Richard Seltzer's home page  Publishing home

Dark Woods

She said she feared dark woods

like those nearby

yet knew not why;

for dark or light,

the substance is the same,

the beasts are tame;

there's naught to fear but fancy.

And yet the fear held tight

that only light was right,

that even night needed a moon.

She said the tales

that she had heard,

when but a babe,

of monsters lurking

in the dark,

had left a mark

upon her mind

too deep

for reason's rubbing

to erase.


So we let fancy have it's will,

skirted the wood,

stayed on the hill;

for it was May

and many a day

would pass before the fall.


Now when I dream

that scene returns;

and as I yearn to enter there,

her words I hear

of dark and light

and share her fear

of moonless nights

and shapeless beasts

that feast on minds

till bodies flee

from nightmare woods

and leave me here

alone, alone

in fear.

(Written May 16-20, 1965 at Brentwood School, Essex, England. Long forgotten, then found Jan. 25, 2018 in Milford, CT.)


(Answer to a prompt to write a poem on silence)

In the beginning,

was the unspoken word,

the All-Tacit One

answering Adam

in unsound bytes,

truly blank verse.

Maybe some day he'll get Eden.

(written Sept. 1, 2019, Milford, CT)

Spare Change


on the newly fallen snow

in the graveyard

lead nowhere.

Perhaps he changed his mind.

(written 2/14/2019 in Milford, CT)

Mist that Rises

The river breaks to channels,

the channels to jets of racing water

broken by rock after black rock

to droplets flying in formation

past the edge of the earth


their plummeting

jostling, joining, streaming,

and breaking again to droplets in the wind

sideways, rising, swirling

meeting other droplets

rising from the pounding depth

and drops of falling rain formed from the rising mist.

There is no shadow in this valley of death

where all is mist

and nothing is remembered,

where everything that falls must rise

and fall again

as mist

on the camera lens.

(written January 25,1998, at Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe)

The Way of the Web

Who owns the Internet? -- No one.

Who controls the Internet? -- No one.

Where is the Internet? -- Everywhere.

Can you understand all and penetrate all with the click of a mouse?

To produce things and to make them well,

but not to sell them,

rather to give them away freely to all,

and by giving to become known and valued;

To act, but not to rely on one's own ability,

to build on the works and lessons of others,

and to let others do likewise --

this is called the Way of the Web.

The best is like water.

Water benefits all things and does not compete with them.

Water dissolves barriers.

Water reaches out and covers the earth.

This is called the Way of the Web.

(written 1995, intended as epigraph for the book The Way of the Web)

Finnegan Died

(On the occasion of the closing of Thee Coffee House, San Angelo, Texas, and the assemblage of its nostalgic friends, many of whom hadn't been around for months. November 28, 1970.)

Finnegan died,

as people do every once in a while,

so they held a funeral, an Irish funeral,

and relatives and old friends who hadn't seen him for months or years all gathered,

and it being winter, they held the picnic inside by candlelight;

and everybody had such a good time

that Grandpa promised to die next year so they could have another good time just like it,

and Grandma volunteered for the next year,

then all the aunts and uncles and cousins and third cousins and friends,

till they had two centuries all booked up,

and some pessimist in the crowd complained that he probably wouldn't live long enough for them to celebrate his funeral,

and one of the aunts complained that hers was scheduled after one of the cousins, and she wasn't going to play second fiddle to any mere cousin;

so Finnegan got up out of his coffin and told them to stop their squabbling --

they'd just open up a coffeehouse,

and every week they'd close it again,

and if people died, well, they could do it when they felt like it, in no particular order;

but everybody could get together anyway, once or twice a week,

and celebrate the funeral of the coffeehouse.

(published in Colorado North Review 32/1&2, p. 137)


I caught a glimpse of eternity

and it winked back at me


A bucket needs water

A beggar a quarter

The world needs order,

But we just keep walking along, along

A ding needs a dong

A voice needs a song

We should all get along

But we just keep walking along, along

Say "it" again with meaning

it rains

it snows;

it comes

it goes.

what is "it"?

"it" grows on you

"it" happens

"it" matters


The View from Beacon Hill

Black Church spires

married in sunset silhouette --



of darkness --

(and no film in the camera).

