The HyperTexts

The Best Contemporary Poetry
The Best Modern Poets and Poems of Modernism and Postmodernism

Who are the best contemporary poets (by which I mean poets who have written within the last hundred years or so, roughly)? For whatever it's worth, my personal top ten contemporary poets are Conrad Aiken, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, A. E. Housman, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas and William Butler Yeats.

Others strong contenders include W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, James Dickey, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hayden, Anthony Hecht, Geoffrey Hill, Langston Hughes, Robinson Jeffers, Donald Justice, Stanley Kunitz, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Richard Moore, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Adrienne Rich, E. A. Robinson, Theodore Roethke, Carl Sandburg, Anne Sexton, Sara Teasdale, Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur, William Carlos Williams and James Wright.

The best-selling poets of more recent times include Maya Angelou, Charles Bukowski, Anne Carson, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Kahlil Gibran, Seamus Heaney, Homer, Rupi Kaur, Camille Rankine, C. S. Lewis, Rumi, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein and r. h. Sin.

Most popular songs are rhyming poems set to music, so let's not forget poetic songwriters like Adele, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke, Dido, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, Woody Guthrie, George Harrison, Buddy Holly, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Carole King, John Lennon, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Prince, Sade, Smoky Robinson, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams Sr.

If we widen our scope to include the early modernists, we pick up Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Matthew Arnold, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Thomas Gray, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Ernest Dowson, D. H. Lawrence and Wilfred Owen. If we include the real groundbreakers and shakers―the great Romantics who threw English-language poetry on its ear―we also pick up William Blake, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth.

If we are allowed to include "dark horses," I will nominate Ann Reeve Aldrich, Thomas Chatterton, Digby Dolben, Randall Jarrell, Dorothy Parker, Edward Thomas and Elinor Wylie.

If humor's your cup of tea, I especially like Hilaire Belloc, Spike Milligan, Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein and Weird Al Yankovich.

If we adjust our focus to poets still writing today, my picks would include Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco, Jack Butler, Jared Carter, Ann Drysdale, Rhina P. Espaillat, R. S. (Sam) Gwynn, X. J. Kennedy, Janet Kenny, Tom Merrill, Robert Mezey and A. E. Stallings.

compiled by Michael R. Burch, editor of The HyperTexts

The following are my favorite poems by contemporary poets. These poems include lesser-known gems such as Louise Bogan's marvelous "After the Persian," Alfred Noyes's darkly romantic ghost story "The Highwayman," the greatest love poem in the English language, Hart Crane's ecstatic, rhapsodic "Voyages," and the most terrifying poem ever written about a Christian upbringing, Robert Frost's magnificent "Directive." This page is a work in progress, so if you like what we're up to, please bookmark and revisit it from time to time.—Michael R. Burch

Excerpts from "More Poems," XXXVI
by A. E. Housman

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

The poem above was the first ever to appear on the pages of The HyperTexts. I believe Housman's lines disprove many of the modern mantras that seem to accompany poetry the way dark clouds accompany lightning: "no ideas but in things," "make it new," "rhyme is passé," "meter is passé," "the perfect poem is silence," etc. But Housman's lines also disprove certain ancient dogmas about poetry as well, such as the one about metaphor being the be-all and end-all of poetry. Housman, like Shakespeare, was a master of direct statement. The great soliloquies of Hamlet are not metaphors but abstract examinations of the human condition, from the perspective of the ego. Poetry is the realm of the abstract as well as the concrete, and of all forms of speech from plainspoken directness to surrealistic phantasmagoria. Great poets can pull off almost anything, and make readers glad they did. So as you read the poems on this page, please feel free to lean back, relax and escape the tedium of theories about poetry, for the true joys of the most en-chant-ing of the Muses.

It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
—Anaïs Nin

The Death of a Toad
by Richard Wilbur

       A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
   To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
   Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
      Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
          Low, and a final glade.

       The rare original heartsblood goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
    In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
    As still as if he would return to stone,
        And soundlessly attending, dies
           Toward some deep monotone,

       Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies.
    Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
    In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
        To watch, across the castrate lawn,
            The haggard daylight steer.

I can't remember where or when I first read "The Death of a Toad," but the poem haunted me until I finally rediscovered it many years later, while flipping through the pages of a poetry anthology in a Nashville bookstore. I had forgotten the poem's title and its poet's name, but I had never been able to forget its words' magic. I believe Richard Wilbur made himself immortal with this one.

While it's just one poetry lover's opinion, here are my top ten contemporary poets who have written formal/traditional poetry in recent years: Jack Butler, Jared Carter, Rhina P. Espaillat, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Tom Merrill, Robert Mezey, Richard Moore, Kevin N. Roberts and Richard Wilbur. Strong contenders include Gwendolyn Brooks, Wendy Cope, Alfred Dorn, Ann Drysdale, Dana Gioia, R. S. Gwynn, Anthony Hecht, Mark Jarman, Rose Kelleher, Janet Kenny, T. S. Kerrigan, Quincy Lehr, Howard Nemerov, Jennifer Reeser, W. D. Snodgrass, A. E. Stallings and John Whitworth.

