The Bread and the Knife

Robert Chailloux still life Bread, bracken, apple and eggs

I’ve been thinking about poetry quite a bit lately. After a conversation with my friend Killian, I realized that the majority of poems I love are because I heard it read by someone else first, and thus reading it myself brings out the same intonation and musicality created by the person whose voice spoke the same words.

Poems like this stick with me, ones like John Keating reading “O Captain, My Captain” in The Dead Poet’s Society or Posner reading “Drummer Hodge” in The History Boys.

Or 3-year-old Samuel Chelpka reciting this poem, one of my new favorites, from memory:

“Litany” by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.


However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.


It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.


And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.


It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.


I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.


I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and — somehow — the wine.

Isn’t Samuel incredible? (You can watch him reciting Collins’ “Walking Across the Atlantic” too!)

What’s interesting to me is I’m not entirely sure I would have stopped and noticed this poem if I had simply read it somewhere. This is what makes me a bit sad, more than anything. Can I only be drawn to poems if I’ve heard it read in a movie, or by an adorable 3-year-old? Admittedly my exposure to poetry has been minimal compared to other friends of mine who not only studied it consistently in school but also write it themselves, but I wish I had the ability to read poetry and connect simply because the words or passages speak to me, to discover the flow and rhythm of the language on my own.

I’d like to start reading more poetry, so to help get me started: what is your favorite poem? I’d love to know! Please feel free to share in the comments.

(Image: oil painting by Robert Chailloux, “Still life — Bread, bracken, apple, and eggs”)

One thought on “The Bread and the Knife

  1. I love poetry, too, but also struggle to get into it. Maybe because we’re taught all of the rules around it, but little of the heart of it in school. Anyway, it’s not necessarily my favorite, but your post did remind me of the poem Kim named her first screenplay after:

    “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”
    “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
    Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
    I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
    I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
    The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
    And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
    But last year’s bitter loving must remain
    Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
    There are a hundred places where I fear
    To go,—so with his memory they brim.
    And entering with relief some quiet place
    Where never fell his foot or shone his face
    I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
    And so stand stricken, so remembering him.’


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