[written Feb. 7, 1971 in Allston, MA; published in Colorado North Review 32/1&2, p. 138]

Brief Reprieve

Beneath the pound of the rain

and the rush of the tides,

a gentle peace abides,

a weary ease.

A thrush chirps softly,

calmly through the thunder;

a worm crawls from under

the burden of earth.

It's a reverential hush:

liquid peace pours from heaven,

as God snores

in weary ease.

(written March 19, 1965 in Brentwood, Essex, England; published in Greenwood, Brentwood School, summer 1965; also in the Calhoun Literary magazine, May 1966; also in Colorado North Review 32/1&2; also in "Letters from the Soul" published by in the fall of 2002).

Weep Gently

Weep, but weep gently.
Torrents such as this
Do but gut the ground
and wreck the young growth.

(written march 18, 1965, Brentwood School, Essex

On the Invasion of Cambodia (May 5, 1970)

In May the bombs blossom.

The sweet aroma of gas fills the air.

The sing-song


May song




me lie

me down to sleep,

and pray the Lord

(what else can one




right face

the press of the crowd, shouting, mad

men giving orders

on the borders of insanity,

a neutral nation

at least officially,

but everyone knows


is an archaic term

in jail

waiting for trial,

by hook or by crook,

we'll pull this impotent giant

to a hard

line on

and on and on and

onward, Christian


in defense of freedom is no




Nixon, Mitchell, Agnew,

and a fourth horseman of the Apocalypse

to be announced,

so stay tuned

to looney tunes,

on most of our network stations,

brought to you by,



is a warm gun,

in the age of hilarious,

who cannot wash away our sins

with a flood

of tear


for there was a limited supply

of war,

one day

in May

the bombs blossom.

(written May 5, 1970 in New Haven, CT)

Things Are War or Less the Same

(written May 1971, Boston and Saratoga)


next spring

not be



of housewives use Dove

so gentle to the hands

of this callous



the president for mercy

and the president said, "Oh, pardon me,"

and kept his peace,

for peace is a precious thing

and shouldn't be given away lightly,

it's just common sense






in mob psychology,


to burn




but side-burns shall not extend below the middle of the ear

and thine eyes shall see the gory


and unreal


in this atomic age

of unfishinable


of consciousness



or less

the same,



Saturday Night

Six days shalt thou labor,

till the long thin week becomes a broad

and work is forgotten.

For all our Saturdays have lighted fools their way to drunken beds,

that our accidents may be fruitful and fill the earth.

So we multiply allusions and illusions

and therein clothe our works and days,

for the joy of unbuttoning,

unzipping, and pulling off

to see

what we always knew was there.

[written Jan. 29-30, 1966, New Haven, CT; published in the Calhoun Literary Magazine, May 1966]


il errait dans la rue

tout seul, perdu

du brouillard dedans, dehors

rien que les mains dans les poches

rien que le coeur dans la tête

il ne cherchait rien partout

elle errait dans la rue

toute seule, perdue

du brouillard dedans, dehors

rien que les mains dans les poches

rien que le coeur dans la tête

elle ne cherchait rien partout

ils se sont rencontrés

ils flânent dans les rues ensemble

clarté dedans dehors

rien que le monde dans les poches

rien que l'autre dans la tête

ils cherchent demain ensemble

(written Christmas 1964 in Brussels and Feb. 5, 1965 in Brentwood, Essex; published in Greenwood, Brentwood School, Essex, summer 1965 and The Calhoun Literary Magazine, May 1966)

Translation of the above


He wandered through the streets,
alone and lost.
fog inside and out,
nothing but his hands in his pockets,
nothing but his heart in his head.
He looked for nothing everywhere.
She wandered through the streets,
alone and lost,
fog inside and out,
nothing but her hands in her pockets,
nothing but her heart in her head.
She looked for nothing everywhere.
They met.
Now they stroll through the streets together,
clarity inside and out,
nothing but the world in their pockets,
nothing but one another in their heads.
They look for tomorrow together.

on hearing Voznesenski

I heard a gong

and again a gong,

resounding long --

the sound of a hammer on a loose-held shield of bronze

They say the way he spoke

moved those who knew not

what he said.

He with the hammer,

me with the shield,

the short and bloodless battle left a long loud gong,

clear and strong.

The bronze still

quivers in my grasp.

