American Life in Poetry: I Was Never Able To Pray by Edward Hirsch

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American Life in Poetry: Column 357

The title of this beautiful poem by Edward Hirsch contradicts the poem, which is indeed a prayer. Hirsch lives in New York and is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, one of our country’s most distinguished cultural endowments.

I Was Never Able To Pray

Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Edward Hirsch, whose most recent book of poetry is “The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems,” Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Reprinted from the “Northwest Review,” Vol. 48, No. 2, 2010, by permission of Edward Hirsch and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

American Life in Poetry ©2006 The Poetry Foundation
This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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