Before the World Was Made by W.B. Yeats

If I make the lashes dark

And the eyes more bright

And the lips more scarlet,

Or ask if all be right

From mirror after mirror,

No vanity’s displayed:

I’m looking for the face I had

Before the world was made.


What if I look upon a man

As though on my beloved,

And my blood be cold the while

And my heart unmoved?

Why should he think me cruel

Or that he is betrayed?

I’d have him love the thing that was

Before the world was made.


Published in The Winding Stair and Other Poems, 1933 

William Butler Yeats is considered by many to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Although he spent a portion of his childhood in London, Yeats took a strong ownership in his Irish nationality and maintained his cultural roots throughout his life. This was found in the Irish legends and heroes he presented in many of his poems and plays. In 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

One thing that serves as a significant aspect of Yeats’ work was his keen awareness of aging, both in body and in spirit. His romantic poems often mentioned weariness, the degeneration of the body, and the wisdom that comes with it.

In this poem, “Before the World Was Made,” Yeats writes from the perspective of a beautiful woman responding to a jealous lover. She begins by acknowledging her efforts to make herself more attractive with cosmetics, “mak[ing] the lashes dark,” “the eyes more bright,” and “the lips more scarlet.” While these actions can be seen as a projection of vanity, the woman chides the lover by saying that “no vanity’s displayed,” but rather that she is “looking for the face [she] had before the world was made.”

Going forward, the woman proceeds to acknowledge the power her beauty allots her, how a simple “look upon a man as though on [her] beloved” while staying “cold” and “unmoved” could make him see her as “cruel” and feel “betrayed.” In response to this, the woman says that she would rather have him “love the thing that was before the world was made.”

Here, the woman reveals that, through her application of cosmetics and her use of her aesthetic beauty, she is searching for her inner beauty, something that was lost “before the world was made.” What’s interesting is that it’s not clear what happened that damaged her inner beauty, that shaped and changed the way she sees the world. The tragic thing about this entire poem is that the woman longs for the inner beauty she wishes to reclaim, and feels that her current, superficial beauty is only a shadow of the woman she was before.

– Virginia Kettles

Cantora Nocturna (Night Singer) By Alejandra Pizarnik

La que murió de su vestido azul está cantando.
Canta imbuida de muerte al sol de su ebriedad.
Adentro de su canción hay un vestido azul,
hay un caballo blanco, hay un corazón verde
tatuado con los ecos de los latidos de su corazón muerto.
Expuesta a todas las perdiciones,
ella canta junto a una niña extraviada
que es ella: su amuleto de la buena suerte.
Y a pesar de la niebla verde en los labios
y del frío gris en los ojos,
su voz corroe la distancia que se abre
entre la sed y la mano que busca el vaso.
Ella canta.


The dead woman who died from her blue dress is singing.
She sings drunk on death to the sun of her intoxication.
Within her song there is a blue dress,
there is a white horse, there is a green heart
tattooed with the echoes of her dead heartbeats.
Exposed to all of the ruins,
she sings with a lost girl
that is the woman: her amulet of good luck.
And despite the green mist on her lips
and the cold grey in her eyes,
her voice corrodes the distance that opens
between thirst and the hand that looks for the glass.
She sings.


Translated by Laurel Myers.
Originally published in Poesía completa (2001) by Lumen.

Alejandra Pizarnik is considered one of Argentina’s premiere poets from the mid-century. Born in 1936 in Buenos Aires, she attended university but never received her degree, instead choosing to study painting and poetry. Pizarnik was a prolific writer, publishing eight books of poetry and various essays by the time of her suicide at age 36. Her most famous books include Los trabajos y las noches, Extracción de la piedra de locura, and El infierno musical, in which the themes of loneliness, childhood, pain, and death dominate her work.

With simple language and movements, Alejandra Pizarnik creates a bizarre moment in the first line by introducing the “Night Singer” as a dead woman. The absurdity that follows throughout the rest of the poem comes from this detail about her death: she “died from her blue dress” (line 1). This odd occurrence primes the following images to be accentuated with one color, spanning blue, white, green, and grey. She “sings drunk on death” (line 2) about a white horse and a green heart tattoo, continuing Pizarnik’s theme of death throughout her poetry. The song is as bizarre as the poem itself, especially with the mention of the “lost girl / that is the woman” singing along. This “amulet of good luck” brings focus to the woman’s childhood and innocence. The imagery of her corpse concentrates on her face with the “green mist on her lips” and “the cold grey in her eyes,” describing intimate features with an observational, analytical tone, although the green mist adds to the fantastical whim and strangeness. The “Night Singer” ends with what seems to be a positive purpose, bringing “the glass,” the wanted object, closer to “the hand,” the seeker. Pizarnik ends the poem with a simple declaration, summarizing the poem and the dead woman’s action in two words: “She sings.”