(written Washington, DC, Silver Spring, MD, and on the train to Pennsylvania, March 29-31, 1966; published in Yale Literary Magazine, Jan. 1967)

Our Language

Teach me a new language.

When I lean close to whisper

I don't want to use other people's words,

the whole world staring over my shoulder --

cop's flashlight in the window

of my words.

Teach me words that only we understand

alone, together,


through one-way mirrors

at their world.

(written March 9, 1968, New Haven, CT. revised Jan. 25, 2018, Milford, CT)

Tree Trip

tree leaves

its accustomed home near the ground

stretches forth


to the sun

(written Jan. 28,1971 in Brookline and Cambridge, MA)

Rosetta Stone

reddish stone

or only so at sunset

on snowy sand

with gull tracks

and other markings


with the rosetta


or only so at sunset

[written Feb. 7, 1971 in Allston, MA]

To Mary and Her Sister from Southampton

she looked so sweet

the way she crossed her feet

on the soft seat in the corner.

the flair of the curl in her hair,

of the pair of curls of the pair of girls

on the soft seat in the corner

was oh so right for such a night

so hard to resist, to desist

when they beg to be kissed,

with the flair of their hair

and the cross of their feet

on the soft seat in the corner

(written midnight July 9, 1965 in the Irish Sea between Fishguard and Cork)

Human Race

black track

blue sky

the gun raised high

it's all a question of...

to soar with the shot

to the end

of the wind

to the bend

of the track

with the sun

at your back

at your side

in your eyes

with your spikes

in the ground

in the grit

in the sound

of the guy

at your back

at your side

and the dust

in your eye

in the stretch

and the fire

in your throat

at the line

as you jog

to a stop

to rest

in the cool, cool grass

it was all a question of...

(written spring 1965 in Brentwood, Essex, England; published in Greenwood, Brentwood School, summer 1965; also published in The Calhoun Literary Magazine, May 1966)

To a Teacher from Tournai met in Lille

J'y suis arrive

tout a fait étranger,

je venais de Calais,

le vent m'y poussait.

Poussière, fumée,

pierres, acier,

pavés,, chantiers,

pleine de gens, d'industrie,

peu de vent, de vie;

de beauté

il n'y avait pas,

sauf toi.

Mais tu es apparue

sur murs, sur rues,

musées, fumée,

chantiers, acier,

je n'y vois que toi.

Quelle belle ville

qu'est Lille.

(written April 1965 in Lille; published in Greenwood, Brentwood School, Essex, summer 1965)

Translation of the above
I arrived there
completely a stranger.
I came from Calais.
The wind pushed me there.
Dust, smoke,
stone, steel,
pavement, construction sites.
Full for people and industry,
with little wind or life.
There was nothing beautiful
but you.
But you appeared
on walls and streets,
museum, smoke,
construction sites, steel.
I don’t see anything there but you.
What a beautiful city
is Lille.


C'est le moi que je vois en toi qui m'attire.

C'est le toi que tu vois en moi quit t'attire

Au début quand on s'aime,

On se voit soi-même

Et se soi devient

Peu à peu le même.
(written March 30, 1965, Brentwood School, Essex)
Translation of the above

It’s the me that I see in you that attracts me.

It’s the you that you see in me that attracts you.

In the beginning, when you are falling in love

you see yourselves,

and the self that you each see little by little

becomes the same.

The Land of Frost and Sandburg

I come from the land of Frost and Sandburg

The land of mountains and cities:

The land that shaped the people

And the people that reshaped the land:

A living organism,

A giant striding toward tomorrow.

I come from the new generation;

I dwell in tomorrow:

When tubes and paper shape minds

And minds reshape tubes and paper:

A maze-trapped mouse

Wondering where he started, where he's going.

(written Feb. 1, 1965 in Brentwood, Essex, England; published in Cyclotron, summer 1965)

Journey to the West

In a hither, thither dither; rushing, shoving, pushing,

Dancing with the mob to the tune of horns, engines, brakes

I chanced upon Avernus in a department store.

The path indeed was easy on a downward escalator

An assembly-line inferno built to suit the population.

There in the emptiness of light-saturated air

Manufactured breezes smothered in sweaty mobs,

Mammon turned housewives into demons with magic slashes of price.

