While poetry is often concerned with ideas of the sublime and grandeur, there is an equal importance to capture simplicity in poems, and seek the same beauty in ordinary things. Many poets find their inspiration in mundane, regular objects that others might pass by without a second glance. Here are five poems that provide a different perspective on objects that are often taken for granted.
Ode to my Socks
- Pablo Neruda
Maru Mori brought me
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
I slipped my feet
as though into
with threads of
my feet were
two fish made
two long sharks
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
in this way
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
of that woven
of those glowing
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as learned men
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
and each day give them
and pieces of pink melon.
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
to the spit
and eat it
I stretched out
and pulled on
and then my shoes.
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and politician who wrote prolifically in the twentieth century. Neruda’s work comprised a range of styles and has been translated into many languages. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971, and he is often praised as one of the greatest poets who wrote in the Spanish language.
The Chairs No One Sits In
- Billy Collins
You see them on porches and on lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple
who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.
The trouble is you never see anyone
sitting in these forlorn chairs
though at one time it must have seemed
a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.
Sometimes there is a little table
between the chairs where no one
is resting a glass or placing a book facedown.
It might be none of my business,
but it might be a good idea one day
for everyone who placed those vacant chairs
on a veranda or a dock to sit down in them
for the sake of remembering
whatever it was they thought deserved
to be viewed from two chairs
side by side with a table in between.
The clouds are high and massive that day.
The woman looks up from her book.
The man takes a sip of his drink.
Then there is nothing but the sound of their looking,
the lapping of lake water, and a call of one bird
then another, cries of joy or warning—
it passes the time to wonder which.
Billy Collins is a poet who was born in New York, and is known as the “most popular poet in America.” His work features both wit and humour as well as keen insight into everyday objects and occurrences. This poem animates an ordinary visual, imagining the absent humans that the chairs indicate.
- Sylvia Plath
They are the last romantics, these candles:
Upside-down hearts of light tipping wax fingers,
And the fingers, taken in by their own haloes,
Grown milky, almost clear, like the bodies of saints.
It is touching, the way they'll ignore
A whole family of prominent objects
Simply to plumb the deeps of an eye
In its hollow of shadows, its fringe of reeds,
And the owner past thirty, no beauty at all.
Daylight would be more judicious,
Giving everybody a fair hearing.
They should have gone out with the balloon flights and the stereopticon.
This is no time for the private point of view.
When I light them, my nostrils prickle.
Their pale, tentative yellows
Drag up false, Edwardian sentiments,
And I remember my maternal grandmother from Vienna.
As a schoolgirl she gave roses to Franz Josef.
The burghers sweated and wept. The children wore white.
And my grandfather moped in the Tyrol,
Imagining himself a headwaiter in America,
Floating in a high-church hush
Among ice buckets, frosty napkins.
These little globes of light are sweet as pears.
Kindly with invalids and mawkish women,
They mollify the bald moon.
Nun-souled, they burn heavenward and never marry.
The eyes of the child I nurse are scarcely open.
In twenty years I shall be retrograde
As these drafty ephemerids.
I watch their spilt tears cloud and dull to pearls.
How shall I tell anything at all
To this infant still in a birth-drowse?
Tonight, like a shawl, the mild light enfolds her,
The shadows stoop over the guests at a christening.
Sylvia Plath was an American poet best known for having contributed to the school of confessional poetry. Much of her work is deeply personal, often with themes of fierce emotion, despair, and death. This poem, however, takes a gentler tone, reflecting the soft warmth of its subject.
Ode to the Clothesline
- Kwame Dawes
After Alfred Stieglitz
Not so much the missing of things
but the nostalgia of colors, their music,
the ordinary revelation of a family’s life
caught in the flop and dance, a jig,
if you will, of their layers, outer and inner skins,
the secret things so close to the body,
the taste, the salt and sweet of blood, and shit,
and piss, and then, rinsed and scrubbed, leaving
beneath the astringent scent of soap
a musky marker of self for strays
to smell or imagine as they walk
past the parade of the living
on taut lines, propped by poles
with nails for a hook, above
the startling green of grass and hedge,
the barefaced concrete steps,
the sky, inscrutable as a wall;
this is what one carries as a kind
of sweetness — the labor of brown hands,
elbow-deep in suds, the rituals
of cleansing, the humility of a darning
or a frayed crotch, the dignity
of cleanliness, the democracy of truth,
the way we lived our lives in the open.
Kwame Dawes is a Ghanaian poet who grew up in Jamaica, and who has published multiple novels, poetry collections, and non-fiction works. This poem celebrates the activity of clothes-hanging with vivid imagery, ascribing care and a sort of intimacy to the chore.
- William Matthews
How easily happiness begins by
dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter
slithers and swirls across the floor
of the sauté pan, especially if its
errant path crosses a tiny slick
of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.
This could mean soup or risotto
or chutney (from the Sanskrit
chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions
go limp and then nacreous
and then what cookbooks call clear,
though if they were eyes you could see
clearly the cataracts in them.
It’s true it can make you weep
to peel them, to unfurl and to tease
from the taut ball first the brittle,
caramel-colored and decrepit
papery outside layer, the least
recent the reticent onion
wrapped around its growing body,
for there’s nothing to an onion
but skin, and it’s true you can go on
weeping as you go on in, through
the moist middle skins, the sweetest
and thickest, and you can go on
in to the core, to the bud-like,
acrid, fibrous skins densely
clustered there, stalky and in-
complete, and these are the most
pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare
and rage and murmury animal
comfort that infant humans secrete.
This is the best domestic perfume.
You sit down to eat with a rumor
of onions still on your twice-washed
hands and lift to your mouth a hint
of a story about loam and usual
endurance. It’s there when you clean up
and rinse the wine glasses and make
a joke, and you leave the minutest
whiff of it on the light switch,
later, when you climb the stairs.
William Matthews was an American poet who was born in Ohio. In addition to publishing 11 books of poetry, Mathews worked in academia in different parts of the United States. This poem takes a reader on a sensory journey, capturing the familiar act of cooking with onions.