Bartlett's Poems for Occasions


By Geoffrey O’Brien

By Billy Collins

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Bartlett’s Poems for Occasions, an entertaining, thought-provoking companion to the bestselling Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, is the book to turn to for any circumstance — from birth to death and everything in between.

Under the direction of esteemed poet and writer Geoffrey O’Brien, Bartlett’s Poems for Occasions will inspire you to turn to poetry to celebrate a new baby or marriage, toast a colleague, cheer a graduate, honor a birthday, deliver a eulogy, or add zest to a holiday party. It is the perfect solution to the age-old question, What should I say?



Loveless hearts shall love tomorrow, hearts that have loved shall love anew

From The Vigil of Venus (Pervigilium Veneris)

Loveless hearts shall love tomorrow, hearts that have loved

        shall love anew,

    Spring is young now, spring is singing, in the spring

        the world first grew;

    In the spring the birds are wedded, in the springtime

        true hearts pair,

    Under the rain of her lover's kisses loose the forest

        flings her hair.

    Now in shadows of the woodland She that binds all

        true loves' vows,

    She shall build them bowers tomorrow of Her own green


    There Dione high enthronèd on her lovers lays

        her law —

Loveless hearts shall love tomorrow, hearts that have loved

        shall love once more.




Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king;

Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,

Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:

    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,

Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,

And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:

    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,

Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit;

In every street these tunes our ears do greet:

    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

      Spring, the sweet spring!


ENGLISH (1567-1601?)

When daisies pied, and violets blue

When daisies pied, and violets blue,

    And lady-smocks all silver-white,

And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue

    Do paint the meadows with delight,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men, for thus sings he,

            Cuckoo, cuckoo!

            O word of fear,

Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,

    And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,

When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,

    And maidens bleach their summer smocks,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men, for thus sings he,

            Cuckoo, cuckoo!

            O word of fear,

Unpleasing to a married ear!


ENGLISH (1564-1616)

Corinna's Going a-Maying

Get up, get up for shame! the blooming morn

Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.

    See how Aurora throws her fair

    Fresh-quilted colours through the air:

    Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see

    The dew-bespangling herb and tree.

Each flower has wept, and bowed toward the east,

Above an hour since; yet you not drest,

    Nay! not so much as out of bed?

    When all the birds have matins said,

    And sung their thankful hymns; 'tis sin,

    Nay, profanation to keep in,

Whenas a thousand virgins on this day

Spring sooner than the lark to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen

To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,

    And sweet as Flora. Take no care

    For jewels for your gown or hair:

    Fear not; the leaves will strew

    Gems in abundance upon you:

Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,

Against you come, some orient pearls unwept.

    Come, and receive them while the light

    Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:

    And Titan on the eastern hill

    Retires himself, or else stands still

Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying:

Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark

How each field turns a street, each street a park

    Made green and trimmed with trees: see how

    Devotion gives each house a bough

    Or branch; each porch, each door, ere this,

    An ark, a tabernacle is,

Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove,

As if here were those cooler shades of love.

    Can such delights be in the street

    And open fields, and we not see't?

    Come, we'll abroad: and let's obey

    The proclamation made for May,

And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;

But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

There's not a budding boy or girl this day

But is got up and gone to bring in May.

    A deal of youth ere this is come

    Back, and with white-thorn laden home.

    Some have dispatched their cakes and cream,

    Before that we have left to dream:

And some have wept and wooed, and plighted troth,

And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:

    Many a green-gown has been given;

    Many a kiss, both odd and even;

    Many a glance too has been sent

    From out the eye, love's firmament:

Many a jest told of the keys betraying

This night, and locks picked: yet we're not a-Maying!

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,

And take the harmless folly of the time!

    We shall grow old apace, and die

    Before we know our liberty.

    Our life is short, and our days run

    As fast away as does the sun.

And as a vapour or a drop of rain,

Once lost, can ne'er be found again:

    So when or you or I are made

    A fable, song, or fleeting shade,

    All love, all liking, all delight

    Lies drowned with us in endless night.

Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying,

Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.


ENGLISH (1591-1674)

To Daffodils

Fair daffodils, we weep to see

    You haste away so soon:

As yet the early-rising sun

    Has not attained his noon.

            Stay, stay,

        Until the hasting day

                Has run

        But to the evensong;

And, having prayed together, we

        Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,

    We have as short a spring;

As quick a growth to meet decay,

    As you, or anything.

            We die,

        As your hours do, and dry


        Like to the summer's rain;

Or as the pearls of morning's dew

        Ne'er to be found again.


ENGLISH (1591-1674)

The Spring

Now that the Winter's gone, the earth hath lost

Her snow-white robes; and now no more the frost

Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream

Upon the silver lake or crystal stream:

But the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth,

And makes it tender; gives a sacred birth

To the dead swallow; wakes in hollow tree

The drowsy cuckoo and the humble-bee.

Now do a choir of chirping minstrels bring

In triumph to the world the youthful Spring:

The valleys, hills, and woods in rich array

Welcome the coming of the long'd-for May.

Now all things smile: only my love doth lour,

Nor hath the scalding noonday sun the power

To melt that marble ice which still doth hold

Her heart congeal'd, and makes her pity cold.

The ox, which lately did for shelter fly

Into the stall, doth now securely lie

In open fields; and love no more is made

By the fireside, but in the cooler shade

Amyntas now doth with his Chloris sleep

Under a sycamore, and all things keep

    Time with the season: only she doth carry

    June in her eyes, in her heart January.


ENGLISH (1595?-1639?)

To Spring

O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down

Thro' the clear windows of the morning, turn

Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,

Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell each other, and the list'ning

Vallies hear; all our longing eyes are turned

Up to thy bright pavillions: issue forth,

And let thy holy feet visit our clime.

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds

Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste

Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls

Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour

Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put

Thy golden crown upon her languish'd head,

Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee!


ENGLISH (1757-1827)

Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,

While in a grove I sate reclined,

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran;

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,

The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;

And 'tis my faith that every flower

Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,

Their thoughts I cannot measure: —

But the least motion which they made,

It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,

To catch the breezy air;

And I must think, do all I can,

That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,

If such be Nature's holy plan,

Have I not reason to lament

What man has made of man?


ENGLISH (1770-1850)

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad

Oh, to be in England

Now that April's there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge —

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children's dower

— Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!


ENGLISH (1812-1889)

When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces

Chorus from Atalanta in Calydon

When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,

    The mother of months in meadow or plain

Fills the shadows and windy places

    With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;

And the brown bright nightingale amorous

Is half assuaged for Itylus,

For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,

    The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.

Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,

    Maiden most perfect, lady of light,

With a noise of winds and many rivers,

    With a clamour of waters, and with might;

Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet,

Over the splendour and speed of thy feet;

For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers,

    Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night.

Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her,

    Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?

O that man's heart were as fire and could spring to her,

    Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!

For the stars and the winds are unto her

As raiment, as songs of the harp-player;

For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her,

    And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing.

For winter's rains and ruins are over,

    And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

    The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

    Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

The full streams feed on flower of rushes,

    Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,

The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes

    From leaf to flower and flower to fruit;

And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,

And the oat is heard above the lyre,

And the hoofèd heel of a satyr crushes

    The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root.

And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,

    Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,

Follows with dancing and fills with delight

    The Mænad and the Bassarid;

And soft as lips that laugh and hide

The laughing leaves of the trees divide,

And screen from seeing and leave in sight

    The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

The ivy falls with the Bacchanal's hair

    Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes;

The wild vine slipping down leaves bare

    Her bright breast shortening into sighs;

The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves,

But the berried ivy catches and cleaves

To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare

    The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies.


ENGLISH (1837-1909)


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring —

    When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

    Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

    The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

    The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

    A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

    Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

    Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.


ENGLISH (1844-1889)

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect

The total sky almost without defect,

And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,

Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,

And yet not out by any brook or river,

But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds

To darken nature and be summer woods —

Let them think twice before they use their powers

To blot out and drink up and sweep away

These flowery waters and these watery flowers

From snow that melted only yesterday.


AMERICAN (1874-1963)


To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness

Of little leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?

Not only under ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,


Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.


