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July 2000

I think that Walt Whitman's "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" is a perfect poem for teachers starting to teach poetry. A cautionary poem about the over-analysis of something that may be best appreciated by simply being quiet and paying attention.

For this prompt, we asked poets to write about something that defies analysis and study - and holds wonder for you simply because it is. Think of something which was full of wonder - before wonderful became merely good.

About Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass & other poems

Visit Whitman's New Jersey Home

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


It speaks of cool colored tiles
Onion domed arches
Low bows
Dry breezes
Distant Bedouins
Unglazed crockery
A disguised thief
Dry crumbly morsels
Soft-soled women
Brass chargers
Calm reserve
The broken heart and tortured soul
Strong drink
Mumbled greetings
A soft belly draped in a gold coin girdle
Coal lined eyes
Fine carpets
Amber glow
Water dear
An overlooked fragment of antiquity
The smell of heat
Ancient leather
Gold thread
Oiled hands
Perfumed thighs
A bright oceanic sky
The sudden chill of moonrise
Diplomatic phrasing
Tales of a distant sea
Bones as clean as they might be
White bright light
Spiced meat
Rosewood hilt
And heavy air.
Glare Resources and reference shall I none.
This is satisfying, accurate, and complete.
I have always loved the word.

 Michael Z. Murphy

The Poet Encounters Herself on Cable TV

Her face is effective, I'll give her that,
but it's all about her nose, isn't it,
which appears unhappy. She looks
like someone who's in charge of things,
a real gal's gal, someone to clean the fish
on the camping trip and drink whiskey
with the boys over the campfire's sooty grin,
and then later, surrender to one of them,
using words to do it. Not like me,who wouldn't be much fun.
I'd plod, and tend the fire in a squat, and stir the stew.
What would I do with their risk but rice it?
I want to know how she does that. I know
that girl, and the girl I know doesn't sleep
most nights, and this one up there,
she's ready for the skeltonic verses.
She isn't me - not the sea blue blouse she wears,
not the cares she carries
in the back of her throat,
or the rote smile, the body language wile
she's whammying on the host, who's not
getting most of what she's all about,
the pout, the almost southern way
she drawls the words out - she bothers me,
that me. She's not the me I know -
she reads her poems as if she means them -
I think she's what I meant to be.

Mary DeBow

Pluperfect Doves

If I could April your dove
I would not let it leave the wire
I'd bind its scaly little feet
With wool pooled from the moon
Of late night beamed light If I could April me
I'd clip my winged words
And listen to the luster of your song
As you set the creature free for flight
Risking more than knowing you had done it right.

Susan Sapnar

Sum of the Pasts

We do not travel on a straight path
but on all paths possible at the same time.
We have no specific past .A lecture on particles and waves,
thirty year old notes on lined paper,
matter waves, waves of probability.
Understanding that what was then
must lead inevitably to this now
the theory.
Each word a particle
and a world of its own,
each line a wave
moving into a wave.
One interpretation from the other.
Same hand on the same paper,
limited choices of letters
but the wonder of the words,
the sum of pasts, before.

 Charles Michaels

 I Marvel

Why do lilacs know the time to bloom?
How can hearts for years beat on and on -
once mating strikes the spark in uteri?
How does life escape impending doom
in winter's blast, in heat of searing sun?
Why do we conserve our right to be,
presume that being makes us masters here?
Perhaps I’ll lose my questions and my fear
when I perceive Your Wonders and Your Ways -
Your infinitely comprehensive Might -
and when I stand enwrapped in arms of night
made visible through Your innumerable gaze.

 Catherine LeGault


the face of a pretty girl
on a matchbook cover
with the words draw me
as i raised pen to paper
my field of view began to expand
first to the table before me then
to the window of my small room
then to the mountains in a far distant
place over valleys greened deserts golden
hued outward past desolate moon
farther still to the center of the milky way
and beyond
even to the center of my soul
in humble contemplation i lay down
my pen and while the tears dimmed my view
gave praise to the master

Ray Cutshaw