Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Mercy” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.16  ·  Rating details ·  267 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Lucille Clifton’s poetry carries her deep concerns for the world’s children, the stratification of American society, those people lost or forgotten amid the crushing race of Western materialism and technology. In turns sad, troubled and angry, her voice has always been one of great empathy, knowing, as she says, “the only mercy is memory.” In this, her 12th book of poetry, ...more
Paperback, 79 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by BOA Editions Ltd.
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Mercy, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Mercy

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  267 ratings  ·  40 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Mercy
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I grabbed this off the shelf on the day of Mary Oliver's death. Seeking poetry from a variety of voices. Remembering how Mary's words have over and over again, shown beauty and truth and brought me hope. This collection from Lucille Clifton is gorgeous. Honest, sometimes brutal, but the truth and the darkness and the pain are beauty. There is much to think about and I will buy my own copy. I know I will come back to this collection again and again. ...more
William Lawrence
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
Glimmers of great thoughts, but these poems just weren't what I expected for an award winning poet & collection. Not sure what these award committees are looking at. ...more
Courtney Ferriter
** 4.5 stars **

The poems in this collection are deceptively simple in language and form but have important things to say about the stories we tell ourselves and others. My favorite is the sequence "September Song: A Poem in 7 Days," which is about September 11, 2001 in the U.S.
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“there is a star/ more distant/ than eden/ something there/ is even now/ preparing”
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"you have placed yourselves
in peril
not by your superior sword
but by your insignificant
quarrels with life"

—from "the message from The Ones"

A really lovely collection—these are hard-hitting and strange in places, not terribly similar to other Clifton I've read. I liked this an awful lot.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lucille Clifton’s Mercy is an enigmatic compilation of poems that gives a piercing view of the realities of what it means to be born into unforgiving circumstances. She captures this human experience precisely with her dynamic poetry. In a world that is wrought with injustice and apathy, Lucille Clifton portrays the themes of mercy and love as antidotes to these modern human sicknesses.

A sample from the collection:

the gift

There was a woman who hit her head
And ever after she could see the sharp
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
From the opening poem "the gift," it was clear to me that I was reading a master. Much of this collection bowled me over with its ability to put the big thoughts in the palm of my hands. The section "september song a poem in seven days" may not click but tackling 9/11 is no easy task. Outside of that sequence, however, "Mercy" generally does what I like poetry to do: present a personal world view or an applicable philosophy in vividly crafted verse. I'll definitely be seeking out more of Clifton ...more
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"the patience
of the universe
is not without
an end

so might it
turn its back

so might it
walk away

leaving you alone
in the world you leave
your children."

While instagram poets are fighting over the proprietorship of stark, minimalist poetry, Lucille Clifton did it better and more evocatively than anyone else almost 30 years earlier. What a giant among writers!
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
September Song broke my heart
Esther O. Lee
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Especially loved the messages from the ancestors portion, reminds me of Earthseed verses.
Lindsey Haffner
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
yes yes yes read this read anything by Lucille Clifton she is queen
Kesi Augustine
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Christ consciousness embodied. So ahead of her time. I'm grateful to have read this and hope to only be able to better understand it again and again. ...more
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Lucille Clifton. Why we don’t teach her in middle schools all over our country I will never understand.
some mushroom dude
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
this was fantastic
André Crombie
Nov 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 202021-fl
“3 thursday 9/13/01

the firemen
like jacobs ladder
into the mouth of
Sophie Ewh
Aug 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Sealey Challenge #19

Everything from September song on is perfect
Twila Newey
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
77pp. As I read, I thought, "these are solid little poems", until I hit the last two sections, one set in the days following 9/11 the other following a mystical visitation from "The Ones". These are stunning. I wish I could transcribe them all for you so you might feel the need to own Mercy and embody its tenants, but I'll choose three.

5 saturday 9/15/01

i know a man who perished for his faith.
others called him infidel, chased him down
and beat him like a dog. after he died
the world was filled wi
Brian Wasserman
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
jazzy, vatic and at times indiscernable, not my cup of tea
This one is what this book is about:

surely i am able to write poems
celebrating grass and how the blue
in the sky can flow green or red
and the waters lean against the
chesapeake shore like a familiar,
poems about nature and landscape
surely but whenever i begin
"the trees wave their knotted branches
and..." why
is there under that poem always
an other poem?

