Skip to content

Emotional Engagement

Below are two poems which I think have a huge emotional resonance.  For each, have a go at these questions…

1. What emotions does this poem stir in you?

2. Can you define which moments these occur in the poem?

FIVE HOUSES DOWN by Christian Wiman

I loved his ten demented chickens

and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox

shaped like a huge green gun.

I loved the eyesore opulence

of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch

with its oilspill plumage, tools

cauled in oil, the dark

clockwork of disassembled engines

christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;

and down the steps into the yard the explosion

of mismatched parts and black scraps

amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked

in luck, he would look up stunned,

patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt

and saying, Son,

you lookin’ to make some scratch?

All afternoon we’d pile the flatbed high

with stacks of Exxon floormats

mysteriously stencilled with his name,

rain-rotted sheetrock or miles

of misfitted pipes, coil after coil

of rusted fencewire that stained for days

every crease of me, rollicking it all

to the dump where, while he called

every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,

he catpicked the avalanche of trash

and fished some always fixable thing

up from the depths. Something

about his endless aimless work

was not work, my father said.

Somehow his barklike earthquake curses

were not curses, for he could goddam

a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,

but one bad word from me

made his whole being

twang like a nail mis-struck. Aint no call for that,

son, no call at all. Slipknot, whatknot, knot

from which no man escapes—

prestoed back to plain old rope;

whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt

worms like the clutch of mud:

I wanted to live forever

five houses down

in the womanless rooms a woman

sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him

twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel

or idly wiping the volcanic dust.

It seemed like heaven to me:

beans and weenies from paper plates,

black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop

as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate

a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,

from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,

my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.

To Live in the Mercy of God

by Denise Levertov

To lie back under the tallest

oldest trees. How far the stems

rise, rise

before ribs of shelter


To live in the mercy of God. The complete

sentence too adequate, has no give.

Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of

stony wood beneath lenient

moss bed.

And awe suddenly

passing beyond itself. Becomes

a form of comfort.

Becomes the steady

air you glide on, arms

stretched like the wings of flying foxes.

To hear the multiple silence

of trees, the rainy

forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,

as salt water

would hold you,

once you dared.


To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself

unabating down and down

to clenched fists of rock.

Swiftness of plunge,

hour after year after century,

O or Ah

uninterrupted, voice


To breathe

spray. The smoke of it.


of steelwhite foam, glissades

of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—

rage or joy?

Thus, not mild, not temperate,

God’s love for the world. Vast

flood of mercy

flung on resistance.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: