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Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems Hardcover – March 13, 2007

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About the Author

ROGER HOUSDEN is the author of 17 books on cultural and creative themes, including Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living and the bestselling Ten Poems series. You can reach him at

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies

are not starving someplace, they are starving

somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.

But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.

Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not

be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not

be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women

at the fountain are laughing together between

the suffering they have known and the awfulness

in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody

in the village is very sick. There is laughter

every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,

and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,

we lessen the importance of their deprivation.

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,

we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship

anchored late at night in the tiny port

looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront

is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.

To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat

comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth

all the years of sorrow that are to come.


Mary Oliver

Every day

I see or I hear


that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in a haystack

of light.

It is what I was born for--

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world--

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant--

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these--

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean's shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?


Stephen Dunn

A state you dare not enter

with hopes of staying,

quicksand in the marshes, and all

the roads leading to a castle

that doesn't exist.

But there it is, as promised,

with its perfect bridge above

the crocodiles,

and its doors forever open.


Tony Hoagland

Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,

smiles like a big cat and says

that she's a conjugated verb.

She's been doing the direct object

with a second person pronoun named Phil,

and when she walks into the room,

everybody turns:

some kind of light is coming from her head.

Even the geraniums look curious,

and the bees, if they were here, would buzz

suspiciously around her hair, looking

for the door in her corona.

We're all attracted to the perfume

of fermenting joy,

we've all tried to start a fire,

and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.

In the meantime, she is the one today among us

most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,

and when we see it, what we do is natural:

we take our burned hands

out of our pockets,

and clap.



Petronius Arbiter

Good God, what a night that was,

The bed was so soft, and how we clung,

Burning together, lying this way and that,

Our uncontrollable passions

Flowing through our mouths.

If only I could die that way,

I'd say goodbye to the business of living.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth


Hayden Carruth

For years it was in sex and I thought

This was the most of it

so brief

a moment

or two of transport out of oneself


in music which lasted longer and filled me

with the exquisite wrenching agony

of the blues

and now it is equally

transitory and obscure as I sit in my broken

chair that cats have shredded

by the stove on a winter night with wind and snow

howling outside and I imagine

the whole world at peace

at peace

and everyone comfortable and warm

the great pain assuaged

a moment

of the most shining and singular gratification.


Pablo Neruda

Take bread away from me, if you wish,

take air away, but

do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,

the lanceflower that you pluck,

the water that suddenly

bursts forth in your joy,

the sudden wave

of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back

with eyes tired

at times from having seen

the unchanging earth,

but when your laughter enters

it rises to the sky seeking me

and it opens for me all

the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest

hour your laughter

opens, and if suddenly

you see my blood staining

the stones of the street,

laugh, because your laughter

will be for my hands

like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,

your laughter must raise

its foamy cascade,

and in the spring, love,

I want your laughter like

the flower I was waiting for,

the blue flower, the rose

of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,

at the day, at the moon,

laugh at the twisted

streets of the island,

laugh at this clumsy

boy who loves you,

but when I open

my eyes and close them,

when my steps go,

when my steps return,

deny me bread, air,

light, spring,

but never your laughter

for I would die.

Translated by Donald Walsh


Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.

I want it flimsy and cheap,

I want it too tight, I want to wear it

until someone tears it off me.

I want it sleeveless and backless,

this dress, so no one has to guess

what's underneath. I want to walk down

the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store

with all those keys glittering in the window,

past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old

donuts in their cafe, past the Guerra brothers

slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,

hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.

I want to walk like I'm the only

woman on earth and I can have my pick.

I want that red dress bad.

I want it to confirm

your worst fears about me,

to show you how little I care about you

or anything except what

I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment

from its hanger like I'm choosing a body

to carry me into this world, through

the birth-cries and the love-cries too,

and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,

it'll be the goddamned

dress they bury me in.


Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward

signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


Lucille Clifton

my grandsons

spinning in their joy


keep them turning turning

black blurs against the window

of the world

for they are beautiful

and there is trouble coming

round and round and round


Billy Collins

There are many that I miss,

having sent my last one out of a car window

sparking along the road one night, years ago.

The heralded ones, of course:

after sex, the two glowing tips

now the lights of a single ship;

at the end of a long dinner

with more wine to come

and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;

or on a white beach,

holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

How bittersweet these punctuations

of flame and gesture;

but the best were on those mornings

when I would have a little something going

in the typewriter,

the sun bright in the windows,

maybe some Berlioz on in the background.

I would go into the kitchen for coffee

and on the way back to the page,

curled in its roller,

I would light one up and feel

its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

Then I would be my own locomotive,

trailing behind me as I returned to work

little puffs of smoke,

indicators of progress,

signs of industry and thought,

the signal that told the nineteenth century

it was moving forward.

That was the best cigarette,

when I would steam into the study

full of vaporous hope

and stand there,

the big headlamp of my face

pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.



