My Favorite Poems

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Tags: poetry

Introduction

To improve my own poems, I read the masters. Here are selections from those poems which I find most inspiring and noteworthy.

Conventions for this page:

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

(1517–1547). Wikipedia.

Give Place, Ye Lovers. GPEL pg 20.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

(1828-1882). Wikipedia.

Sonnet X: The Portrait.
That he who seeks her beauty's furthest goal,
Beyond the light that the sweet glances throw
And refluent wave of the sweet smile, may know
The very sky and sea-line of her soul.

Sir Philip Sydney

(1554-1586). Wikipedia.

Doubt You to Whom My Muse. GPEL pg 43. Originally from Astrophel and Stella. This is beautiful; I’d love to hear it set to music.
Doubt you to whom my Muse these notes intendeth,
Which now my breast, o'ercharged, to music lendeth?
  To you! to you! all song of praise is due;
Only in you my song begins and endeth.

William Shakespeare

(1564–1616).

The Tempest (4.1). GPEL pg 63.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest (5.1). GPEL pg 63.
Where the bee sucks, there suck I
In a cowslip's bell I lie
Measure for Measure (2.2). GPEL pg 64.
    But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.
Measure for Measure (3.1). GPEL pg 64.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1.1). GPEL pg 67.
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say 'Behold!'
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
Henry V (4.3). GPEL pg 79.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
Sonnet 76. GPEL pg 108.
Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
  For as the sun is daily new and old,
  So is my love still telling what is told.

George Turberville

(c. 1540-c. 1597). Wikipedia.

The Lover to His Lady. GPEL pg 21. In full.
My Girl, thou gazest much
Upon the golden skies:
Would I were Heaven, I would behold
Thee then with all mine eyes.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

(1503-1542). Wikipedia.

Blame Not My Lute. GPEL pg 24.

Christopher Smart

(1722-1771).

This cat-centric section from Jubilate Agno.

Ben Jonson

(1572-1637).

On the Portrait of Shakespeare. GPEL pg 127. In full.
  This figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the graver had a strife
With Nature, to outdo the life.
  Oh, could he but have drawn his wit
As well in brass, as he has hit
His face, the print would then surpass
All that was ever writ in brass.
  But since he cannot, reader, look
Not on his picture, but his book.
A Celebration of Charis, Part 4: The Triumph. GPEL pg 127. [The version at Poetry Foundation differs slightly from the one given in GPEL; I’m quoting the latter.]
Have you seen but a bright lily grow
  Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you mark'd but the fall of snow
  Before the soil hath smutch'd it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
  Or swan's down ever?
Or have smelt of the bud of the brier,
  Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!
Song–To Celia. GPEL pg 130. In full.
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
  And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
  And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
  Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
  I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
  Not so much honouring thee,
As giving it a hope, that there
  It could not withered be;
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
  And sent'st it back to me;
Since when it grows and smells, I swear,
  Not of itself, but thee.

William Shenstone

Written at an Inn in Henley. GPEL pg 283.
Whoe'er has travelled life's dull round,
  Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
  The warmest welcome, at an inn.

Karle Wilson Baker

Days. GPEL pg 1264. In full.
Some days my thoughts are just cocoons—all cold, and dull,
  and blind,
They hang from dripping branches in the gray woods of my
  mind;
And other days they drift and shine—such free and flying
  things!
I find the gold-dust in my hair, left by their brushing wings.

William Blake

To the Muses. GPEL pg 332. Stanza 4.
How have you left the ancient love
That bards of old enjoyed in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move,
The sound is forced, the notes are few!

G. K. Chesterton

A Ballade of Suicide. Cited from The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay–
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–
I see a little cloud all pink and grey–
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call–
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way–
I never read the works of Juvenal–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational–
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Envoi

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Robert Frost

Putting In The Seed. I know it from Mountain Interval.

Charles Lamb

Hester. GPEL pg 486.
My sprightly neighbour, gone before
To that unknown and silent shore,
Shall we not meet, as heretofore,
        Some summer morning.

