Marian Bantjes in The New York Times:
ALAN CUMMING: Yeats’s poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is just eight lines long:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
The first time I heard this poem I knew it would be forever in my life. If you’re ever having trouble trying to explain to someone how much you love them, this is the poem to reach for. I read it to my husband at our wedding. But making a gesture like that also has a cost: The heart is completely open and vulnerable, and so the poem ends a little needily, and I can relate to that too.
TA-NEHISI COATES: For me, at this point in my life, it has to be Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.” It is the poem I return to over and over — both for what it says about my country, and how it says it. Hayden wrote an origin myth for America and placed it right where it belonged — in enslavement. The narrators of this myth are the enslavers themselves. The irony of our history drips from every one of their lines. “Lost three this morning,” a ship’s captain observes. “Leaped with crazy laughter / to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.”