Help me find a poem!
December 16, 2009 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a good inspirational poem to frame as a Christmas gift for someone going through a hard time.

With the economy in the tank, my dad is going through a hard time with his company and I wanted to find a classic uplifting poem to frame for a Christmas gift. Something inspirational that makes you think. Googling fails me as it only seems to bring up the cheesy poems that don't have any deep thought behind them.

Not being one who studies poetry, I am kind of at a loss. Does anyone have any favorites that they feel might fit the bill?

Thanks in advance!
posted by nataliecay to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to look at some Wendell Berry.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2009

Best answer: Okay, I only looked this up recently because of the new Eastwood movie, but "Invictus" (by William Ernest Henley) seems like a good candidate. It addresses going through difficult times and articulates an awesome sense of determination and endurance. Helped Nelson Mandela get through his imprisonment. Hope it helps your dad, too:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

posted by cobwebberies at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

Lately my go-to inspirational poem has been "The Man Watching" by Ranier Maria Rilke. It's got some religious imagery (heavily referencing Jacob wrestling the Angel) so it may not be for all tastes.

You might also like Tennyson's "Ulysses" which is from the perspective of the former warrior and wanderer, now dealing with old age and domesticity, struggling (and perhaps succeeding) to retain his spirit despite it all.

Good luck to you and to your dad. Merry Christmas.
posted by gauche at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2009

I enjoy this one, because I feel like this more often than I perhaps should.

I Resign

Author Unknown

I am hereby officially tendering
my resignation as an adult.

I have decided I would like to accept the
responsibilities of an 8-year-old again.

I want to go to McDonald's and think
that it's a four star restaurant.

I want to sail sticks across a fresh mud
puddle and make ripples with rocks.

I want to think M&Ms are better than
money because you can eat them.

I want to lie under a big oak tree and run a
lemonade stand with my friends on a hot summer day.

I want to return to a time when life was simple.

When all you knew were colors,
multiplication tables, and nursery rhymes,
but that didn't bother you, because you
didn't know what you didn't know and you didn't care.

All you knew was to be happy because you
were blissfully unaware of all the things
that should make you worried or upset.

I want to think the world is fair.

That everyone is honest and good.

I want to believe that anything is possible.

I want to be oblivious to the complexities of life
and be overly excited by the little things again.

I want to live simple again.

I don't want my day to consist of computer crashes,
mountains of paperwork, depressing news,
how to survive more days in the month than there
is money in the bank, doctor bills, gossip,
illness, and loss of loved ones.

I want to believe in the power of smiles, hugs,
a kind word, truth, justice, peace, dreams,
the imagination, mankind, and making angels in the snow.

So... here's my chequebook and my car keys,
my credit cards and all my responsibility.

I am officially resigning from adulthood.

And if you want to discuss this further,
you'll have to catch me first,

"Tag! You're it."

posted by zizzle at 1:03 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mary Oliver's "Morning Poem."

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

posted by harperpitt at 1:14 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Let Me Make This Perfectly Clear
Gwendolyn MacEwan
Let me make this perfectly clear.
I have never written anything because it is a Poem.
This is a mistake you always make about me,
A dangerous mistake. I promise you
I am not writing this because it is a Poem.

You suspect this is a posture or an act
I am sorry to tell you it is not an act.

You actually think I care if this
Poem gets off the ground or not. Well
I don't care if this poem gets off the ground or not
And neither should you.
All I have every cared about
And all you should ever care about
Is what happens when you lift your eyes from this page.

Do not think for one minute it is the Poem that matters.
Is is not the Poem that matters.
You can shove the Poem.
What matters is what is out there in the large dark
and in the long light,
posted by yaymukund at 1:16 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I sometimes like to remember If by Rudyard Kipling when I am going through a hard spot. It's a bit cheesy, but I enjoy it anyway.
posted by ZeroDivides at 1:38 PM on December 16, 2009

A classic:

Love After Love
(Derek Walcott)

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
posted by bookgirl18 at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

The New Yorker printed this right after 9/11, and I copied it and framed it. Still makes me feel both heavy and hopeful.

Try To Praise The Mutilated World
Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
posted by chowflap at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not a poem, but how about the Desiderata?
posted by vito90 at 2:46 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

A haiku by Matsahide (sometimes attributed to Basho as well)

Barn's burnt down --
I can see the moon
posted by 7life at 3:03 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have to say that a fighting spirit always inspires me most, so I love the St. Crispin's day speech in Henry V. Here it is:

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispin.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispin.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispin.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
posted by bearwife at 3:10 PM on December 16, 2009

A mentor framed this poem for me when I graduated from college, and ever since, I've kept it hanging somewhere I see it every day. (It's usually erroneously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.) I find it comforting to be reminded that the measure of success in my own life has little to do with my career path. I guess it borders a bit on the cheesy, but it's pulled me through some rough moments, and it's certainly a classic.

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
posted by adiabat at 3:55 PM on December 16, 2009

Garrison Keillor has an anthology called Good Poems for Hard Times. It has a couple of hundred poems and they're all really, really good.
posted by feelinggood at 4:22 PM on December 16, 2009

Not a poem, but from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:
How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.
This has been my personal go-to difficult-times quote for the past fifteen years. All of the letters are worth a read.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:55 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've always been partial to:

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Also, at this time of the year, I have given people this poem:

On New Year's Day
by Marge Piercy

Bless this my house under the pitch pines
where the cardinal flashes and the kestrels hover
crying, where I live and work with my lover
Woody and my cats, where the birds gather
in winter to be fed and the squirrel dines
from the squirrel-proof feeder. Keep our water
bubbling up clear. Protect us from the fire's
long teeth and the lashing of the hurricanes
and the government. Please, no foreign wars.
Keep this house from termites and the bane
of quarreling past what can be sweetly healed.
Keep our cats from hunters and savage dogs.
Watch with care over Woody splitting logs
and mostly keep us from our sharpening fear
as we skate over the ice of the new year.

posted by gudrun at 8:31 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I Go My Way
by Max Ehrmann

All round is haste, confusion, noise.
For power and wealth men stretch the day
From dawn til dusk. But quietly
I go my way.

For glitter, show, to taunt the crowd,
Desire-tossed in wild dismay,
Men sell their souls. But quietly
I go my way.

The green of all the fields is mine,
The stars, the night, the wind at play,
A peaceful heart, while quietly
I go my way.
posted by mikepop at 8:59 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Second Mary Oliver, she centers me. I'll add Wendell Berry.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

-- Wendell Berry
posted by cross_impact at 6:48 AM on December 17, 2009

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