From this helter-skelter swelter the exit too was easy.

Glad to leave, yet swelled with pride, from Inferno I returned.

Here illumed from every angle, piles of bones, complex stuffed,

Lack the reassuring shadows of by-gone days.

It was just a lower circle.

In a hither thither dither; rushing, shoving, pushing,

Dancing with the mob to the tune of horns, engines, brakes,

Silently we praise and thank creators of confusion, divinities of diversion,

All sweet saviors from thought.

(written spring 1964 in Plymouth, NH; published in Flame, 1965)

Up There On LSD

on the sofa, squatting yoga-like

with protruding eyes

small empty island in seas of white

a Ben Gunn, marooned within himself

he hypnotized

or rather spoke with such contagious intensity

that all stared fixedly till the room swam

and he seemed to have a halo

for he had seen God,

or so he said,

and the way he said...

he was a Hebrew prophet

with foaming mouth and wild unworldly eyes

proclaiming the doom of Babylon and Nineveh

the curse of Israel

and a fate worse than death for the unbeliever.

he was a modern American prophet

endorsing the five-dollar God-cube,

the divine peep show

instant Zen,

the all-purpose household...

his eyes could see the essence of the soul

and speak with spirit

or so he said

and he had wandered through the city streets

staring wildly at strangers' eyes

seeing here a glimmer

there an impenetrable darkness,

stopping once to converse with a new-born infant.

he had the power...

but he couldn't see the soul without his glasses.

(written 1965, New Haven, CT)

Sonnets for Helen III by Ronsard

a free translation by Richard Seltzer

Helen, no, not Hell, but Heaven
-ly chill you refresh my heart,
your virtue rouses my strength,
and your eye leads me whither it will.

What happiness to suffer love pain
for that Hellenic name; sweet the sorrow,
blessed the torture, that comes
for eyes, no not eyes, but star,
yes, heavenly body of Helen.

Name that toppled Troy, cause of my distress,
my prudent Penny and my Helen too,
who with loving care enfolds my heart.

Name that raises me to the heights of heaven,
who'd ever thought that I'd uncover
a Penelope in that same classic lover?

(for an assignment in a translation class at U. Mass, 1971)

To Russian, With Love

(inspired by the poem "Surrender in Petersburg" by Garret Sweitzer)
"What's your favorite country?"
(Did she mean music?)
Strolling down the streets of Crime and Punishment,
her gaze arrested me.
I only had a three-month visa.
But give me credit --
love need not end.
There's always MasterCard.

(at a poetry workshop in Norwalk, CT, August 2019)


I'd rather save time

than spend it.

But no matter where I put it,

when I look for it again,

it's gone.
(tweet, May 2020)

Taking Turns

Your turn,

my turn,

turn, turn, turn.

turn in,

turn out,

in turn







I turn forever.

(tweet, May 2020)

Sole Mate

Now that I don't have a wife,

I take my soul for walks to the beach,

where I read and write

while he chases minnows and gulls

like the three-year-old who once was me.

(Milford, CT October 2020)

On Reading Homescapes (by Lee Woodman)

Poetry without metaphor.

What is


a vision shared,

caught me by surprise

while rocking on a porch

in New Hampshire.

Your New Hampshire was not mine.

Everyone lives in a different one.

Let's swap eyes, for a while,

so I can see yours,

and you mine.

And we'll be sharecroppers

lending each other a life

at harvest time.
(Milford, CT, 2020)

One Beautiful Moment

God imagined one fleeting moment —
a butterfly fluttering above a pond at sunset.
And He created the universe —
all the past and all the future,
every galaxy, every puppy, every poem, every typo, every kiss, every snowflake, every teardrop
to make that moment happen

Any moment, in all its detail, would require the miracle of all of creation.

The creation of any being would require all of creation
Perhaps there was no beginning and will be no end, and every moment we witness the miraculous creation of everything and everyone.

The Creation of Language

A path through the woods

or through the snow

is a creation,

a construction project,

involving many people

who never meet,

and most of whom never realize 

that they are building a path,

like the creation of language.

(Feb. 2, 2022. Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Your Story

You didn’t write your life.

There was no plan, no outline.

You improvised from day to day.

Now, looking back, 

you realize

it was a story,

and you wish

you could rewrite it.