For Lucille Clifton, everything is about something else, and everything's something else is personal. Her poems are strong, vulnerable, brave, tender
Alexandria Michelle
Aug 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Poets and fans of great poetry
Recommended to Alexandria Michelle by: Seattle Arts & Lectures
I loved this collection of poems. Clifton does a masterful job of sharing her thoughts and images on loving mama,beating cancer three times, losing children to death, haunted memories of an abusive father and Spirit. She includes a fantastic series of poems based around 9/11 titled, September Song: a poem in 7 days. She completes the collection with a second series, titled Message from the Ones (received in the late 70s.) This series of poems was extraordinary because she delves into life beyond ...more
Aug 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: recently-read
I would give this book 4 stars if it consisted only of the first two-thirds. I would give it 1 or 2 if it were shortened to the last third.

The last third, "the message from the Ones (received in the late 70s)," is tiresomely oracular. There's little imagery, just pronouncements (e.g., "the air / you have polluted / you will breathe // the waters / you have poisoned / you will drink // when you come again / and you will come again").

Much more beautiful is "wind on the st. marys river," which pict
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I don't remember exactly which poem I read by Mrs. Clifton first but I remember liking it. When it came time for me to buy books I thought of her and I ordered this collection.

It is marvelous. The poetry flows well and I particularly like the 9/11 sequence. I feel like that section in particular is still relevant to America post 9/11

The last section with the poems from the Other World where really great as other well. I feel like they were trying to impart some wisdom and I feel like I need to
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
i saw a small moon rise
from the breast of a woman
lying in a hospital hall
and I saw that the moon was me
and I saw that the punctured bag
of a woman body was me
and i saw you sad there in the lobby
waiting to visit and I wanted
to sing to you
go home
i am waiting for you there


"the third time and you are so tired
so tired and you nod your head
and smile and walk away from
the angel uniforms the blood
machines and you enter the nearest
movie house and stand in the last aisle
staring at the screen with y
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the poems in this collection, especially September Song: A Poem in Seven Days, which was a response to the NYC attack of 9/11/2001, and The Message from the Ones (Received in the Late 70s). Although her collection titled The Terrible Stories was a finalist for both a National Book Award and a Pulitizer Prize, I found this collection much more compelling.
Sep 28, 2007 added it
Recommends it for: poetry lovers
Shelves: complete
very interesting book of poems, mostly in the same style, of a blurry almost dreamlike trance-mission. Made me feel uneasy at first, but I've come to love this book as a whole, now that i've picked thru it several times, and read everything in it at least once. this is definitely poetry with a message

thanks to lala for the recommendation!

Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Although it's obvious Lucille Clifton takes her "craft" (ugh, and sorry, but ...) very seriously, and hasn't compromised it for readability, the poems are nevertheless extremely readable. And also very relatable: even the kind of gnomic poems at the end have ... let's say applications. This is intimate poetry. ...more
Nancy Ross
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Picked this up at the library as everyone in my family suddenly wants to read poetry. It's a good one. Will have to reread to get more out of the poems, which are brief and dense and all about incredibly heavy topics--death, Sept 11th, etc. ...more
Joshua Heckathorn
Oct 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Joshua by: A Muse Among Me
I find her poetry to be slightly disconnected and somewhat hard to read. But I'm still reading and re-reading the book. ...more
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Such an excellent collection.
This includes a series of poems written the week of September 11, 2001.
Aug 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I did not enjoy these as much as I did a couple other of her books of poetry. They were still worth the read.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Deaf Republic
  • Nine Horses
  • The Wild Iris
  • In the Dream House
  • Felicity
  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds
  • Blue Horses
  • Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth
  • The Black Unicorn: Poems
  • Postcolonial Love Poem
  • Upstream: Selected Essays
  • Reaching the Sun
  • Don't Call Us Dead
  • Salt
  • Jack
  • The House of Belonging
  • Lullabies
  • Breasts and Eggs
See similar books…
Lucille Clifton was an American poet, writer, and educator from New York. Common topics in her poetry include the celebration of her African American heritage, and feminist themes, with particular emphasis on the female body.

She was the first person in her family to finish high school and attend college. She started Howard University on scholarship as a drama major but lost the scholarship two yea

Related Articles

Elizabeth Acevedo burst onto the literary scene in 2018 with The Poet X, a novel-in-verse that draws on her own experiences as an award-winning...
82 likes · 22 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.

I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.

I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night. return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.”
More quotes…