My top ten contemporary free verse poets are John Ashbery, John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, Geoffrey Hill, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Lowell, Tom Merrill, Adrienne Rich, Luis Omar Salinas and Derek Walcott. High honorable mentions include A. R. Ammons, Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Richard Blanco, Amy Clampitt, Billy Collins, James Dickey, James Fenton, Jorie Graham, Thom Gunn, Donald Hall, Tony Harrison, John Hollander, Ted Hughes, Randall Jarrell, Donald Justice, Kenneth Koch, Yusef Komunyakaa, Denise Levertov, James Merrill, Mary Oliver, Robert Pinsky, Craig Raine, Louis Simpson, David St. John, Mark Strand, John Updike, David Wagoner, Bruce Weigl and James Wright.

Up-and-coming poets include Greg Brownderville, Annie Diamond, Sophie Hannah, Rupi Kaur, r. h. Sin and Kate Tempest.

Translators include Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Terese Coe, W. S. Merwin and Norman Shapiro.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Randall Jarrell was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1914, the year World War I began. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Vanderbilt University, where he studied under Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate. In 1942 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and worked as a control tower operator during World War II, an experience which influenced and provided material for his poetry. Jarrell’s reputation as a poet was established in 1945 with the publication of his second book, Little Friend, Little Friend, which "bitterly and dramatically documents the intense fears and moral struggles of young soldiers."

Here's a poem by one of the most articulate voices about being black in predominately white America.

by Langston Hughes

I could tell you
If I wanted to,
What makes me
What I am.

But I don't
Really want to—
And you don't
Give a damn.

from Word from the Hills
a sonnet sequence in four movements
by Richard Moore

You were so solid, father, cold and raw
as these north winters, where your angry will
first hardened, as the earth when the long chill
deepensas is this country's cruel law
yet under trackless snow, without a flaw
covering meadow, road, and stubbled hill,
the springs and muffled streams were running still,
dark until spring came, and the awful thaw.
In your decay a gentleness appears
I hadn't guessedwhen, gray as rotting snow,
propped in your chair, your face will run with tears,
trying to speak, and your hand, stiff and slow,
will touch my childwho, sensing the cold years
in your eyes, cries until you let her go.

This poem by the contemporary poet Richard Moore about his father and daughter proves that real life can be darker and more frightening than any horror story.

by W. H. Auden

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm:
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstacy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost.
All the dreaded cards foretell.
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought.
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Despite his assertion that poetry makes nothing happen, it seems to me that Auden's poetry makes many good things happen. It's interesting that poets as different as William Blake and Auden wrote two of the most wonderfully tender lullabies in the English language: one for a baby, one for a lover.

For Her Surgery
by Jack Butler

Over the city the moon rides in mist,
scrim scarred with faint rainbow.
Two days till Easter. The thin clouds run slow, slow,
the wind bells bleed the quietest
of possible musics to the dark lawn.
All possibility we will have children is gone.

I raise a glass half water, half alcohol,
to that light come full again.
Inside, you sleep, somewhere below the pain.
Down at the river, there is a tall
ghost tossing flowers to dark water—
jessamine, rose, and daisy, salvia lyrata . . .

Oh goodbye, goodbye to bloom in the white blaze
of moon on the river, goodbye
to creek joining the creek joining the river, the axil, the Y,
goodbye to the Yes of two Ifs in one phrase . . .
Children bear children. We are grown,
and time has thrown us free under the timeless moon.

This has long been one of my favorite poems by a contemporary poet. When people bemoan the "state of the art," I think of poems like this one and find small cause to worry.

The Poem of Poems
by Greg Alan Brownderville

A boy passes ghost-like through a curtain of weeping willow.
In rainbow-stained apparel, birds are singing a cappella.
Suddenly I sense it, in the birds and in the child:
The world is a poem growing wild.

A dewdrop on a blade of grass soon slips from where it clung
Like a perfect word that gathers on the tip of a poet's tongue.
And men are merely characters to love and be defiled.
God is a poem growing wild.

This is a fine contemporary poem in the mystic tradition of Blake and Whitman. Jack Butler and Greg Brownderville are both "Arkansas" boys . . . there must be something in the water down there, or perhaps it's in the mayhaw jelly.

by Kevin N. Roberts

Our time has passed on swift and careless feet,
With sighs and smiles and songs both sad and sweet.
Our perfect hours have grown and gone so fast,
And these are things we never can repeat.
Though we might plead and pray that it would last,
Our time has passed.

Like shreds of mist entangled in a tree,
Like surf and sea foam on a foaming sea,
Like all good things we know can never last,
Too soon we'll see the end of you and me.
Despite the days and realms that we amassed,
Our time has passed.

This is an interesting poem, not only because it's sad and lovely, but because the poet, Kevin Nicholas Roberts, claimed to be the reincarnation of Algernon Charles Swinburne! And it was Swinburne who introduced the rondel to English poetry, adapting it from the French rondeau. You can learn more about Kevin Roberts and read more of his poems by clicking his hyperlinked name.