When from thy cheerful eyes a ray
Hath struck a bliss upon the day,
A bliss that would not go away,
        A sweet forewarning?

Joseph Blanco White

To Night. GPEL pg 487. In full.
Mysterious Night! when our first parent knew
Thee from report divine, and heard thy name,
Did he not tremble for this lovely frame,
This glorious canopy of light and blue?
Yet 'neath the curtain of translucent dew,
Bathed in the rays of the great setting flame,
Hesperus with the host of heaven came,
And lo! creation widened on man's view.
Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed
Within thy beams, O Sun! or who could find,
While fly, and leaf, and insect stood revealed,
That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind!
  Why do we, then, shun Death with anxious strife?—
  If Light can thus deceive, wherefore not Life?

Thomas Moore

As Slow Our Ship. GPEL pg 494.

Thomas Love Peacock

The War Song of Dinas Vawr. GPEL pg 498. Stanzas 1, 3.
The mountain sheep are sweeter,
The valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deemed it meeter
To carry off the latter.
We made an expedition;
We met a host and quelled it;
We forced a strong position,
And killed the men who held it.

[...]

He fled to his hall-pillars;
And, ere our force we led off,
Some sacked his house and cellars,
While others cut his head off.

Lord Byron

She Walks in Beauty. GPEL pg 501.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

One Hour With Thee. GPEL pg 443. Originally from Woodstock.

William Wordsworth

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge (September 3, 1802). GPEL pg 386. In full.
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. GPEL pg 371.
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

Resolution and Independence. William Wordsworth. GPEL pg 382.

Samuel Rogers

A Wish. GPEL pg 360.
Oft shall the pilgrim lift the latch,
And share my meal, a welcome guest.

Robert Browning

(1812–1889).

A Toccata of Galuppi’s. GPEL pg 844.

A Grammarian’s Funeral. GPEL pg 853. Excellent polysyllabic rhyming.

Walter Savage Landor

(1775–1864).

Death. GPEL pg 478. In full.
Death stands above me, whispering low
  I know not what into my ear;
Of his strange language, all I know
  Is, there is not a word of fear.
Twenty Years Hence. GPEL pg 479.
Twenty years hence my eyes may grow,
If not quite dim, yet rather so,
Yet yours from others they shall know
                Twenty years hence.
Resignation. GPEL pg 481.
I see the rainbow in the sky,
  The dew upon the grass,
I see them, and I ask not why
  They glimmer or they pass.
Separation. GPEL pg 481. In full.
There is a mountain and a wood between us,
  Where the lone shepherd and late bird have seen us
Morning and noon and eventide repass.
Between us now the mountain and the wood
Seem standing darker than last year they stood,
  And say we must not cross—alas! alas!
Plays. GPEL pg 482. In full.
How soon, alas, the hours are over,
Counted us out to play the lover!
And how much narrower is the stage,
Allotted us to play the sage!
But when we play the fool, how wide
The theatre expands; beside,
How long the audience sits before us!
How many prompters! what a chorus!

Matthew Arnold

(1822-1888).

Epilogue To Lessing’s Laocooen.
"Behold at last the poet's sphere.
But who," I said, "suffices here?

"For, ah! so much has he to do;
Be painter and musician too!
The aspect of the moment show,
The feeling of the moment know!
The aspect not, I grant, express
Clear as the painter's art can dress;
The feeling not, I grant, explore
So deep as the musician's lore—
But clear as words can make revealing,
And deep as words can follow feeling.
But, ah! then comes his sorest spell
Of toil—he must life's movement tell!
The thread which binds it all in one
And not its separate parts alone.
The movement he must tell of life
Its pain and pleasure, rest and strife;
His eye must travel down, at full,
The long, unpausing spectacle;"
The World’s Triumphs. GPEL pg 909. In full.
So far as I conceive the world's rebuke
To him address'd who would recast her new,
Not from herself her fame of strength she took,
But from their weakness who would work her rue.

