Shall we Dance? poems by Susan Hagen

picture of Susan Hagen
Photo by Brenda Bailey.  

The poems in Susan K. Hagen’s Shall We Dance? – subtitled Poems of Desire and Meditation – are a treat for the heart and the mind. They are as lush as they are philosophical. Irish poet Joan McBreen, author of Map and Atlas, has written this:As is seen in Susan K. Hagen’s first poem in Shall We Dance? she celebrates not only the natural world but a rare joy in being alive. Just as passion, desire and longing are poetic themes explored again and again in the poems of Mary Oliver, they live on in Hagen’s work. And there is a vibrant reverence informing these poems: instead of ‘a strong wind’ being ‘a cruel wind,’ it becomes ‘the kiss of the spirit.’ Gardens being her ‘Gethsemane,’ she brings her readers there for love, protection and ultimately for universal peace. The reader’s answer to this poet’s question raised in the title poem should be Yes, we will ‘waltz to the wind’ like all the trees of the world. 
  Shall we dance cover image
  Photo by the author.

Turning attention to writing poetry after over forty years of teaching medieval literature and working in higher education administration, Susan began publishing poems in journals such as Haiku Journal, Ephemerae, Cattails, and The Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poetry.  Bringing that interest in writing together with her interests in literary gardens of the Middle Ages and horticultural gardens stemming from her work as a Master Gardener, she also launched a blog on gardens and their cultural significance, After Eden (  The site remains active and led to a speaking schedule on gardens, native plants, and pollinators.

Already interested in the writings of the medieval mystics, such as Julian of Norwich, Susan became intrigued with the work of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi during a trip to Turkey in 2014.  Soon after, she discovered the work of a next-century Persian poet and mystic, Hafiz. Affinities with these three writers, the English metaphysical poets, and long-lived literary and cultural associations of gardens became the inspiration for Shall We Dance?

Susan K. Hagen’s academic publications, including Allegorical Remembrance, focus on medieval allegory, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Julian of Norwich.  She received her undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College, her master’s degree from the University of Maryland, and her doctorate in medieval literature from the University of Virginia.  She holds the title Mary Collett Munger Professor Emerita of English at Birmingham-Southern College, a private liberal arts college in Alabama.  She lives in Birmingham but spends much time at a small lake house where she gardens and finds motivation for her poetry.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-83-4
First Edition, 2021
68 pages

This book is available at all bookstores
including Amazon
and can be ordered directly from the author:
Susan K. Hagen
4970 Joab Circle
Birmingham, AL 35235.
Send $17 per book
plus $4.00 shipping in AL
and $6 shipping outside AL,
checks payable to
Susan K. Hagen.


Sample Poems
copyright © 2021 by Susan K. Hagen

After Reading Hafiz

Bernini’s St. Teresa comes the closest in Western art,
closest to the ecstasy of desire fulfilled by the divine,
closest to admitting the sensuality of spirit,
closest to the complete abandonment of the body
to the experience of the Belovèd.

Oh, Herbert tried. And Donne knew the body
was kin to the spirit,
but prayed to be battered rather than beloved.

Yet, passion is passion. Desire is desire.
Longing so intense that it hollows the body,
stops the mind, and burns the heart is longing.

To be fair, 15th-century Anonymous knew—
knew that the language of courtly longing
could capture the Christ’s passion 
even before the Passion. 

A hundred years before, Julian found 
mother and brother in the universal Love,
speaking in homely conversation,
assured that all shall be well,

while her Eastern brother Hafiz
celebrated the kinship 
of sensuality and spirit.

Most Vulnerable


Loving ignited by desire in the eye                            
inflames a great passion of living.                                
Loving kindled by searching lips and sweet kisses
warms in the ease of familiarity.                                

But in the turquoise-blue hours before sunrise,
when my lover wakes me
with soft pressure on my shoulder,
pulling me closer,
eyes entreating,
lips unmoving in silent appeal,
love is most vulnerable,
most wanted, most proffered,
most beloved.

Kiss of the Spirit


Some say a strong wind
     is a cruel wind.
The Belovèd says
     it is the kiss of the spirit
     desirous for creation.



How easily I find the Belovèd in my garden.
Bloom, butterfly, bird and bug,
all embroider the garment of universal Love.
Even in the eyes of my dog,
who dares to look me directly,
deeply, in the eye
or in the soft eye of horse or otter or other,
I find the probing spirit of the Belovèd.

But on the morning streets, in the underground,
in the rush of work and worry
where human eyes grow pale and averting
and I am not moved
to touch, or pet, or embrace,
where I must face how threadbare—
how worn and warped—
the garment of universal Love can be,
I struggle to find the Belovèd, who
still with eyes averted
looks back at me.


To the Least of These


The shade of weathered wood,
from a distance down the road
a thick twig
or short stick, an uplifted crick on the end.

But, in turtle season
warm asphalt and impelling desire call
for crossing to the other side,
seductive reptile mystery on country roads.

I named it before I passed,
stretched neck and upturned head
body raised on short in-turned legs—
slow motion frozen in turtle-indecision.

Skirting wide to avoid, to give space
on the morning road,
I could not avoid my own reproach. 

I did not stop.
I did not carry it to the other side.

For a mile or two 
saying it will be safe,   
saying there is no place to turn around,  
my better self followed close behind.

Turning back, driving slowly,
searching where the margin met the road
there was no short stick, no twig, no turtle—
only a suspicion of a testing of the Spirit.


30 May 2020


From the depth of human innocence,
from the height of human temerity,
I challenged the Belovèd,

“You are all compassionate.
You are all merciful.
Why do you let us suffer poverty, disease, violence?”

Heaven did not darken.
Thunder did not roll.

A sweet breeze only
answered me, enfolded me,
“How else would you learn
compassion and mercy?”


Shall We Dance?


Walking the ridge of the mountain,
high among the conifers
the spiced scent of spruce and Christmas in the air, 
the Belovèd and I
looked down the valley upon Appalachian hardwoods
swaying in changing weather. 
Sourwood and black gum,
tulip trees and thin sassafras
touched tops in undulating waves.
In rising wind, supple spruce
bowed down as though to kiss
oak crowns shifting in time
to alternating gust and breeze.

Moved by the music of it all,
I said,
“My Belovèd! My Belovèd, look
how beautifully the trees waltz to the wind,
as though in rhythm with the whole world!”

The Belovèd smiled, took my hand,
and asked,
“Shall we dance?”