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

While Modernism sometimes makes a fetish out of imagism, this poem shows how effectively images can be used in the hands of a genius who is also a skilled craftsman. It's hard to imagine a more perfectly drawn or more moving poem.

by Ann Drysdale

The print of a bare foot, the second toe
A little longer than the one which is
Traditionally designated "great".
Praxiteles would have admired it.

You must have left in haste; your last wet step
Before boarding your suit and setting sail,
Outlined in talcum on the bathroom floor
Mocks your habitual fastidiousness.

There is no tide here to obliterate
Your oversight. Unless I wipe or sweep
Or suck it up, it will not go away.
The thought delights me. I will keep the footprint.

Too slight, too simply human to be called
Token or promise; I am keeping it
Because it is a precious evidence
That on this island I am not alone.

Ann Drysdale is one of the better contemporary poets I've had the honor and pleasure of publishing. Her poem "Friday" evinces a keen eye, irony, humor and something of a child's sense of wonder.

Bread and Music
by Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

In his best poems Conrad Aiken rivals W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane as masters of modern English poetic meter. Aiken's "Bread and Music" is one of my favorite poems, regardless of era.

The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad
by Wallace Stevens

The time of year has grown indifferent.
Mildew of summer and the deepening snow
Are both alike in the routine I know:
I am too dumbly in my being pent.

The wind attendant on the solstices
Blows on the shutters of the metropoles,
Stirring no poet in his sleep, and tolls
The grand ideas of the villages.

The malady of the quotidian . . .
Perhaps if summer ever came to rest
And lengthened, deepened, comforted, caressed
Through days like oceans in obsidian

Horizons, full of night's midsummer blaze;
Perhaps, if winter once could penetrate
Through all its purples to the final slate,
Persisting bleakly in an icy haze;

One might in turn become less diffident,
Out of such mildew plucking neater mould
And spouting new orations of the cold.
One might. One might. But time will not relent.

Wallace Stevens is a wonder, and an enigma. It's hard to say what he believed, if he believed anything. Like another famous W. S., he seems somehow subsumed in his work. But regardless of what he believed, or didn't, he wrote some of the most gorgeous poems of the modern era.

The Old Lutheran Bells at Home
by Wallace Stevens

These are the voices of the pastors calling
In the names of St. Paul and of the halo-John
And of other holy and learned men, among them

Great choristers, propounders of hymns, trumpeters,
Jerome and the scrupulous Francis and Sunday women,
The nurses of the spirit's innocence.

These are the voices of the pastors calling
Much rough-end being to smooth Paradise,
Spreading out fortress walls like fortress wings.

Deep in their sound the stentor Martin sings.
Dark Juan looks outward through his mystic brow . . .
Each sexton has his sect. The bells have none.

These are the voices of the pastors calling
And calling like the long echoes in long sleep,
Generations of shepherds to generations of sheep.

Each truth is a sect though no bells ring for it.
And the bells belong to the sextons, after all,
As they jangle and dangle and kick their feet.

I love the last stanza of this poem, which makes it sounds as if the sexton have lost control and are being swung about by the bells, having become human "clappers."

Madame LaBouche
by T. Merrill

Her ears pricked up so much, Madame
decrying all disturbance
Insisted sounds around be less
City-like and more suburban.

One bistro gave Madame no rest
Until it was at last subdued,
And vexed by yakky cabbies next,
She finally got their stand removed.

Yet still, some night-owl might abort
The dreamshift of LaBouche's week,
And pop her prized unconsciousness
By passing with a piercing shriek,

Or other nuisances emerge—
But when, for my part, out a window
I spot Madame surveying things,
Hard eye a-gleam, arms set akimbo

All poised to nail some passerby
With shrill bursts from her magic flute—
I see the sole noisemaker I
Have lately dreamed of going mute.

Tom Merrill is one of my favorite contemporary poets. Like Ann Drysdale, he has a keen eye for detail and a wonderful sense of irony. He also has something of a Swiftian loathing for fools and hypocrites (especially the "Christian" kind, who often seem more concerned about other people's morals than their own).

First Confession
by X. J. Kennedy

Blood thudded in my ears. I scuffed,
Steps stubborn, to the telltale booth
Beyond whose curtained portal coughed
The robed repositor of truth.

The slat shot back. The universe
Bowed down his cratered dome to hear
Enumerated my each curse,
The sip snitched from my old man's beer,

My sloth pride envy lechery,
The dime held back from Peter's Pence
with which I'd bribed my girl to pee
That I might spy her instruments.

Hovering scale-pans when I'd done
Settled their balance slow as silt
While in the restless dark I burned
Bright as a brimstone in my guilt

Until as one feeds birds he doled
Seven our Fathers and a Hail
Which I to double-scrub my soul
Intoned twice at the altar rail

Where Sunday in seraphic light
I knelt, as full of grace as most,
And stuck my tongue out at the priest:
A fresh roost for the Holy Ghost.

