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Ten Poems to Say Goodbye Hardcover – February 21, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0307885999 ISBN-10: 0307885992 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307885992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307885999
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

ROGER HOUSDEN is the author of Ten Poems to Change Your Life; Ten Poems to Open Your Heart; Ten Poems to Set You Free; Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime; How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful, Imperfect Self; Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living; Saved by Beauty; and the novella Chasing Rumi, and is also the editor of Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation and Dancing with Joy. Housden was born in England and now lives in the United States.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1   If You Knew   by Ellen Bass   What if you knew you’d be the last   to touch someone?   If you were taking tickets, for example,   at the theater, tearing them,   giving back the ragged stubs,   you might take care to touch that palm,   brush your fingertips   along the life line’s crease.   When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase   too slowly through the airport, when   the car in front of me doesn’t signal,   when the clerk at the pharmacy   won’t say Thankyou, I don’t remember   they’re going to die.   A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.   They’d just had lunch and the waiter,   a young gay man with plum black eyes,   joked as he served the coffee, kissed   her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.   Then they walked half a block and her aunt   dropped dead on the sidewalk.   How close does the dragon’s spume   have to come? How wide does the crack   in heaven have to split?   What would people look like   if we could see them as they are,   soaked in honey, stung and swollen,   reckless, pinned against time?   the dragon’s spume   The first person I normally greet in the morning is Diego.Today, I look at him with eyes whose vision has been altered by reading thispoem. Diego is from the Yucatán, but now he makes cappuccino in my local caféin Sausalito. Diego is irrepressibly happy. We shake hands every day as I ordermy cappuccino. He invariably slides it across the counter to me with someexclamation about how beautiful the day is, whatever the weather. Even if Ihave just walked through a blustery wind and a smattering of rain, it seemschurlish to contradict him, and I can only agree, especially when I know howfar he has cycled in the small hours of the morning to get here. Yes, it is abeautiful day. Always.   Today, I take in his tiny Mayan frame; his businesslike vigor; hiskind, open gaze, and I feel what this café would be like without him. It wouldbe empty. All the locals are here because of him. Because of his warmth, hiswelcome, his verve. I wonder about the sad stories that hide behind his smile;the journey from his homeland, the family he has left behind, the relatives,perhaps, who never made it across the desert in Arizona. I think of him on hisbicycle at four in the morning, pedaling into the wind all through San Franciscoand over the Golden Gate Bridge while the rest of us are quiet in the sleepingcity.   Today, his gesture of sliding the cup over the wooden counter islit for me with an uncommon light—the light that glows around someone as yousense that this gesture, that sentence, that smile, that look in the eyes, isalready disappearing out of this moment into the timeless. Gone; gone forever.And yet a trace remains; not in the memory only, but in the feeling heart. Andin the body, too; because when we see and feel like this, we are moved. Forwhat is illuminated is the reality that, even as it disappears, the mostordinary gesture can convey the truth and beauty of a human life. I feelgrateful for Diego’s courage, his vulnerability to “the dragon’s spume”; awareof his humanity as I am now streaming across the counter to me along with mycoffee.   Aware as I am, too, of my own vulnerability, and that of everyoneelse in this café this morning, washed and tumbling along as we all are in theriver of time, on our way to the endless ocean. Because all of us are here onlyfor the time being; vulnerable, intrinsically vulnerable to old age, sickness,and death. Nothing will save us from this, our common fate. However puffed outour chest may be, however booming that voice of ours, however many tallbuildings or stocks we own, we, too, are exquisitely, excruciatingly exposed tothe fact that, sooner or later, our place will be cleared and we will be gone.   When we remember this, this poem says, something softens in us. Ourjudgments soften. Our hurry slows down a little, our worries return toproportion. We breathe a little easier. After all, every one of us is in thesame leaky, old boat. Everyone we meet, everyone around us—the wise, thefoolish, the saintly, the murderous—all of us alive today are heading together,in one great fellowship, toward the final waterfall, even as we argue, lash outat each other, care for each other, love each other, regardless of what it iswe do or don’t do.   This is why ours is an “exquisite” vulnerability. It is exquisitebecause it is so touching, so life affirming when we see through the shell of aperson to the tender reality beneath. One of the women I pass in the café mostmornings was in the local supermarket the other day. We had sometimes smiled inrecognition, but never spoken. She always seemed busy and brisk to my eye, incharge of her day and what she was doing. When we bumped into each other in thesupermarket I greeted her by saying how colorful she looked in her bright blueshirt. She said her husband had died recently, and it was the first day sincethen that she had felt a little alive. I am so sorry, I said. She burst intotears and clung to my shoulder, sobbing. The wave of her grief washed throughand over me. I had had no idea. I would never have known. She was not in chargeat all. She was just trying to do what she could to get through.   It reminded me that all of us are a hair’s breadth away fromdeath—our own or someone else’s—at any moment of the day or night. All of us,whatever we may do to conceal it, are as tender inside as the down on asongbird’s breast.  