Rainer Maria Rilke

Only the man who has raised his strings

among the dark ghosts also

should feel his way toward

the endless praise.

Only he who has eaten poppy

with the dead, from their poppy,

will never lose even

his most delicate sound.

Even though images in the pool

seem so blurry:

grasp the main thing.

Only in the double kingdom, there

alone, will voices become

undying and tender.

Translated by Robert Bly


Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean--

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?


William Stafford

Now has come, an easy time. I let it

roll. There is a lake somewhere

so blue and far nobody owns it.

A wind comes by and a willow listens


I hear all this, every summer. I laugh

and cry for every turn of the world,

its terribly cold, innocent spin.

That lake stays blue and free; it goes

on and on.

And I know where it is.




I sit in the streets with the homeless

My clothes stained with the wine

From the vineyards the saints tend.

Light has painted all acts

The same color

So I sit around and laugh all day

With my friends.

At night if I feel a divine loneliness

I tear the doors off Love's mansion

And wrestle God onto the floor.

He becomes so pleased with Hafiz

And says,

"Our hearts should do this more."

Translated by Daniel Ladinsky



Swan, I'd like you to tell me your whole story!

Where you first appeared, and what dark sand you are going toward,

and where you sleep at night, and what you are looking for. . . .

It's morning, swan, wake up, climb in the air, follow me!

I know of a country that spiritual flatness does not control, nor constant depression,

and those alive are not afraid to die.

There wildflowers come up through the leafy floor,

and the fragrance of "I am he" floats on the wind.

There the bee of the heart stays deep inside the flower,

and cares for no other thing.

Translated by Robert Bly


John Milton

Both turned, and under the open sky adored

The God that made both sky, air, earth, and heaven,

Which they beheld, the moon's resplendent globe,

And starry pole: "Thou also mad'st the night,

Maker Omnipotent, and thou the day

Which we, in our appointed work employed,

Have finished, happy in our mutual help

And mutual love, the crown of all our bliss."

. . . .

This said unanimous, and other rites

Observing none, but adoration pure,

Which God likes best, into their inmost bower

Handed they went: and, eased the putting off

These troublesome disguises which we wear,

Straight side by side were laid: nor turned, I ween,

Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites

Mysterious of connubial love refused.

. . . .

Hail, wedded Love, mysterious law, true source

Of human offspring, sole propriety

In Paradise of all things common else!

By thee adulterous Lust was driven from men

Among the bestial herds to range; by thee,

Founded in reason, loyal, just, and pure,

Relations dear, and all the charities

Of father, son, and brother, first were known.

Far be it that I should write thee sin or blame,

Or think thee unbefitting holiest place,

Perpetual fountain of domestick sweets,

Whose bed is undefiled and chaste pronounced,

Present, or past, as saints and patriarchs used.

Here Love his golden shafts employs, here lights

His constant lamp, and waves his purple wings.

. . . .

These, lulled by nightingales, embracing slept,

And on their naked limbs the flowery roof

Showered roses, which the morn repaired. Sleep on,

Blest pair, and O! yet happiest, if ye seek

No happier state, and know to know no more.

From Paradise Lost Book IV



Wendell Berry

(Jayber Crow in old age)

To think of gathering all

the sorrows of Port William

into myself, and so

sparing the others:

What freedom! What joy!


Gerald Stern

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture

and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots

I have never seen a postwar Philco

with the automatic eye

nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did

in 1945 in that tiny living room

on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did

then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,

my mother red with laughter, my father cupping

his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance

of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; First Edition edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030734195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307341952
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger Housden grew up in St.Catherine's Valley, a cleft in the Cotswolds on the edge of Bath, in England. He has led contemplative journeys all over the world, and in an earlier life was a freelance feature writer for The Guardian newspaper and an interviewer for the BBC. He has been a full-time author since 1997.

He is the author of twenty books on poetry, art, and travel,including the bestselling Ten Poems series which started in 2001 with Ten Poems to Change Your Life. His next book, due to be published by Sounds True in March 2014,is called Keeping the Faith Without a Religion. Roger emigrated to the United States in 1998 and now lives in Marin County, California.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Olynciw on December 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The selection of poetry in this volume is wonderful. It's one of my favorit anthologies and I have purchased extra copies for friends. The forward and first poem clearly present a case for joyousness even in this world of hunger, disasters, and sorrows.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cat on May 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A really, really beautiful book. whenever I need a pick-me-up I randomly open a page and like magic there are some uplifting words that seem like they've been written just for me. Highly recommended!
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I have been feeling rather low over the past few weeks and bought this to cheer myself up. Roger Housdon does a great job putting appropriate poems together - I have several of his collections and I love them all. I recommend having a browse through them and choosing one for whatever is your current situation.
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Thank you Roger Housden for this wonderful anthology. You are bringing poetry to everyday America, and I'm one of those everyday Americans who NEED poetry!
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