Looking for poems about transition.
November 28, 2018 7:19 AM   Subscribe

If you have a favorite poem about life transitions (birth, marriage, death, divorce, new beginnings, etc.), will you post it here? Thanks!
posted by Twicketface to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Tennyson's Ulysses is about an aged Ulysses about to embark on a second odyssey. I find myself reading the last fifteen lines of the poem often. It stiffens my own resolve around facing life and change.

                                          Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
posted by gauche at 7:39 AM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder
A. E. Housman, 1859 - 1936

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
And went with half my life about my ways.
posted by Middlemarch at 7:49 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Long Boat
Stanley Kunitz

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.
posted by nantucket at 7:53 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Death of a Son (who died in a mental hospital aged 1) by Jon Silkin

Something has ceased to come along with me.
Something like a person: something very like one.
And there was no nobility in it
Or anything like that.

Something there was like a one year
Old house, dumb as stone. While the near buildings
Sang like birds and laughed
Understanding the pact

They were to have with silence. But he
Neither sang nor laughed. He did not bless silence
Like bread, with words.
He did not forsake silence.

But rather, like a house in mourning
Kept the eye turned in to watch the silence while
The other houses like birds
Sang around him.

And the breathing silence neither
Moved nor was still.

I have seen stones: I have seen brick
But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood
With flesh of stone

And bricks for blood. A house
Of stones and blood in breathing silence with the other
Birds singing crazy on its chimneys.
But this was silence,

This was something else, this was
Hearing and speaking though he was a house drawn
Into silence, this was
Something religious in his silence,

Something shining in his quiet,
This was different this was altogether something else:
Though he never spoke, this
Was something to do with death.

And then slowly the eye stopped looking
Inward. The silence rose and became still.
The look turned to the outer place and stopped,
With the birds still shrilling around him.
And as if he could speak

He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled like stones,
and he died.
posted by FencingGal at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2018

I mentioned the same poem in a response yesterday haha, but it is excellent: Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert. It remains one of my favourite poems.


- The Flurry by Sharon Olds
- How it felt by Sharon Olds
- Still Life - Sharon Olds
- Love After Love by Derek Walcott (this one always makes me cry)
- I was about to write Ulysses by Tennyson but gauche beat me to it. It's a classic.
- China observed through Greek rain in Cafe Turque by Henrik Nordbrandt (not sure if it fits the bill but it works for me)
posted by dostoevskygirl at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've always liked this bit from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass:

Whispers of heavenly death murmur'd I hear;
Labial gossip of night—sibilant chorals;
Footsteps gently ascending—mystical breezes, wafted soft and low;
Ripples of unseen rivers—tides of a current, flowing, forever flowing;
(Or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human tears?)

I see, just see skyward, great cloud-masses,
Mournfully, slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing,
With, at times, a half-dimm'd, sadden'd, far-off star,
Appearing and disappearing.

(Some parturition rather—some solemn, immortal birth:
On the frontiers, to eyes impenetrable,
Some Soul is passing over.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:57 AM on November 28, 2018

Blue Monday is too long to paste in here, but it's always been my favorite poem about grief.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:03 AM on November 28, 2018

Also, it its entirety:
Who would I show it to?

--W.S. Merwin
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:04 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lucille Clifton: blessing the boats (at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back   may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
posted by miles per flower at 8:28 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
posted by FencingGal at 8:39 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

From Suzette Haden Elgin's The Lovingkindness Survival Kit


It happens, from time to time,
that rivers join, only to part again;
this lessens in no way those days and nights
when they flowed as one river.

Part now as waters do; part quietly,
in lovingkindness,
without doing harm;
move on serenely into newer days,
and newer nights,
and newer ways
of flowing.
posted by readinghippo at 9:07 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

From Shaun Tan's recent Tales From the Inner City:

And when you died
I took you down to the river
And when I died
you waited for me by the shore...

To quote the whole poem probably goes past fair use, plus the graphics are a huge part of it. It's about a human and a dog, and every stanza shows a change in the relationship. To me, it said a lot about all kinds of relationships.
posted by BibiRose at 9:10 AM on November 28, 2018

Two of favorites around birth are by Yeats:

A Prayer for My Daughter

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind...

A Prayer for my Son:

Bid a strong ghost stand at the head
That my Michael may sleep sound,
Nor cry, nor turn in the bed
Till his morning meal come round;
And may departing twilight keep
All dread afar till morning’s back,
That his mother may not lack
Her fill of sleep...

posted by jquinby at 9:11 AM on November 28, 2018

Also, specifically about death, there is a wonderful collection of modern poems called "The Art of Losing" edited by Kevin Young, which I have found deeply comforting and helpful in my own grieving process.
posted by gauche at 11:32 AM on November 28, 2018

Mark Strand - Dark Harbor - VII

O you can make fun of the splendors of moonlight,
But what would the human heart be if it wanted
Only the dark, wanted nothing on earth
But the sea’s ink or the rock’s black shade?
On a summer night to launch yourself into the silver
Emptiness of air and look over the pale fields
At rest under the sullen stare of the moon,
And to linger in the depths of your vision and wonder
How in this whiteness what you love is past
Grief, and how in the long valley of your looking
Hope grows, and there, under the distant,
Barely perceptible fire of all the stars,
To feel yourself wake into change, as if your change
Were immense and figured into the heavens’ longing.
And yet all you want is to rise out of the shade
Of yourself into the cooling blaze of a summer night
When the moon shines and the earth itself
Is covered and silent in the stoniness of its sleep.

Adrienne Rich - November 1968

you're beginning to float free
up through the smoke of brushfires
and incinerators
the unleafed branches won't hold you
nor the radar aerials

You're what the autumn knew would happen
after the last collapse
of primary color
once the last absolutes were torn to pieces
you could begin

How you broke open, what sheathed you
until this moment
I know nothing about it
my ignorance of you amazes me
now that I watch you
starting to give yourself away
to the wind
posted by diamondsky at 11:29 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Anna Akhmatova's The Sentence:

And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—

Unless . . . Summer's ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I've foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:30 AM on November 29, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you so much to all who posted - much appreciated!
posted by Twicketface at 3:24 PM on December 2, 2018

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