I have absolutely loved this poem by X. J. Kennedy since the day I first read it. In what dimension is eternal damnation a just recompense for boys being boys, and girls being girls? Only the witchdoctors (er, "theologians") of Christianity could arrive at the dubious math of boy + girl = eternal damnation, or boy + boy = eternal damnation, etc. But in any case, Joe's poem captures both the spirit and the sense of a boy's "First Confession," and his truant tongue's triumphant revenge.

The Lovemaker
by Robert Mezey

I see you in her bed,
Dark, rootless epicene,
Where a lone ghost is laid
And other ghosts convene;

And hear you moan at last
Your pleasure in the deep
Haven of her who kissed
Your blind mouth into sleep.

But body, once enthralled,
Wakes in the chains it wore,
Dishevelled, stupid, cold,
And famished as before,

And hears its paragon
Breathe in the ghostly air,
Anonymous carrion
Ravished by despair.

Lovemaker, I have felt
Desire take my part,
But lacked your constant fault
And something of your art,

And would not bend my knees
To the unmantled pride
That left you in that place,
Forever unsatisfied.

This is another of my favorite poems by a contemporary poet. Other poems by Robert Mezey appear elsewhere on this page.

The Ghost Ship
by A. E. Stallings

She plies an inland sea. Dull
With rust, scarred by a jagged reef.
In Cyrillic, on her hull
Is lettered, Grief.

The dim stars do not signify;
No sonar with its eerie ping
Sounds the depths—she travels by
Dead reckoning.

At her heart is a stopped clock.
In her wake, the hours drag.
There is no port where she can dock,
She flies no flag,

Has no allegiance to a state,
No registry, no harbor berth,
Nowhere to discharge her freight
Upon the earth.

A. E. Stallings is a contemporary poet who's making a name for herself, and leaving her mark on the world in the form of memorable poems.

On the Beach at Fontana
by James Joyce

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending,
Darkness of fear above;
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love!

James Joyce is better known today as a novelist, but this is a fine and moving poem.

Te Deum
by Charles Reznikoff

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae
by Ernest Dowson

"I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cynara"—Horace

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to you, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long;
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

Ernest Dowson wrote a small handful of poems that are among the strongest in the English language. I consider him one of the very best "unknown" or "under-known" major poets, along with Louise Bogan. The poem above should make him forever immortal, unless readers lose their ears and their senses.

by Richard Moore

Once more home is a strange place: by the ocean a
big house now, and the small houses are memories,
   once live images, vacant
        thoughts here, sinking and vanishing.

Rough sea now on the shore thundering brokenly
draws back stones with a roar out into quiet and
    far depths, darkly to lie there
         years, yearsthere not a sound from them.
New waves out of the night's mist and obscurity
lunge up high on the beach, spending their energy,
    each wave angrily dying,
        all shapes endlessly altering,

yet out there in the depths nothing is modified.
Earthquakes won't even moveno, nor the hurricane
    one stone there, nor a glance of
         sun's light stir its identity.

This is a wonderfully haunting poem by the contemporary poet Richard Moore, who lived in a dilapidated mansion close by the sea, until his death.

The Missionary's Position
by Joseph S. Salemi

I maintain it all was for the best
We hacked our way through jungle and sought out
These savage children, painted and half-dressed,
To set their minds at ease, and dispel doubt.

Concerning what? Why, God's immense design,
And how it governs all we do and see.
Before, they had no sense of the divine
Beyond the sticks and bones of sorcery.

Granted, they are more somber and subdued,
Knowing that lives are watched, and judged, and weighed.
Subject to fits of melancholy mood,
They look upon the cross, and are afraid.

What would you have me say? We preached the Word
Better endured in grief than left unheard.

This is a poem that ought to cure "Christian" missionaries of their evangelistic zeal, if only they had hearts capable of compassion for the children they terrorize, and brains capable of reason. I have long admired this poem, which was written by a contemporary Catholic poet who seems to doubt the methods of his own church.

Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" appears in Horace's Odes. The "old lie" means: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." Wilfred Owen stands at the vanguard of the great anti-war poets and singer-songwriters. "Dulce Et Decorum Est" may be the most important poem in the English language: one that eventually leads to the abolition of war. But in any case, Wilfred Owen was undoubtedly a major poet, and one of the first great truly modern English poets. He died just before the armistice that ended World War I. There's no telling what he might have accomplished if he had lived, but he left behind a good number of immortal poems: all of them penned within the short period of time between his enlistment and death.

The Eagle and the Mole
by Elinor Wylie

Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.

The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps above the clouds
His cliff inviolate.

When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.

If in the eagle's track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.

If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole:
Go burrow underground.

And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.

This is wonderfully scary poem by a poet who is under-known and under-appreciated today. One can seldom trust the "advice" of poets. If I apprehend the wily Wylie correctly, it seems she offers us three options: (1) the dubious warmth of the reeking herd, (2) the alien loneliness of the aloof eagle, or (3) the blind burrowing of the velvet mole.