–Laurel Myers

“Jealous” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Hyeah come Cæsar Higgins,
Don’t he think he ‘s fine?
Look at dem new riggin’s
Ain’t he tryin’ to shine?
Got a standin’ collar
An’ a stove-pipe hat,
I ‘ll jes’ bet a dollar
Some one gin him dat.

Don’t one o’ you mention,
Nothin’ ’bout his cloes,
Don’t pay no attention,
Er let on you knows
Dat he ‘s got ’em on him,
Why, ‘t ‘ll mek him sick,
Jes go on an’ sco’n him,
My, ain’t dis a trick!

Look hyeah, whut ‘s he doin’
Lookin’ t’ othah way?
Dat ere move ‘s a new one,
Some one call him, “Say!”
Can’t you see no pusson–
Puttin’ on you’ airs,
Sakes alive, you ‘s wuss’n
Dese hyeah millionaires.

Need n’t git so flighty,
Case you got dat suit.
Dem cloes ain’t so mighty,–
Second hand to boot,
I ‘s a-tryin’ to spite you!
Full of jealousy!
Look hyeah, man, I ‘ll fight you,
Don’t you fool wid me!


Originally published in Lyrics of the Hearths (1903).


Born in 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar was the son of emancipated slaves. He began writing and reciting poems from an early age and this skill for language did not go unnoticed. Despite being the only African-American student at his high school, he was elected president of the school’s literary society and eventually became editor of the school newspaper. As a young man, he had hopes of attending law school, but his family’s financial limitations instead pushed him to take a job as an elevator operator. It was not until 1892 that Dunbar published his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy with the United Brethren Publishing House. Though Dunbar took on the printing costs, he was still able to earn a profit by personally selling copies. Throughout his career he published a dozen books of poetry, four short story collections, and four novels. His poems are considered his most significant literary contribution, but because of the prejudice that existed against dialect verse, much of his dialect poems were ignored. Instead, titles such as “We Wear the Masks” and “Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe the Weary Eye” reign over classrooms and anthologies as representations of his best work.

In “Jealous,” Dunbar uses dialect to discuss black dandyism—that is, the practice of framing and enveloping black bodies with “stylish” clothes. Black dandyism was a way of shaping one’s identity, especially one’s masculine identity, in an environment that constantly delegitimized one’s personhood. It made clothing political, subverting traditional notions of race, gender, class, and nationality. Yet, there is a deep irony inherent in black dandyism, which Dunbar is keen to pick up on. While the black dandy defies notions of whiteness that are inherently gendered and classed, it also falls into the exclusionary rhetoric of that whiteness, for not everyone can be a black dandy. One can only be a black dandy if they possess the economic means. Dunbar acknowledges through the speaker who says, referring to the fine clothes, “I ‘ll jes’ bet a dollar / Some one gin him dat,” (line 7-8). Imbedded in these lines is the implication that a disparity exists between the appearance of the speaker and the character, Cæsar Higgins. The explanation for this disparity is economic—presumably that Higgins has a benefactor who provides him with decadent articles of clothing like “a stove-pipe hat” (line 6). Dunbar argues that the image of the black dandy is dependent on the image of an impoverished black person—it is a reflection of that poverty and thus, cannot exist without it. The cause of this distinction is jealousy. The speaker’s harsh tone is captured in his comments, the assertion that Higgins is “puttin’ on…airs” (line 22), that he should not be provided with any special treatment. “Don’t pay no attention,” the speaker orders (line 11). Jealousy fuels the speaker’s anger, pushes him toward violence: “Look hyeah, man, I ‘ll fight you, / Don’t you fool wid me!” (line 31-32).