But for it to work,

you’d need a better character.

(Feb. 2, 2022. Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Sign Me Up

Dela has a friend who cannot hear.

They talk with their hands. 

They hear with their eyes.

Dela has a friend who cannot see.

She reads with her fingers from books with dots that mean letters and words.

If you know and I know,

anything can mean yes or no — 

a nod or shake of the head,

a wink of the eye,

a wave of a flag.

If you know and I know,

we can talk lots of ways — 

one if by land and two if by sea,

flashes of light,

tap, tap, tap,

dot dash dot dash dot.

There are signs that everybody knows — 

thumbs up for good

thumbs down for bad

fingers make an “O” for “Okay”;

the sign for “safe” and the sign of “out.”

Red means stop

and green means go

if you know and I know.

Kisses and hugs are signs of love.

Xs and Os are signs of kisses and hugs.

Signs can be signs of signs.

Dela and her dog George talk with signs — 

She waves her arm this way and that.

He sits, he barks, he rolls over.

George nudges her leg and looks up at her

and Dela knows he wants to go out.

She taught him and he taught her

and they both agree.

Baby brother cries and laughs

and Mommy knows

baby’s hungry, baby’s wet, baby’s happy.

Baby teaches Mommy signs.

Mommy’s good at learning baby’s signs.

Mommy hugs, Mommy sings.

Baby knows she’s safe, knows she’s loved.

Baby knows lots and lots

long before baby knows words.

How to Ride a Cow and Milk a Horse

"Billy went to his grandma's farm

and learned lots of stuff.

Can I go to a farm, too, Mommy?"

"What did Billy learn?"

"He learned how to ride a cow

and milk a horse,

how to sew fields

and sheer chickens,

and pluck sheep,

how to billy a goat

and bill a duck

and pay attention,

how to oink pigs

and gander geese,

how to pony up

and feather down,

how to draw water

and draw people,

how to butter cups

and shuck wheat,

how to corn toes,

how to spin wheels and thread and stories,

how to slow pokes

and poke cattle,

how to lay bread

and knead eggs,

how to darn a thing

and sock it to you,

how to scare a crow

and spare a quarter,

how to climb a fish

and scale a mountain

and skin a knee,

how to knock on wood

and wish on wells,

how to ding a ling

and sing a long,

how to ditch a shovel

and crack a joke.

Billy knows everything,

and I want to know everything too."

Journey to Fatherland


Until he became a father

Telemachus’ life was a journey to fatherland.

Then he realized that finding his father

was finding himself.

Change of a Lifetime

You never cross the same stream twice — Heraclitus

because the stream changes

because you change

because, in crossing, you change the stream

Homeric Riddle

What host arrived as a guest

and killed a host of suitors

before he was guessed?


if up were down

and here were there

and now were then

and left were right

and right were wrong,

what would you do in If-aca?


If Trojans were condoms

and Calypso were a dance

and suitors were tailors

and Penny were a coin,

what would you do in If-aca?

Language Lessons

God was having trouble communicating with humans. 

Even the best of them didn’t understand him. 

So He signed up for a course in English as a Second Language. 

Next He plans to try Russian, French, German, Japanese … 

It would be so much easier if people learned His language.

Reader Four

To talk across centuries

all you need is

an old book

with annotations.


This edition of Homer’s Odyssey

had notes by three readers,

distinguished by

the ink, the boldness of the strokes, and the handwriting.


Reader Two responded to One,

and Three to One and Two,

doubling or tripling the underlining,

adding a question mark,

commenting on comments,

offering new thoughts

or taking issue,

sometimes words spilling over

to the next page and the next.


The new owner of this book stared in awe,

Then turned the pages with carefully.

The print conveyed the Greek text of The Odyssey

as it was known in the days of Champollion.

Overlaid were the quill markings of Reader One

the fountain pen of Reader Two,

and the blue ballpoint pen of Three.


From their erudition and precision, they were all scholars.

They corrected typos in the printed text

and instances where the first in a series of editors

misconstrued the handwriting he was working from,

or scribes may have miscopied manuscripts.

Sometimes they suspected the first written version,

strayed from the intent of the bards,

who we call Homer,

who reshaped earlier tellings

and still older legends —

layer upon layer of narrative,

transgenerational dialogue,

giving rise to this printed text

and the handwritten reactions of three readers.