When a manpulls his wheeled suitcase too slowly through the airport, when the car in front of me doesn’t signal. . . .

 
This is what Ellen Bass is saying in these lines: that our commonvulnerability is palpable even in those who irritate us. They, too, carry thesame mortal wound, and when we see this, we see their essential humanity. Thenwe, too, will have softened our own shell and remembered for a moment who we are, below theparade of our passing concerns. It is always exquisite, to return to ourselves,to that quivering presence, substantial and unsayable; and know ourselves againas if for the first time.   The poems of Ellen Bass are always achingly human, just like thisone, and weave often threads of grief and loss with love and starlight.  

Bring meyour pain, love. Spread it out like fine rugs, silk sashes,

 
she says, in “Basket of Figs.”1   In “The Moon,” she sees it  

framed inthe windshield like a small white shell glued to the blue silk of the afternoon.2

 
This is one of the many wonderful things about a poem: you can poureverything into it, joy and sorrow, the remarkable and the ordinary, and thepoem will use all of it, turning stones into bread along the way. Just as in“If You Knew,” even the man wheeling his suitcase through an airport and eventhe clerk in the pharmacy who won’t say “Thank you” come newly alive for uswhen we remember that they, too, like us, are drifting toward an irrevocablefinality. Bass is affirming that we are most alive when we are aware of theshadow of death that hovers over everything and perhaps especially overourselves. It is our mortality that makes life so precious.   She brings this vividly into focus in the following stanza, whichmoves us from the general to the specific. She shares a graphic, startlingimage from her own life:  

a young gayman with plum black eyes, joked as he served the coffee, kissed her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.

 
The waiter has an air of spontaneity, and an almost femininebeauty, which is not insignificant to my mind. It suggests an ease withrelatedness, with the warmth of contact, with life itself. He needs only wingsto be a personification of Eros, the joyous, life-giving energy of delight anddesire. And what a blessing he gives her, unknowingly—for he is the last personto touch the aunt, who walks out of the restaurant and drops down dead alongthe street. She was blessed with the touch of life just as she was leaving it.And he, too, was blessed without knowing it, as we are whenever we extend ourhand in kindness or in generosity toward the transient, fragile life ofanother.   The last four lines are an accumulation of successively potentimages, ending with one of the most arresting pictures of the human condition Ihave ever encountered:  

What wouldpeople look like if we could see them as they are, soaked in honey, stung and swollen, reckless, pinned against time?

 
Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror, or at your lover or yourparents, and seeing someone “soaked in honey, stung and swollen.” How forgivingyour look would become, the lines in your face softening already in the glow ofthe truth before you. The phrase reminds me of that beautiful image of AntonioMachado’s:  

