The use of poetry, quotes, and stories in a presentation can be very effective in public speaking. They can help make your audience feel comfortable with you, get across images and strengthen points, and help keep your audience involved and interested. You might find something that would fit into your presentation among the following selection of quotes and poems. Pull out lines and stanzas to introduce a new section of your talk or article, or use quoted lines in your overheads for example. You may use a quote to play a game with the audience — use lines from a famous person and ask if anyone can tell you who the author is. If you do not want to use poetry or quotes in your presentation or articles, you may just find that you enjoy reading them and they inspire some ideas of your own.

- Aldo Leopold "A Sand County Almanac"
- Luna Leopold
- Lester Brown “State of the World, 1999”
- Henry David Thoreau, 1854, from “Walden”
- Henry David Thoreau
- Wendell Berry
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau
- Paul L. Errington "Of Men and Marshes"

- Langston Hughes “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
- Theodore Goodridge Roberts “The Blue Heron”
- Robinson Jeffers, excerpt from “Shine, Republic”
- From “Beowulf” translated by Burton Raffel
- Mary Oliver, “Crossing the Swamp”
- Mary Oliver, from “Dreams”
- Mary Oliver, “At Blackwater Pond”
- Mary Oliver, “Creeks”
- Mary Oliver, from “White Night”
- Mary Oliver, from “The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water”
- Mary Oliver, from “Morning Poem”

Longer Poems
- Gabiela Mistral “To Drink” translated by Gunda Kaiser
- D.H. Lawrence “Snake”


A dawn wind stirs on the great marsh. With almost imperceptible slowness, it rolls a bank of fog across the wild morass. Like the white ghost of a glacier, the mists advance, riding over phalanxes of tamarack, sliding across bog meadows heavy with dew. A single silence hangs from horizon to horizon.
Aldo Leopold "A Sand County Almanac"

Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children's lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.
Luna Leopold

There is new evidence that water scarcity will be the world's leading resource issue as we enter the new century.
Lester Brown "State of the World, 1999"

The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell. I see far inland the banks which the stream anciently washed, before science began to record it freshets.
Henry David Thoreau, 1854, from "Walden"

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.
Henry David Thoreau

There is great restfulness in the sounds these small streams make, they are going down as fast as they can, but their sounds seem leisurely and idle, as if produced like gemstones with the greatest patience and care.
Wendell Berry

Magic birds were dancing in the mystic marsh. The grass swayed with them, and the shallow waters, and the earth fluttered under them. The earth was dancing with the cranes, and the low sun, and the wind and sky.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

To tell the truth, we have never met animals who have made the transition from land to water (sea lions, sperm whales, dolphins, etc.) without feeling a touch of envy.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Greater familiarity with marshes on the part of more people could give man a truer and more wholesome view of himself in relation to Nature. In marshes, Life's undercurrents and unknowns and evolutionary changes are exemplified with a high degree of independence from human dominance as long as the marshes remain in marshy condition. They have their own life-rich genuineness and reflect forces that are much older, much more permanent, and much mightier than man .
Paul L. Errington "Of Men and Marshes"



I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of
human blood in human veins

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to
New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in
the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

— Langston Hughes "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"

In a green place lanced through
With amber and gold and blue - -
A place of water and weeds,
and roses pinker than dawn
And ranks of lush young reeds
And grasses straightly withdrawn
From graven ripples of sands.
The still blue heron stands.

— Theodore Goodridge Roberts "The Blue Heron"


The quality of these trees, green height; of the sky, shining, of water, a
clear flow; of the rock, harness
and reticence: each is noble in its quality. The love of freedom has
been the quality of Western man.

— Robinson Jeffers, excerpt from "Shine, Republic"

Hidden evil before hidden evil.
They live in secret places, windy
Cliffs, wolf-dens where water pours
From the rocks, then runs underground, where mist
Steams like black clouds, and the groves of trees
Growing out over their lake are all covered
With frozen spray, and wind down snakelike
Roots that reach as far as the water
And help keep it dark. At night that lake
Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom,
No wisdom reaches such depths. A deer,
Hunted through the woods by packs of hounds,
A stag with great horns, though driven through the forest
From faraway places, prefers to die
On those shores, refuses to save its life
In that water.