"Behold," she cries, "so many rages lull'd,
So many fiery spirits quite cool'd down;
Look how so many valours, long undull'd,
After short commerce with me, fear my frown!

Thou too, when thou against my crimes wouldst cry,
Let thy foreboded homage check thy tongue!"—
The world speaks well; yet might her foe reply:
"Are wills so weak?—then let not mine wait long!

Hast thou so rare a poison?—let me be
Keener to slay thee, lest thou poison me!"

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples. GPEL pg 558. Stanzas 2 and 3.
  I saw the Deep's untrampled floor
    With green and purple seaweeds strown;
  I see the waves upon the shore,
    Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown;
    I sit upon the sands alone,—
  The lightning of the noontide ocean
    Is flashing around me, and a tone
    Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

  Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
    Nor peace within nor calm around,
  Nor that content surpassing wealth
    The sage in meditation found
    And walked with inward glory crowned—
  Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
    Others I see whom these surround—
  Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;—
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

Felicia Dorothea Hemans

The Graves of a Household. GPEL pg 592.

William Cullen Bryant

To a Waterfowl. GPEL pg 597. Stanza 2.
    Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
    Thy figure floats along.

Stanislaw Lem

From the masterful Cyberiad.

Klapaucius thought, and thought some more. Finally he nodded and said:

“Very well. Let’s have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit.”

“Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your senses?” Trurl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:
Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert, or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not — for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a^2 cos 2phi

John Keats

The Eve of St. Agnes. GPEL pg 607.

Ode on a Grecian Urn. GPEL pg 619. Stanza 4.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice
  To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or by sea-shore,
  Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
  Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
Sonnet. GPEL pg 625. In full.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
  Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
  That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
  Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Thomas Hood

The Song of the Shirt. GPEL pg 631. Stanzas 4 and 6.
"O men with sisters dear!
  O men with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
  But human creatures' lives!
    Stitch—stitch—stitch,
  In poverty, hunger, and dirt,—
Sewing at once with a double thread,
  A shroud as well as a shirt!

[...]

"Work—work—work!
  My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
  A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—and this naked floor—
  A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank my shadow I thank
  For sometimes falling there!

Edward Coate Pinkney

A Health. GPEL pg 645. Stanza 2. I especially like the last two lines of this stanza.
Her every tone is music's own,
  Like those of morning birds,
And something more than melody
  Dwells ever in her words;
The coinage of her heart are they,
  And from her lips each flows
As one may see the burdened bee
  Forth issue from the rose.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friendship. GPEL pg 681. In full.
A ruddy drop of manly blood
The surging sea outweighs,
The world uncertain comes and goes;
The lover rooted stays.
I fancied he was fled,—
And, after many a year,
Glowed unexhausted kindliness,
Like daily sunrise there.
My careful heart was free again,
O friend, my bosom said,
Through thee alone the sky is arched,
Through thee the rose is red;
All things through thee take nobler form,
And look beyond the earth,
The mill-round of our fate appears
A sun-path in thy worth.
Me too thy nobleness has thought
To master my despair;
The fountains of my hidden life
Are through my friendship fair.

Charles Fenno Hoffman

Monterey. GPEL pg 694.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Maidenhood. GPEL pg 696.
Childhood is the bough, where slumbered
Birds and blossoms many-numbered;—
Age, that bough with snow encumbered.

Belfry of Bruges. GPEL pg 699.

Arthur Hugh Clough

Say Not, the Struggle Not Availeth. GPEL pg 874.

Where Lies the Land. GPEL pg 876.

John Barbour

(c. 1320-1395). Wikipedia.

Freedom. GPEL pg 13.
A! Fredome is a noble thing!
Fredome mayse man to half liking;
Fredome all solace to man giffis,
He livis at ese that frely livis!
A noble hart may haif nane ese,
Na ellys nocht that may him plese,
Gif fredome fail'th; for fre liking
Is yharnit ouer all othir thing.