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Featured Poem: Regret by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks

Written by Rachael Norris, 14th October 2019

As part of our series on Black History Month in October, this week's Featured Poem is Regret by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Amanda Boston.

This poem is an emotional punch in the stomach. The relentless rhythm and rhyme hammer home the pain. We feel winded and wounded from the opening lines:

 I said a thoughtless word one day,

A loved one heard and went away;

Just one word on one day! What could that word be? I know I have been guilty of such a careless utterance in the past and have been on the receiving end of a similar thoughtlessness.

I’m wondering whether the remorseful “Forgive me…” was an immediate response or if there was there a delay?

Did the one who “went away” hear the cry and ignore it? Why would anyone do that? How would we feel in that interminable waiting period? "I waited long…"

If the opening is painful then "Too late, alas!" feels like an agony. It's as though we are holding our breath right in the middle of the poem. It’s difficult to read aloud the final four lines, especially "No language could my grief define."

Is there a language we use to speak of grief? Does it help if we try? How many of us have wished we could unsay something we regret? I’m thinking about what impact feeling deep regret over time would have on a person.

Thanks to Olivia Ward Bush-Banks for using her language to speak to us in this powerful way.


I said a thoughtless word one day,
A loved one heard and went away;
I cried: “Forgive me, I was blind;
I would not wound or be unkind.”
I waited long, but all in vain,
To win my loved one back again.
Too late, alas! to weep and pray,
Death came; my loved one passed away.
Then, what a bitter fate was mine;
No language could my grief define;
Tears of deep regret could not unsay
The thoughtless word I spoke that day.

by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks

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