Poets Online Archive
Questions
October 2007

When I was looking in my Norton Anthology for another poem, I came across William Blake's poem "The Tyger."  Almost everyone who has sat through a few years of English literature classes in high school or college has come across this poem.

When I reread it, I also remembered what I had liked about the poem when I first read it. It was filled with questions and, more importantly, the poet didn't seem to be able to answer them any more than I could answer them.

You could write a poem that asked questions but didn't come up with the answers? This was something new to me.

Some teacher must have taken me through the poem and discussed how the questions are in themselves a kind of answer to the main question of "What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry."

For our September writing prompt at Poets Online, we asked that our readers try a poem that is almost all questions, but in the asking presents a kind of answer.

As always, there's more information about this prompt and others on the Poets Online Blog.

William Blake (November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827) was an English poet, visionary, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake's work is today considered seminal and significant in the history of both poetry and the visual arts.

While his visual art and written poetry are usually considered separately, Blake often employed them in concert to create a product that at once defied and superseded convention. Though he believed himself able to converse aloud with Old Testament prophets, and despite his work in illustrating the Book of Job, Blake's affection for the Bible was accompanied by hostility for the established Church, his beliefs modified by a fascination with Mysticism and the unfolding of the Romantic Movement around him. excerpted from the Wikipedia entry on Blake

If you're interested in more about Blake's poems or artwork, try the Blake Archive.

 



A LAND SURVEYOR, 1830

Fired with tales of the westward
pioneering, do you think your destiny
is to measure trackless wilderness?

Are all those birds and flowers, rivers, tributaries waiting to be named?
Uncharted hills and valleys, so much wild

real estate – can we bend it to Man’s hand?
And after the acres are surveyed,
parceled, sold and bought; cultivated,

zoned, then built and overbuilt – what’s left, I ask you? Can survey pins prove a claim on the spirit of the land?

Taylor Graham


BEFORE YOU GO

Do you want your casket
in metal or oak?  Opened
or closed?  Will there be
a religious service?  (Would
your parents have it
any other way?) Will you choose
the songs, or should I?
Do you want roses or lilacs?
How about whatever is
in season? What should
the minister read? Something
from Job? Or is he too gloomy?
What about one of those passages
with rivers and lambs?
What would you like to wear?
Didn't you always say it's better
for clothes to speak than match?
Did you know they won't need
your shoes and isn't it fitting
since you never liked
to wear them anyway?
Should everyone meet at the house
afterward?  Is catering out
of the question? Should I take out
some photos from the album
to occupy the guests?  Do you think
our wedding photo would be
appropriate?
At what point do I say enough
is enough and send them all home
and what should I do in the first
awkward night alone?  Will I be
able to conjure you as you
are now, looking out the window
to the darkened bushes
where, you say, the doe
and her fawn have just
flashed by?

P. Goudaman


QUESTIONS PUT TO A DOG

What are we going to do this afternoon?
I asked the dog beside me on the couch.
But I was thinking, What the hell am I doing
with this life? And it wouldn't hurt to ask her that
and Why should I continue working at a job
that gives me no satisfaction?
The money? she replies
with a sarcastic swipe of the her tail.
Well, sure, there's that but I'm young enough
to make a change still.
Of course, says her ear twitch, as long as we
can still buy food and go for walks, what's money?
You know I am looking at making a change, I say.
Her head turns to the side, her way of saying that
I'm not really looking. All right, so I'm just thinking
about making a change, I admit.
Talk therapy, I say. That's what this is.
She licks at her paw to say, we do what we can do.
And I stand up and pick up her leash from the table.
Want to continue this while we walk?
She waits to let me know it's my call.
C' mon, I add, in my best enthusiastic tone.
We need a change of scenery. And she is up
and we are at the door.
The sky is gray and the wind is picking up.
Some storm out at sea is brushing past us today.
She pushes her weight against my leg.
I'm ready if you are, she says
without a hint of question in her.

Lianna Wright


SPECKLED HANDS

Does anyone know
how long blood will stain a human hand.
Do the fish know
you can’t breathe under water.

Does an earthworm know
dirt tastes like dirt.
Does the snowflake know
it will melt too soon.

Does a do-it-yourself self martyrdom kit make the second coming inevitable.
Did God push the world from her loins
to create the myth she knows what she is doing.

Does the gun know bullets kill.
Does the fist know pain as it connects.
Does the fire know water destroys.
Do roses know what the thorns are for.

A man stretches his small speckled hands in an expansive gesture.

Bill Schreiber


EVERYTHING YOU ARE QUESTIONING ABOUT YOURSELF

Might be answered by paraidolia.
You can look it up,
but it's when we see that vague but suggestive shape of something as definitive
it's the profile in the clouds
the face of the Blessed Virgin burned into a piece of toast
or a man in the moon
a figure in the carpet
the pyramid on Mars

it's when we hear that Paul is dead in a record played backwards
a name whispered on the wind
a Towhee singing Drink-your-tea, the Tufted Titmouse calling for Peter, Peter, Peter,
a bird suggesting the cruel Whip poor Will

we are pattern seekers
we need to be
in order to see the tiger hiding in the tall grass
or the crying child in the inkblot

we seek closure
we don't want things left unanswered
circles unclosed
it's the answer to all the questions you have right now.

We live in a world where things cannot be created or destroyed-
only transformed.
So I ask you, what kind of spiritual sense do you take from that?

Pamela Milne


QUESTIONS

Watching over you,
I can tell you a story
of the past,
or present;

and I imagine you will listen.
The images dancing in my mind
will flow unchanged into yours,
as though my hands could pass them
through your skin. I imagine
you will feel my pain,
and pleasure,
as I do.

I can feel your heart beat
in the silence,
your breathing is rhythmic,
relaxed.
I wonder what story you are dwelling on.
What images,
do they mirror mine?
Can you sense my thoughts
as I can sense the blood
rushing past the skin
beneath my fingertips?

Do you feel my love?
Love which I cannot control,
cannot understand?

But sometime,
as I was wondering all this,
I realised your gently hissing breath
had changed
into the guttural voice of sleep.

Janna Hastings


YOU DIDN'T ASK ME

But I'll tell you anyway, for free.
That the origin of penis
is not in the word pen,
as you thought,
but in tail, as in
tail between his legs.

That misspelling the genetic code
by just one letter
can lead to autism

Jeanne D' Arc started hearing voices
at age 13, which seems to me
to make perfect sense.

When Buckminster Fuller was asked
if he was sad that he would never
go into outer space, he answered,
"But we are in outer space!"

That the ringing in your ear
is not that someone is thinking of you -
though you are thinking of me right now.

I know you were also thinking of asking
if things would get better, so I'll tell you that
according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics
this entropy thing means that things will only get worse.

Before you drop that glass you're holding,
I'll answer your question:
It will never be reassembled.

Ken Ronkowitz


MARJORIE

In her eighties, she donned
her long, lime green dress
lavender, fuzzy jacket
and silver pocket book
to go out with her daughters.

She walks slowly,
along the boardwalk
in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
Out of the blue cloudless sky
she picks up her cane,

starts twirling it -like a baton
-under her forearm -then
over the top. Does she remember
the moves from high school?
Twisting her wrist with great finesse
-see the rings on her fingers?

She broke her femur last
December, now she's twirling
in September, why, do you suppose?
Just before twilight, she strolls
down the boards at the shore
between her daughters.

Isn't she just the picture of joy?

Margaret A. Dukes


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