La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
by T. S. Eliot

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair —
Lean on a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose.

When T. S. Eliot began to write, modern poetry began to change. Harold Bloom has suggested that Shakespeare invented the modern human being. I would venture to say that T. S. Eliot invented the modern poet (pale, introverted, fastidious, self-absorbed and therefore endlessly dismayed) when he portrayed himself as Prufrock in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Why poets want to be, or feel obliged to be, like Prufrock, I have no idea. But that many of them are Prufrocks seems beyond question. Perhaps they misread the poem and believed Prufrock ended up with the girls, or the mermaids . . .

While T. H. White is much better known today for his novel The Once and Future King, which inspired the musical Camelot and Disney's animated classic The Sword in the Stone, he was also a poet who in four lines expressed what it means to be a poet:

A bitter heart lay here and yet
It was not bitter to the bone.
It made what Time does not unmake
All hopeful, and alone.
―T. H. White

Sarabande On Attaining the Age of Seventy-Seven
by Anthony Hecht

The harbingers are come. See, see their mark;
White is their colour; and behold my head.
—George Herbert

Long gone the smoke-and-pepper childhood smell
Of the smoldering immolation of the year,
Leaf-strewn in scattered grandeur where it fell,
Golden and poxed with frost, tarnished and sere.

And I myself have whitened in the weathers
Of heaped-up Januaries as they bequeath
The annual rings and wrongs that wring my withers,
Sober my thoughts, and undermine my teeth.

The dramatis personae of our lives
Dwindle and wizen; familiar boyhood shames,
The tribulations one somehow survives,
Rise smokily from propitiatory flames

Of our forgetfulness until we find
It becomes strangely easy to forgive
Even ourselves with this clouding of the mind,
This cinerous blur and smudge in which we live.

A turn, a glide, a quarter turn and bow,
The stately dance advances; these are airs
Bone-deep and numbing as I should know by now,
Diminishing the cast, like musical chairs.

Hecht's poem makes aging seem like sitting in a foxhole, waiting for the inevitable end, but with the somewhat hopeful note that "it becomes strangely easy to forgive / even ourselves with this clouding of the mind, / this cinerous blur and smudge in which we live." Should we thank God, perhaps, for small favors, like eroding memories?

Every saint has a past
and every sinner has a future.
Oscar Wilde

Song For The Last Act
by Louise Bogan

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Louise Bogan is a major poet, in my opinion. Hopefully the rest of the reading world will soon catch on. Please be sure to read her other poems on this page, especially "After the Persian."

Sea Fevers
by Agnes Wathall

No ancient mariner I,
   Hawker of public crosses,
Snaring the passersby
   With my necklace of albatrosses.

I blink no glittering eye
   Between tufts of gray sea mosses
Nor in the high road ply
   My trade of guilts and glosses.

But a dark and inward sky
   Tracks the flotsam of my losses.
No more becalmed to lie,
   The skeleton ship tosses.

While I'm sure that few readers have heard of Agnes Wathall, her "Sea Fevers" is a poem that demands remembering.

Men At Forty
By Donald Justice
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.
And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something
That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses. 

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
Dorothy Parker

by Charles Reznikoff

I saw within the shadows of the yard the shed
and saw the snow upon its roof—
an oblong glowing in the moonlit night.

I could not rest or close my eyes,
although I knew that I must rise
early next morning and begin my work again,
and begin my work again.

That day was lost—that month as well;
and year and year for all that I can tell.

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

I suppose I shouldn't publish my own poems on such an auspicious page, but what the hell: I think this one deserves to be read and considered. Christians and Jews need to understand that when they do things that cause Muslim children to suffer and die, the "golden rule" can come back to pursue them like an avenging demon. What happens when we talk the talk, but don't walk the walk, and innocent women and children suffer and die as a result? Terrible things like 9-11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why? Because Muslim men love and want to protect their women and children, just as Christian and Jewish men love and want to protect their women and children. Until we understand this elemental truth, and respect and honor it, we are doomed to repeat the errors of the past, which always begin with with "chosen few" practicing injustices against their "inferiors," who quite understandably never agree with the beliefs of their "superiors."

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens called the poet the "priest of the invisible." In this poem and in certain other poems of his, he seems to be the "priest of the nonexistent" who takes "negative capability" to new heights (or would it be depths?). But his best poems are wonders, whether or not one agrees with their conclusions, or understands them.

There are two ways to live your life:
one is as though nothing is a miracle,
the other is as though everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

by Janet Kenny

A wisp of old woman,
curved like a scythe,
tottered to me as she
fussed her shopping,
her walking stick hooked
on her chopstick wrist.

She spoke to me then
in a dried leaf voice.
Inaudible there
in that busy street,
swept by rude gales
from passing trucks.

I leaned closer to hear:
Mein eyes not gut.
time for bus, ven comes it?
“Which bus do you want?”

