American Life in Poetry: In Passing

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Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

It’s not at all unusual for a poet who’s been impressed by someone else’s poem to think, “I wish I’d written THAT!”

I’ve never read a poem by the late Lisel Mueller—and I’ve read nearly all of them—when I didn’t feel just that way.

Mueller died at age 96 this past February. Here’s the poem that stands as an epigraph to her Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Alive Together: New and Selected Poems,” published by Louisiana State University Press.

In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It 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 ©1996 by Lisel Mueller, "In Passing," from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Poem reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press. Introduction copyright @2020 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.