And thegolden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.3

 
When I first heard Machado’s lines, they broke open my mind to awhole new way of seeing my life. I was in amazement. Imagine the possibilitythat every single turn of events, however dark or disappointing the outcome,can in some circuitous way be the raw material for something that eventuallysurfaces with the sweetness of honey. Machado is saying that your failures cansoften you, render you more permeable to worlds you may never have countenancedif you had always met with success in the world of action. The heart, like thegrape, is prone to delivering its harvest in the same moment that it appears tobe crushed. The beehive in your heart is humming precisely because of thosefailures.   Ellen Bass, too, couples our sweetness with our stung and swollenselves. Like the Japanese, who have developed an entire philosophy—wabisabi—around the value of imperfection, she joins our beauty to our wounding.The “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Hamlet puts it, can serve tounveil the inherent sweetness of our essential nature.   And our greatest wounding, the imperfection that no amount ofprayer or goodness or psychotherapy will ever do anything to erase, is that weare “pinned against time.” Time is both our friend and our ultimate demise. Itis our friend when we awaken to the reality that this life will not always be so. When we know this from the inside, the caution that mayhave colored our days will dissolve like mist over the bay. With nothing tolose, knowing there can be nothing to hold on to, we can fall headlong into life at last;“reckless,” like butterflies still hovering over a flower even as the collectorleans forward with his net.   Far from being a tragedy, there is something poignantly wondrousabout our mortal predicament. Czeslaw Milosz, in his poem, “Encounter,”captures it beautifully:  

O my love,where are they, where are they going The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles. I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.4

 
I wish only that I might live out my days like this, “in wonder.”       2   LOVE SONNET XCIV   by Pablo Neruda   If I die, survive me with such sheer force   that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,   from south to south lift your indelible eyes,   from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.   I don’t want your laughter or your steps to waver,   I don’t want my heritage of joy to die.   Don’t call up my person. I am absent.   Live in my absence as if in a house.   Absence is a house so vast   that inside you will pass through its walls   and hang pictures on the air.   Absence is a house so transparent   that I, lifeless, will see you, living,   and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.       if i die   There is a power, a force in this poem that runs like ariver down from the first line to the last and that carries over the love ofone person to another even beyond the frontiers of death. If someone is readingyou this poem as lover to beloved, take in the words as a message from yourlover’s heart to yours, Neruda’s sonnet being the bird that sings to you. Evenif you are alone, you can say this poem out loud to yourself, and know thatyour life can continue through the life and presence of others who will surviveyou.  

If I die, survive me with suchsheer force that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold, . . .

 
“Survive me with such sheer force,” Neruda urges his beloved, thateven the dead are shaken awake. It is a tidal wave of living that he is callingfor; nothing less will serve. No mere living on in memory of what was, nodrifting through the days trying to pick up the pieces of a life shattered bythe death of a beloved. In these first few lines I almost wonder if what Nerudawants is his revenge on Death itself. He certainly wants his love to bedeathless, to continue on through the sheer vigor and vitality of the way hisbeloved lives her life after he has gone. There is more than a tinge ofdefiance here—he even says “If I die,” rather than “When I die,” which would bethe more accurate phrase, and which reminds me of those famous lines of DylanThomas:  

Do not go gentle into that goodnight, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.1

 
Yet where Neruda departs from Thomas is in the loving melody thatwhispers here beneath the surface of the defiance. Neruda cares so deeply forthe one he expects to leave behind that he offers this poem to her as a strongwind in her sails while she continues on her voyage through life. This is whatI can hear, a siren call ringing all the way through from beginning to end: hislove for her is so great, so passionate, so unstoppable that he wants to pour itinto her so that she may live large enough for both of them when he is gone.   Later, looking down on her with the empty gaze of the dead, hewould not have been disappointed. The lover who Neruda addresses in this poemwas the Chilean singer Matilde Urrutia. His OneHundred Love Sonnets, which includes this one, was published in1960, when Neruda was in his fifties. It was dedicated to Matilde, with whom hehad a clandestine relationship for the last eight years of his marriage to theArgentinian painter Delia del Carril, who was twenty years his senior.  


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.

Customer Reviews

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Great asset while walking through life's challenges!
Lindsay
Roger Housden has selected ten utterly splendid poems, and added a deeply felt and astute commentary unique to each that beautifully honors the intent of the poet.
Paul H. Ray
This book is in itself a precious gift and I intend to give it to many of my friends.
SherryGreywolf