She smiled, shook her head
then sang to herself
—and somebody else,
in—not German. Yiddish?
“Which bus?”
She leaned towards me,
her tiny claw reached
to stroke my face.
Du she said.


This is a wonderful bit of storytelling by a contemporary poet. "Du" is the German word for "You." The poem reminds me of deliciously scary fairytales about children lost in the forest who accidentally stumble into the arms of cannibalistic crones.

To Earthward
by Robert Frost

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of – was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young:
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass or sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

Robert Frost was far more than just a pragmatic New England farmer-turned-poet. "To Earthward" is one of the best bittersweet love poems in the English language.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In this stunning poem Dylan Thomas disproves nearly all the conventional "wisdom" of the workshops: always avoid adjectives or only use esoteric ones, avoid "predictable rhyme," don't repeat words in close proximity, etc. Thomas was yet another great Romantic poet who died young; he may have been the best of them.

Buffalo Bill's defunct
by e. e. cummings

Buffalo Bill's
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
        and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
        he was a handsome man
                             and what i want to know is
        how do you like your blueeyed boy
        Mister Death

Cummings was perhaps the most whimsical of the major poets, but he was also capable of savage satire in poems like "I sing of Olaf glad and big."

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare longam
by Ernest Dowson

"The brevity of life forbids us to entertain hopes of long duration" —Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dowson died at age 32 and is only known for a few poems today, but his best poems are highly memorable. He's one of my favorite lesser-known poets.

A Last Word
by Ernest Dowson

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
Laughter or tears, for we have only known
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
Find end of labour, where's rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.

Dowson's influence on the language and other writers can be seen in phrases like "gone with the wind" and "the days of wine and roses." His work certainly influenced T. S. Eliot, who once said that certain lines of Dowson "have always run in my head."

The Skeleton's Defense of Carnality
by Jack Foley

Truly I have lost weight, I have lost weight,
grown lean in love’s defense,
in love’s defense grown grave.
It was concupiscence that brought me to the state:
all bone and a bit of skin
to keep the bone within.
Flesh is no heavy burden for one possessed of little
and accustomed to its loss.
I lean to love, which leaves me lean, till lean turn into lack.
A wanton bone, I sing my song
and travel where the bone is blown
and extricate true love from lust
as any man of wisdom must.
Then wherefore should I rage
against this pilgrimage
from gravel unto gravel?
Circuitous I travel
from love to lack / and lack to lack,
from lean to lack
and back.

I love this wicked little poem by the contemporary poet Jack Foley. The male skeleton is missing an important "member" required for lovemaking, so "lean" really does "turn into lack" when the "bone is blown."

After the Rain
by Jared Carter

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different viewthe glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

I admire this poem by the contemporary poet Jared Carter, especially its closing lines. This poem capitalizes on the poet's capacity for wonder.

Come Lord and Lift
by T. Merrill

Come Lord, and lift the fallen bird
   Abandoned on the ground;
The soul bereft and longing so
   To have the lost be found.

The heart that cries—let it but hear
   Its sweet love answering,
Or out of ether one faint note
   Of living comfort wring.

This poem (the poet is an atheist) seems like both an earnest, heartfelt prayer and a condemnation of religion's dubious "God" to me. Why doesn't he have compassion on fallen fledglings, one wonders? . . .

Willy Nilly
by Michael R. Burch

for the Demiurge aka Yahweh/Jehovah

Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?
You made the stallion,
you made the filly,
and now they sleep
in the dark earth, stilly.
Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?

Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?
You forced them to run
all their days uphilly.
They ran till they dropped—
life’s a pickle, dilly.
Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?

Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?
They say I should worship you!
Oh, really!
They say I should pray
so you’ll not act illy.
Isn’t it silly, Willy Nilly?

While some aspiring intellectuals might turn up their noses at this poem of mine, sniffing and calling it "doggerel," I think it makes a point similar to Tom Merrill's, in a humorous way. If God is all-loving, all-wise and all-just, why do people have to pray so diligently to him not to act unlovingly, unwisely and unjustly?

Forgive, O Lord
by Robert Frost

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive the great big one on me.

I believe Robert Frost harbored similar doubts, reservations, disillusionments, etc., about the Christian religion and its god. Frost's poem "Directive," which appears later on this page, contains a startling "look back" at his childhood religion.

Is there any reward?
by Hillaire Belloc

Is there any reward?
I'm beginning to doubt it.
I am broken and bored,
Is there any reward
Reassure me, Good Lord,
And inform me about it.
Is there any reward?
I'm beginning to doubt it.

It seems the only possible compassionate reactions to the "good news" of Christianity are despair and "foxhole humor." Belloc resorts to wry good humor.

VIII—from "Sunday Morning"
by Wallace Stevens

She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old despondency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

"Sunday Morning" is one of the greatest poems in the English canon. The final stanza of "Sunday Morning" contrasts human faith and its revelations to nature and its ambiguities. As the pigeons sink downward to darkness, what can we make of the "ambiguous undulations" of their wings?