“Jealous” is a deeply political poem not just because of its content, but also its form. At its core, Dunbar’s poem contains a critique of blackness, but even more potently, a critique of its relationship and subservience to whiteness. Yet, the deeply political and subversive nature of this commentary is hidden within the dialect verse, which a white audience had always considered “entertaining,” never the substance of serious literature. By using dialect, Dunbar plays into the desires of his white audiences who wanted the spectacle of blackness and the playfulness of dialect verse. Yet, fully aware of this bias, Dunbar uses dialect verse as a safe space into which he can plant a message for his black audience—something that speaks to the immediate concerns of the African-American experience, and offers a critique that works against the oppressor.

—Arlette Hernandez

“What the Girl Wore” By Kathleen Driskell

At the store, on the hanger, the blue dress must have fallen
like water to a froth of frilled hem, its bodice as smocked
as a christening gown. A season out of date, her mother chose it
from our local department store chiefly for the high collar,
but I knew it was a dress Lisa wouldn’t have been caught
dead in. Just hidden under the neckband of lace, the circle
of her purple necklace, each dark bead a fingertip of efficient
bruise that we already knew about anyway, and simply went on
imagining, as we, her classmates, filed past the white coffin.


Republished with permission from the author.


By foregoing the dramatic in favor of both simplicity and vivid imagery, Driskell creates a sense of mystery that is dominant throughout “What the Girl Wore” until the final line of the poem, when it is finally revealed that the blue dress with a bodice “as smocked/as a christening gown” is to be worn by the recently deceased Lisa. In an effort to mislead the reader, Driskell maintains an unusually apathetic tone, however, some of her double entendres suggest a more complex reason for the poem’s lack of emotion: perhaps Driskell is mirroring our tendency to suppress emotions in the face of great tragedy and sadness. Furthermore, the speaker’s impassivity could carry implications of Lisa’s own alienation from those around her prior to her death—while the speaker is familiar enough with Lisa to understand her fashion preferences, she refers to herself merely as one of Lisa’s classmates as she “file[s] past the white coffin.”

The feeling of suspense created by Driskell’s ambiguity reaches its height with her description of “each dark bead a fingertip of efficient/bruise that we already knew about anyway.” While this image engenders certain suspicions concerning the cause of Lisa’s death, the indifference with which the speaker reacts raises additional questions of the onlookers’ familiarity with such a sight.

Driskell heightens the impact of her ultimate revelation by withholding mention of Lisa’s funeral until the final line of the poem, and in doing so, she ensures that the conclusion of “What the Girl Wore” is as troubling as it is unexpected.

Award-winning poet and professor Kathleen Driskell serves as the Associate Program Director of Spalding University’s brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program, where she is Associate Professor of Creative Writing. Driskell’s work has appeared in many nationally known literary magazines, including North American Review, The Southern Review, and The Greensboro Review. Her poem “What the Girl Wore” is a companion piece to “Why I Mother You the Way I Do”, from her collection Seed Across Snow from Red Hen Press. On her blog (, Driskell explains the profound effect that the deaths of three friends during her teenage years have had on her writing, noting her experience in dealing with these tragedies as a major influence in “What the Girl Wore” and “Why I Mother You the Way I Do.”

— Sierra Terrana

A Child Said, What is the Grass? by Walt Whitman

A child said, What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped, Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

First published in Leaves of Grass, 1855

To begin, Whitman is asked by a child what grass is. Whitman is not sure how to respond, but he begins simply, suggesting that grass is like the “flag of [his] disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.” Thus, he connects grass to one of his own positive qualities: his optimistic nature. This appreciative view carries to the second stanza, when Whitman suggests grass is a “scented gift…designedly dropped” from God, or even a “produced babe of the vegetation.” Through each of these lines, Whitman’s view of grass grows (no pun intended), leading him to provide social commentary on race relations by saying it grows “among black folks as among white,” and ends by describing it as “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” Thus, grass in Whitman’s poetic eye is connected to birth, to disposition, to religion, to society, and finally to death. It’s no wonder this all-encompassing object of nature serves as part of the title of this incredible piece of work.

Walter “Walt” Whitman was born on May 31, 1819 in West Hills, New York. Leaves of Grass served as a radical change from the poetic norms of the time. Its open, controversial subject matter caused a ripple in American society, causing many to dismiss the work. However, Whitman’s poetry caught the eye of many greats, such as Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott. Whitman continued to work on Leaves of Grass until his death in 1892. 


–Virginia Kettles