Isaiah’s Coal

By John Frederick Nims 1913–1999

what more can man desire?

Always, he woke in those days   
With a sense of treasure,
His heart a gayer glow
Than his window grand with sun,   
As a child, its mind all whirring   
With green and hollied pleasure   
Wakes in a haze of Christmas!
The season of secrets done.

Or as one on country linen
Wakes with a start one morning—
Then on comfort snugger than pillows   
Floats: July at the lake.
Or has married a golden girl
And can hardly believe, but turning   
Sees blossom for him that very face   
Worshipping cameras take.

Toy trains whirr perky on
Till springs contort beneath;   
The middle-age rower slumps   
Like a sack—indignant seizure!   
Late editions wail
Screen Star in Mystery Death—
Yet in those same days
He woke with a sense of treasure.

Knowing: my love is safe
Though the Rockies plunge like water,   
Though surf like a wildfire rage   
And omens roam the sky;   
Though limbs of the swimmer laze
Pale where the seaweed caught her,   
Nothing can touch my love   
As dangerous time goes by.

John Frederick Nims, “Isaiah’s Coal” from Selected Poems (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1982). Used by permission of Bonnie Nims.

Source: Selected Poems (The University of Chicago Press, 1982)

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Poet John Frederick Nims 1913–1999

Subjects Living, Love, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Romantic Love

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 John Frederick Nims


An important translator and previous editor of Poetry magazine, John Frederick Nims (1913—1999) was equally skilled as a poet. Although Nims was born in Michigan, he spent most of his life on the other side of the lake, in Chicago. Generally a classicist in technique, Nims is also well known for his witty epigrams.

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SUBJECT Living, Love, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Romantic Love

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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