Man of Many Clocks
by Eunice de Chazeau

He chose them for a chime
or possibly a face.
Once a whispering chain
won him. He loved their gears
and the intricate brass
of their interiors.

He had a leaning toward
the elaborate, often
approving one that wore
a porcelain festoon
of fruits and flowers or took
an interest in the moon.

He never asked the hour,
it being always there;
a syncopated shower
of tickings, whirrs and tocks
to be amonga small
eternity of clocks.

For some reason, this poem makes me think of Einstein, who worked on his equations about the relativity of time and other such peculiar things, even on his deathbed.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

This is a wonderfully simple poem, but hardly simplistic. Most poets raptly praise God and Nature, but Robert Frost seems too honest and wise for such shenanigans.

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

I believe Robert Hayden became an immortal poet with this poem. I wonder how many children will read it and suddenly realize how much of their lives their parents sacrificed to their upbringing.

Juan's Song
by Louise Bogan

When beauty breaks and falls asunder
I feel no grief for it, but wonder.
When love, like a frail shell, lies broken,
I keep no chip of it for token.
I never had a man for friend
Who did not know that love must end.
I never had a girl for lover
Who could discern when love was over.
What the wise doubt, the fool believes
Who is it, then, that love deceives?

This is a wonderfully honest and ironical poem about love, from a woman's perspective. I believe Bogan may give men too much credit (most men are just as susceptible to the myths of love as most women are), but perhaps it avails nothing for anyone to be "wise" in matters of love.

Tea at the Palaz of Hoon
by Wallace Stevens

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

This is an interesting poem because Wallace Stevens seems to have been an atheist, and yet he wrote one of the most mystical poems in the English language.

What Would Santa Claus Say
by Michael R. Burch

What would Santa Claus say,
I wonder,
about Jesus returning
to kill and plunder?

For He’ll likely return
on Christmas day
to blow the bad
little boys away!

When He flashes like lightning
across the skies
and many a homosexual

when the harlots and heretics
are ripped asunder,
what will the Easter Bunny think,
I wonder?

I can't help liking my little anti-Christianity rant. Why do Christians endlessly praise a being who (according to them) is so petty he'll return to earth to destroy everyone who doesn't "believe" in him, then send them to an "eternal hell," even though he was either unable or unwilling to speak to them personally? Why should anyone "believe" in such a petty, cruel monster? If we are going to believe in Invisible Friends, why not at least believe in beings of grace, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny?

Word Made Flesh
by Ann Drysdale

On the broad steps of the Basilica
The feckless hopefully hold out their hands,
Often with some success; the privileged
Lighten their consciences by a few pence
On their way to receive the sacrament.

On the seventeenth step two beggars sit
Paying no regard to the worshippers
Who file past on their way to salvation.
They do not ask for alms. They are engrossed,
Skillfully masturbating one another.

Most who have noticed this pretend they haven’t;
Some of the other beggars wish they wouldn’t.
Poor relief is incumbent on the rich
And by taking things into their own hands
They spoil the scene for everybody else.

Our Lord said, “silver and gold have I none
But such as I have give I thee”. The words
Are here made flesh; with beatific sigh
One gives the other benison, slipping
All that he has into the waiting hand
Of somebody who shares his human need.

The newly shriven filter down the steps
Averting their eyes from the seventeenth,
Where the first beggar, in a state of grace,
Works selflessly towards the second coming.

I absolutely love Ann Drysdale's poem. If only there was a God whose grace extended to beggars masturbating each other on the steps of a Basilica! But then what use would there be for the hellfire-and-brimstone condemners of humankind?

in Just-
by e. e. cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles      far      and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far      and      wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


 baloonMan      whistles

This wonderfully whimsical poem juxtaposes innocent children with an equally innocent Pan-nish balloon-man (the Devil?). Was e. e. cummings a closet universalist, or was he perhaps making points about the innocence of children and the machinations of the men who ogle and prey on them? I, for one, prefer the "sweeter" interpretation.

Acquainted With The Night
by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

This is a deliciously scary poem about human alienation. It seems we can be not only alienated from each other, but even from ourselves. Madness ran in Frost's family, along with a dark Calvinism. Ah, the sweet joys of fundamentalism!

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

This may be the first truly great modern poem, along with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot. Matthew Arnold stopped writing poetry when he could no longer "create joy," but this magnificent poem will undoubtedly remain a joy forever.

In My Craft Or Sullen Art
by Dylan Thomas

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

I believe this poem is a wonderful validation of the art and craft of the Romantic Poet, who writes for the sake of love, even if lovers misapprehend or ignore him.

The Garden
by Ezra Pound

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
               of a sort of emotional anemia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.

She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
             will commit that indiscretion.

This poem is a wonderful bit of commentary on the utter strangeness of human societies and their castes. How many of us long for companionship, but are reluctant to seek it below our station? Is it worse to be alone, or to associate with our "inferiors"?