AMERICAN (1892-1950)

O sweet spontaneous

O sweet spontaneous

earth how often have



            fingers of

prurient philosophers pinched




,has the naughty thumb

of science prodded


      beauty         . how

often have religions taken

thee upon their scraggy knees

squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive




to the incomparable

couch of death thy



        thou answerest

them only with



AMERICAN (1894-1962)

The White Fury of the Spring

Oh, now, now the white fury of the spring

Whirls at each door, and on each flowering plot —

The pear, the cherry, the grave apricot!

The lane's held in a storm, and is a thing

To take into a grave, a lantern-light

To fasten there, by which to stumble out,

And race in the new grass, and hear about

The crash of bough with bough, of white with white.

Were I to run, I could not run so fast,

But that the spring would overtake me still;

Halfway I go to meet it on the stair.

For certainly it will rush in at last,

And in my own house seize me at its will,

And drag me out to the white fury there.


AMERICAN (1856-1935)


Summer is y-comen in

Summer is y-comen in,

Loud sing cuckoo!

Groweth seed and bloweth meed

And springeth the wood now —

Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleateth after lamb,

Loweth after calf cow;

Bullock starteth, buck farteth.

Merry sing cuckoo!

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Well singest thou cuckoo:

Nor cease thou never now.

            Sing cuckoo, now, sing cuckoo!

            Sing cuckoo! sing cuckoo, now!



Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe

Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe,

That hast thise wintres wedres overshake,

And driven away the large nightes blake.

Saint Valentin, that art ful heigh on lofte,

Thus singen smale fowles for thy sake:

Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe.

Wel han they cause forto gladen ofte,

Sith eech of hem recovered hath his make;

Ful blisful mowe they singe whan they wake:

Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe.


ENGLISH (C. 1342-1400)

Why are our summer sports so brittle?

Why are our summer sports so brittle?

    The leaves already fall,

    The meads are drownèd all;

Alas, that summer lasts so little.

    No pleasure could be tasted

If flowery summer always lasted.



Summer Moods

I love at eventide to walk alone

Down narrow lanes o'erhung with dewy thorn

Where from the long grass underneath the snail

Jet black creeps out and sprouts his timid horn.

I love to muse o'er meadows newly mown

Where withering grass perfumes the sultry air

Where bees search round with sad and weary drone

In vain for flowers that bloomed but newly there,

While in the juicy corn the hidden quail

Cries "wet my foot" and hid as thoughts unborn

The fairy-like and seldom-seen land rail

Utters "craik craik" like voices underground

Right glad to meet the evening's dewy veil

And see the light fade into glooms around.


ENGLISH (1793-1864)

Summer Wind

It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk

The dew that lay upon the morning grass;

There is no rustling in the lofty elm

That canopies my dwelling, and its shade

Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint

And interrupted murmur of the bee,

Settling on the sick flowers, and then again

Instantly on the wing. The plants around

Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize

Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops

Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.

But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,

With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,

As if the scorching heat and dazzling light

Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,

Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven —

Their bases on the mountains—their white tops

Shining in the far ether—fire the air

With a reflected radiance, and make turn

The gazer's eye away. For me, I lie

Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,

Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,

Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind

That still delays his coming. Why so slow,

Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?

Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth

Coolness and life. Is it that in his caves

He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,

The pine is bending his proud top, and now

Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak

Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;

Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!

The deep distressful silence of the scene

Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds

And universal motion. He is come,

Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,

And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings

Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,

And sound of swaying branches, and the voice

Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs

Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,

By the road-side and the borders of the brook,

Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves

Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew

Were on them yet, and silver waters break

Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.


AMERICAN (1794-1878)

I hear a river thro' the valley wander

I hear a river thro' the valley wander

Whose water runs, the song alone remaining.

A rainbow stands and summer passes under.


AMERICAN (1874-1904)

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,

Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.

He says that leaves are old and that for flowers


On Sale
Sep 3, 2007
Page Count
544 pages

Geoffrey O’Brien

About the Author

Geoffrey O’Brien is the editor-in-chief of The Library of America, and author of fifteen books, most recently The Fall of the House of Walworth, and other works including Hardboiled America, Dream Time, The Phantom Empire, The Times Square Story, The Browser’s Ecstasy, Castaways of the Image Planet, and Sonata for Jukebox. He has contributed frequently to The New York Review of Books, Artforum, Film Comment, and other publications. He lives in New York City.

Learn more about this author