Poetry for the Apocalypse
November 28, 2016 4:05 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by some clips of poems I've read in the holiday card threads, I'm looking for more poems to read in dark political times. Now that trump is the president-elect, what poems are giving you hope, perspective, or just a sense of camaraderie with the poet?

I read this poem a few days after the election and it made me feel somewhat more calm and purposeful. What are your favorites?

I prefer more modern poetry but open to anything. Thanks in advance!
posted by dysh to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two that work for me (hopeful, though not explicitly political, don't know if it's quite what you're looking for)

A Brief for the Defense
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

From Blossoms
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background

if you want to go with righteous anger I super enjoyed this poem on Tumblr: Revenge
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?

posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:49 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

These are songs, but (IMO) work as poetry too. Both are by Robb Johnson.

What will they say of us, one hundred years from now,
When they look back on these unhappy days?
They'll shake their heads at how so many swallowed lies;
That 'dog eat dog' so long went undefeated.

Will they curse us then, that so much death crept in?
There was so little left to build again.
Or will their smiles salute, and like a song recall,
The ones who through it all went undefeated?

I’m tired of wearing thin these same old words of rage.
Some days the bad guys win, but nothing’s changed.
For though the language fail, and the nerves of love grow numb,
Somehow we carry on, undefeated.

Holding all people's lives to be of equal worth
More dear than the money talk, or the tricks of the state.
The hands that work no wrong, the breath that lifts the song,
The hearts that hold each other, undefeated.

The hands that work no wrong, the breath that lifts the song,
The hearts that hold each other,
The hearts that hold each other,
The hearts that hold each other,

The hearts that hold each other…


Singing for the Moon
Don't worry
There will be better days than these
Though maybe not for you and me
But better days will come

We will bring them
Closer with our little lives
With every song of freedom
In the shadows of these jails

Keep on singing for the moon
Keep on singing for the moon

Don't worry, the truth is as it always is
No matter what the money says
Yours ain't the only voice there is

Singing for the souls that can't
Though they shut up songs in stadiums
Someone always carries on

Keep on singing for the moon
Keep on singing for the moon

So don't worry
The generals are just uniforms
That suffer from insomnia
They don't know how to dream

Sweet dreamer
Maybe your dreams won't all come true
They're only dreams, they never do
But look how far we've come

Keep on singing for the moon.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 5:18 AM on November 28, 2016

"September 1, 1939" by W.H. Auden (wiki).
posted by rollick at 5:32 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

the second coming:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:32 AM on November 28, 2016

My own post-election poem:

Election Year

I have brought in the ancient plants
I was going to let them die
Of frost, this evil blighted fall
They are old, they are not bright
They do not thrive, just cling to life
Under artificial light
In the cellar winter long.
My husband said, “ just bring them in.
Just do it, no matter how you feel.”
Will there be a spring? Gods of love and innocence
Betrayed by Gods of hate, hope in ruins, shredded
By greed and lies, dark forces gathered
In every murky stagnant pool of prejudice and dead dreams
Dark side of the soul
Demons in my head, Demons rule the land
What was illusion, fear, all too real, all too clear.
Not a nightmare but a monstrous script that does not end
Where is my country, where is my home?
Yet still I rise, every morning to bleak visions , black fearsome thoughts
I will my arms and legs to move, my mouth to speak and eat
Yet I brought in the tired old plants
To last another year. That is, at least, a start.
posted by mermayd at 5:48 AM on November 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Impossible Will Take A Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear is a great collection of poems and essays along these lines (table of contents here). I've had my copy out on my bedside since the morning after the election.
posted by veery at 6:20 AM on November 28, 2016

Good Bones by Maggie Smith has been making the rounds in my poetry circles for a few weeks.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

Lapis Lazuli by Yeats is my go-to poem for dark times.

All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay.
posted by FencingGal at 7:10 AM on November 28, 2016

Ozymandias by Percy Shelley is my go-to poem for when I need a little perspective:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is lyrical prose, not a poem, but with a couple of line breaks it easily could be a poem. It's my favorite passage in all the literature I've read, probably, and I reread it after the election and it did make me feel better.

“This you may say of man — when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back. This you may say and know it and know it. This you may know when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the market place, when prisoners are stuck like pigs, when the crushed bodies drain filthily in the dust. You may know it in this way. If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live — for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died. And fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live — for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken. And this you can know — fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”

-The Grapes of Wrath
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:13 AM on November 28, 2016

Musically, there is the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten:

"So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenched there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! and angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so,
but slew his son, -
And half the seed of Europe, one by one."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:34 AM on November 28, 2016

It is holiday-related, but the poem The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper (yes, that one) is all about finding hope in the darkness at the end of the year.
posted by capricorn at 8:55 AM on November 28, 2016

Auden's The Fall of Rome is also fantastic. I read it a lot during the Bush years especially after Katrina, when it became clear that we were broken as a nation in some fundamental way we would probably never recover from. It's a wonderful accident that the Fisc was the Roman treasury and that FISC is the acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

I repeat the last lines to myself a lot. They are not optimistic or comforting but they are distancing and sometimes that's what I need.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

posted by great_radio at 9:47 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was first introduced to this poem in October 2001, and it has given me solace and perspective ever since.


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
posted by janey47 at 11:38 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ursula K. Le Guin has a suggestion for you:

A Meditation

The river that runs in the valley
makes the valley that holds it.

This is the doorway:
the valley of the river.


What wears away the hard stone,
the high mountain?

The wind. The dust on the wind.
The rain. The rain on the wind.

What wears the hardness of hate away?
Breath, tears.


Courage, compassion, patience
holding to their way:
the path to the doorway.
posted by verstegan at 12:04 PM on November 28, 2016

Not exactly a poem, but I love Yoko Ono's 1961 “instruction painting” Voice Piece for Soprano:

”Scream. 1. against the wind 2. against the wall 3. against the sky”
posted by umbú at 2:36 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Robert Frost (from memory):

The play seems on for an infinite run.
Don't mind a little thing like the actors fighting.
The only problem is the sun.
We'll be okay if we have the lighting.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:22 PM on November 28, 2016

A Ritual to Read to Each Other
William Stafford
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each
elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

I first encountered this poem in the MetaFilter thread about the shooting of Gabby Giffords.
posted by danielleh at 3:43 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

i like cavafy's waiting for the barbarians

hat are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:25 PM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

--William Stafford
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:27 PM on November 28, 2016

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

--Gary Snyder
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:34 PM on November 28, 2016

Fernando Pérez: Litany
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:21 AM on December 16, 2016

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