— From "Beowulf" translated by Burton Raffel


Here is the endless
wet thick
cosmos, the center
of everything — the nugget
of dense sap, branching
vines, the dark burred
faintly belching
bogs, Here
is swamp, here
is struggle,
pathless, seamless,
peerless mud. My bones
knock together at the pale
joints, trying
for foothold, fingerhold,
mindhold over
such slick crossings, deep
hipholes, hummocks
that sink silently
into the black, slack
earthsoup. I feel
not wet so much as
painted and glittered
with the fat grassy
mires, the rich
and succulent marrows
of earth — a poor
dry stick given
one more chance by the whims
of swamp water — a bough
that still, after all these years,
could take root,
sprout, branch out, bud
make of its life a breathing
palace of leaves.

— Mary Oliver, "Crossing the Swamp"


When the rain is over
I go to the woods.
The path is a swamp, the trees still dripping.
And the creeks!
Only last week they poured smoothly,
Curled like threads about the mossy stones
And sand with the voices of birds.

Now they are swollen and driven with muds and
They gallop and steam
As though, crazed by this week of rain,
They sense ahead — and desire it —
A new life in a new land
Where vines tumble thick as ship-ropes,
The ferns grow tall as trees!

— Mary Oliver, from "Dreams"

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

— Mary Oliver, "At Blackwater Pond"


The dwindled creeks of summer,
Unremarkable except,
Down pasture, through woodlot,
They are so many
And keep such a pure sound
In each roiling thread,
Trickle past the knees of trees,
Dropped leaves, salamanders
Each one scrubbing and cooling
The pebbles of its bed.

My back to hickory, I sit
Hours in the damp wood, listening.
It never ebbs.
Its music is the shelf for other sounds:
Birds, wind in the leaves, some tumbled stones.
After awhile
I forget things, as I have forgotten time.
Death, love, ambition — the things that drive
Like pumps in the big rivers.

My heart
Is quieted, at rest. I scarcely feel it.
Little rivers, running everywhere,
Have blunted the knife. Cool, cool,
They wash above the bones.

— Mary Oliver, "Creeks"

of all waters,
I want to lose myself
on the black
and silky currents
the tall lilies
of sleep.

— Mary Oliver, from "White Night"


that mud-hive, that gas-sponge,
that reeking
leaf-yard, that rippling

dream-bowl, the leaches'
flecked and swirling
broth of life, as rich
as Babylon,

the fists crack
open and the wands
of the lilies
quicken, they rise

like pale poles
with their wrapped beaks of lace;
one day
they tear the surface,

the next they break open
over the dark water.

— Mary Oliver, from "The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water"

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

— Mary Oliver, from "Morning Poem"


Longer Poems

I remember gestures of infants
and they were gestures of giving me water.

In the valley of Rio Blanco
where the Aconcagua has its beginning,
I came to drink, I rushed to drink
in the fountain of a cascade,
which fell long and hard
and broke up rigid and white.
I held my mouth to the boiling spring
and the blessed water burned me,
and my mouth bled three days
from that sip from the valley of Aconcagua.

In the fields of Mitla, a day
of harvest flies, of sun, of motion,
I bent down to a well and a native came
to hold me over the water,
and my head, like a fruit,
was within his palms.
I drank what he drank,
for his face was with my face,
and in a lightning flash I realized
I, too, was of the race of Mitla.


On the Island of Puerto Rico,
during the slumber of full blue,
my body calm, the waves wild,
and the palms like a hundred mothers,
a child broke through skill
close to my mouth a coconut for water,
and I drank, like a daughter,
water from a mother, water from a palm.
And I have not partaken greater sweetness
with my body nor with my soul.

At the house of my childhood
my mother brought me water.
From one sip to another sip
I saw her over the jug.
The more her head rose up
the more the jug was lowered.
I still have my valley,
I still have my thirst and her vision.
This will be eternity
for we still are as we were.

I remember gestures of infants
and they were gestures of giving me water.

— Gabiela Mistral "To Drink" translated by Gunda Kaiser


A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the
trough before me.
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over
the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused
a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels
of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.


The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold
are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I like him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at
my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perviersity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark food of the secret earth.


He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air.
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my well-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and
entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest again his withdrawing
into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing
himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked around, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log and threw it at the water-trough with clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed
in undignified haste,
Writhed like lightening, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.


And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a kind in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate;
A pettiness.

— D.H. Lawrence "Snake"