts and the rest of the poem is unheard)

  6. I agree, the Carlos one is particularly memorable. Clever use of rhythm to influence meaning. You have to slow down when you read it.


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