The following poem (which I have posted before) has long been a favorite of mine. It is a slight poem, but something about it -- the combination of humor and truth? -- has kept it embedded in my memory, and I often return to it.
Things to Come
The shadow of a fat man in the moonlight
Precedes me on the road down which I go;
And should I turn and run, he would pursue me:
This is the man whom I must get to know.
James Reeves, The Questioning Tiger (1964).
About a year ago, I came across the following poem by Edward Shanks (1892-1953). The poem may be too archaic or quaint in diction for some tastes, but it caught my eye given my affection for "Things to Come."
Death, would I feared not thee,
But ever can I see
Thy mutable shadow thrown
Upon the walls of Life's warm, cheerful room.
Companioned or alone,
I feel the presence of that following gloom,
Like one who vaguely knows
Behind his back the shade his body throws --
'Tis not thy shadow only, 'tis my own!
I face towards the light
That rises fair and bright
Over wide fields asleep,
But still I know that stealthy darkness there
Close at my heels doth creep,
My ghostly company, my haunting care;
And if the light be strong
Before my eyes, through pleasant hours and long,
Then, then, the shadow is most black and deep.
Edward Shanks, The Island of Youth and Other Poems (1921). There is something to be said for brevity. (A quality that I admire more and more with age!) On the other hand, Shanks's observation that "the shadow is most black and deep" when the sun is brightest is very fine indeed.
Of course, brevity is the stock-in-trade of Japanese and Chinese poets, who can always teach us a thing or two about cutting to the chase.
"If it be so,
so be it!" Having said thus,
why the hurry?
For the shadow trails the light,
implacably, indifferent to men.
Shinkei (1406-1475) (translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen), Heart's Flower: The Life and Poetry of Shinkei (Stanford University Press 1994).