This book was a miracle of time travel,

spanning two thousand,

maybe three thousand years,

and requiring only ink to make it so.

In the handwriting of the commentators,

holograph on top of holograph,

it conveyed not just their words and emphasis,

but also their styles

and sometimes their emotion

at a moment of puzzlement

or in the joy of discovery,

finding unexpected meaning and consequence.


These readers were not just scholars.

They were teachers as well,

reviewing this text repeatedly

over the course their careers.

And Two and Three,

instead of marking the pages of newly printed editions,

chose to write beside

those who came before them,

who died before they were born,

whose views they sometimes revered

and sometimes differed with,

who were sometimes wordy

and sometimes left little space for further comment.


Reader Two wrote carefully, respecting the writings of One

and not wanting to spoil them.

Reader Three, with little room to work in,

was more concise,

no doubt in awe of this book as artifact, not just text,

made with quality paper,

before the invention of pulp

that in a single generation could crumble to dust.


Having found this gem in a secondhand shop in Cambridge,

the new owner thought he should donate it to a rare book library

that would recognize its worth and preserve it in its present state

for generations to come.


He couldn’t.

He mustn’t.

Rather he should become Reader Four,

adding his strokes,

distinct and yet in harmony

with those who came before.

He chose a pen with green ink,

and when the ink ran out,

he used new ones with the same shade of green.

After a lifetime of teaching Homer,

in his will,

he left the book to a student

who, in turn, was teaching Homer.

He recommended his successor use purple ink.

Red would be too bold and self-assertive,

implying previous notes wee flawed

and that this was the ultimate pedantic correction.

There was no absolute truth,

rather a dialogue.

He willed that it go on for another generation,

knowing that it could not last forever,

because books too are mortal,

as are planets

and galaxies.
The Second Tortoise

Tortoise Two didn't win a race.

An eagle picked him up, flew high,

then dropped him to shatter his shell and make him an easy meal.

But instead of a rock, he hit the bald head of an old man.

The head cracked, but the shell did not.

Aeschylus, the tragic playwright, died in comic absurdity.

But the tortoise landed on his feet.

He had seen the world from on high,

and a great man had died that he might live.

After twenty-five hundred years,

he still walks proudly,

standing on the world,

even if he can’t understand it,

and doing so at his own pace.

Human Being

Be well.

Be long.

Be lieve.

Be gin

Be witch

Be come

Human being.

(July 17, 2022)

He Bought a Yellow Rose

He bought a yellow rose,

not for anyone in particular.

He was alone,

and didn’t want to be alone.

So he bought a yellow rose;

and walking down Main Street,

every woman over forty who he passed

smiled at him.

Some waved.

Some greeted him as if they knew him.

One walked up to him and hugged him and said,

“Thank you. You shouldn’t have.”

They walked arm-in-arm to her house.

She put it in a vase and cooked supper for the two of them.

They’ve been married now for ten years.

(Milford, CT, Oct. 17, 2023
How Many I's Am I?

Your faraway look intrigues me more than the meeting of our eyes.

Where is the place you go to when your eyes drift

and you don’t see me while looking at me?

Am I there, too?

Do you, did you see me there, though I have no memory of it?

Is there a switch that shunts us from one world to another?

Or can we be in both places or more than two at once?

How many eyes do you see with?

How many I’s am I?

The art of unwriting

Say it.

Say it better.

Then say less to prompt more.

Let readers

connect dots,

see stills as motion.

Let your text be like a lover’s glance.

Let your words wake worlds

as painters do with brush strokes.



Don’t brush so hard.

Light strokes make haze stacks.

At close of day,

let there be twilight.

Tree Talk

Wind-swept and trunk-tied,

voiceless, but signing,

branches sway.

How can I reply?

How to Fly

An eagle, perched on a mountaintop,

doesn’t need a push.

The wind it faces lifts it.


Survival is secondary.

Birds eat so they can soar.

Face it.

We came without directions,

not knowing which way truth lies

or how it does so.

Should we pray facing east?


If there is an Author,

how clever She is,

telling us nothing,

making us solve riddles on our own,

engaging us in the stories of our lives.
seven poems, Dobbs Ferry, November 2023  privacy statement