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ariadne on February 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Roger Housden is one of the most insightful, compelling writers I know- his meditations on pilgrimage, poetry and art woven in with his own personal stories reveal what is most deeply human within us. I've given away dozens of his books to friends and students over the past few years, and know that his words have the power to change lives. With this book, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that book might not just change lives- it could well save them. I urge you to buy several copies to keep on a shelf. One for yourself to have always and two or three to have on hand when someone in your life is plunging into the dark night of the soul. This is a book you want to have to hand a friend in the throes of divorce, in the agony of bereavement, in the despair of losing a job or a home. Every priest, rabbi or minister should keep a copy (or ten) in their office. For the places where we so seldom can find words, Roger brings the light of wisdom and hope. This is a work of profound grace.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By SherryGreywolf on February 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I took Roger Housden's book to my women's group last night and we used it to deepen our discussion of partings and losses and what remains after those endings. Almost all of us used the word "delicious" at one point or another-- with gratitude for what the poems brought us and what they let us share with each other. This book is in itself a precious gift and I intend to give it to many of my friends.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christine Klocek-Lim on February 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I've been writing poetry for decades. Critiquing, reviewing, and editing it for nearly as long. Strangely, I had forgotten what it is to be simply a reader. Housden's book opens with one of the most straightforward explanations of why poetry matters and always will. Poetry captures humanity and "delivers it up in exactly the right words." The introduction explains why he put this book together, a sort of mini-poetry-anthology. The book gives us ten poems to ponder. Each is accompanied by an essay where he considers the poem, explains why it is important to him, and why it has meaning for others. The poems detail the act of saying goodbye. Through our lives we say goodbye to people, things, and the more amorphous stuff of life. This book reminded me of why poetry is the essential tool of the mind and heart for doing so.

Some of the poems in the book are ones I know and some I've read often. "The Lost Hotels of Paris" by Jack Gilbert (I adore Gilbert's poetry) and "How It Will Happen, When" by Dorianne Laux are two that I've seen before. Others were new to me: poems by Ellen Bass, Gerald Stern, Rilke, and more. For some of the poems Housden offers a short biography of the poet to explain to the reader how astonishing the poem truly is, especially as it relates to the poet's life (he mentions Gilbert's encroaching dementia to great effect). In others, he remarks on how well a particular poet writes the poetry of humanity. With every poem, however, Housden manages to illuminate the lines and words so that even the most novice reader will understand and appreciate what is happening. The act of reading the poem makes it real.

It's been years since I've read poems like this.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul H. Ray on February 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps one of the more difficult things for a spiritual or psychological counselor to work with in a deeply authentic way is personal loss and grief of spiritual students and clients. How do you go beyond the ritual occasion? What is the stance that embraces life and death, comings and goings, joinings and partings, joys and griefs? A sensitive examination of the best poetry has much to offer. Roger Housden has selected ten utterly splendid poems, and added a deeply felt and astute commentary unique to each that beautifully honors the intent of the poet.

At one level, you could say that while Ten Poems to Say Goodbye is about loss and grief, at the same time it is also about solace, respite and joy. And it is true that it is about those emotions. Yet it is also about taking relationships to a more profound level, for saying goodbye offers an opportunity for kindness, forgiveness and empathy, for recognition of love and a deepening acceptance of life as it is, letting go of what it was.

At a deeper level yet, Rudolf Otto in his book, Mysticism East and West, describes consciousness of Everything in space and time, the infinite circumference: The Way of Unity. This involves working to include ever more of the world in our field of consciousness. We strive toward a sympathetic union with Everything. This approach is captured by the phrase, "And `I am' that too." Life and death, coming together and parting, ending an old phase of life and starting another, are all also part of Everything. That is another of the key threads of Roger Housden's excellent and very touching book.

I found that I could not just read this book through. I had to stop and dry the tears in my eyes, and let the feelings move within me. It merits sipping slowly, and returning to dip into it again.

Paul H. Ray
Co-author of The Cultural Creatives
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Maslanka on April 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Sadly, Housden writes that this is the last book in the series, although I seem to recall he said that about his last book. He nails it in his introduction:"So much of my life has been lived not at the time of the living itself, but only afterward or in anticipation, which is to say partially," And the poems he selects for this volume, along with his commentary on each,argue for us to live in the moment whether from Rilke, "be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings" or Jack Gilbert from his "The Lost Hotels of Paris:, "But it's the having/not the keeping that is the treasure." A book to read and read.
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