Luke Havergal
by Edward Arlington Robinson

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
And in the twilight wait for what will come.
The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
But go, and if you listen, she will call.
Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;
But there, where western glooms are gathering
The dark will end the dark, if anything:
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—
In eastern skies.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
That flames upon your forehead with a glow
That blinds you to the way that you must go.
Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
Out of a grave I come to tell you this—
To tell you this.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There are the crimson leaves upon the wall,
Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—
Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
But go, and if you trust her she will call.
There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

"Luke Havergal" is like a ghost story in which the reader becomes one with the ghost. When we recognize our affinity with the poem's protagonist, the poem becomes all the more terrifying.

I ― Easter Hymn
by A. E. Housman

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.

Housman is among the most direct and plainspoken of poets, and therefore among the very strongest. He is also one of our best critics of human societies and religion, along with Blake, Wilde, Whitman and a few others. Housman didn't create art for art's sake, but art for humanity's sake.

The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
     The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

If I remember things correctly, this poem was written at the close of the nineteenth century, perhaps to usher in the twentieth. If so, at least it closes on a somewhat hopeful note. Perhaps there is a Hope of which humanity is unaware, and which Religion (hopefully) misapprehends.

When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

This is a near-perfect loose translation of a poem by the French poet Ronsard. Yeats no doubt wrote it with the love of his life, Maude Gonne, in mind.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
by William Butler Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Yeats wrote this poem for Robert Gregory, the son of his patron, Lady Gregory. To understand the pilot's dilemma, we have to understand that many Irishmen had no more love for their English conquerors than for their would-be German conquerors.

Leda and the Swan
by William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                                            Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

This is a tremendous poem about the ambiguities of love and religion, from a woman's perspective, as related by a male poet. The madness of rape and war combine in the "broken wall" of Troy and the broken hymen of Leda, who was raped by the Father-God, Zeus.

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
by e. e. cummings

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
.... the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

This poem by e. e. cummings makes a number of interesting points about the role of religion in American society. Does Christianity result in "comfortable minds" able to simultaneously undertake small acts of charity, coyly bandy gossip, and ignore the reality of a universe which is obviously not controlled by a loving, compassionate, benevolent "God"?

The Convergence Of The Twain
by Thomas Hardy

Lines on the loss of the "Titanic"

           In a solitude of the sea
           Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
           Steel chambers, late the pyres
           Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
           Over the mirrors meant
           To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
           Jewels in joy designed
           To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
           Dim moon-eyed fishes near
           Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"...
           Well: while was fashioning
           This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
           Prepared a sinister mate
           For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
           And as the smart ship grew
           In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
           Alien they seemed to be;
           No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,
           Or sign that they were bent
           By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
            Till the Spinner of the Years
           Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

This is a near-perfect poem by one of the first modern masters. Hardy didn't seem to believe in a benevolent God, but in some sort of inexorable process of Fate.

The Turtle
by Ogden Nash

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Ogden Nash was a wonderfully clever poet; this is my favorite poem of his, but he wrote any number of poems that are comparable in quality.

The Hippopotamus
by Hillaire Belloc

I shoot the Hippopotamus
With bullets made of platinum,
Because if I use leaden ones
His hide is sure to flatten 'em.

I once watched a nature show in which a whole pride of lions was unable to bring down a single hippopotamus, because its hide was so thick their fangs seemed unable to penetrate it. (Being a poet, I can appreciate the advantages of having Thick Skin.)

The Listeners
by Walter De La Mare

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

This is one of my favorite story poems. It rivals "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes as the best ghost story in English poetry.

Love Is Not All

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote some damn strong poems, and should also be recognized as one of the first female poets to write honestly (and perhaps sometimes brag) about the power of her sexuality over men.

Advice to a Girl
by Sara Teasdale

No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.

Sara Teasdale was another of the more liberated female poets who seemed to find equal footing with male poets. She certainly wrote better than most of them.

The Solitary
by Sara Teasdale

My heart has grown rich with the passing of years,
   I have less need now than when I was young
To share myself with every comer
   Or shape my thoughts into words with my tongue.
It is one to me that they come or go
   If I have myself and the drive of my will,
And strength to climb on a summer night
   And watch the stars swarm over the hill.
Let them think I love them more than I do,
   Let them think I care, though I go alone;
If it lifts their pride, what is it to me
   Who am self-complete as a flower or a stone.

I especially like "the drive of my will" and the closing lines of this poem. Millay and Teasdale seemed to have the wisdom to take what they could from lovers, without losing themselves in the process. They seemed to doubt that their lovers had the same capability.

A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! — and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank andstood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Although Allen Ginsburg is best known for "Howl," I have always liked this shorter poem. Walt Whitman exuberantly extolled the joys of life, so it's interesting to ask how he might have approached death.

Bagpipe Music
by Louis MacNeice

It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."

It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.

Louis MacNeice seems like the modern Irish heir of Solomon (wisdom-wise) and Kipling (meter-wise). In any case, this is a wonderfully entertaining poem with a devilish sense of humor.

The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins seems like the Evel Knievel of English metrics. While other poets were content with tandem bicycles, Hopkins was experimenting with nitrous oxide systems and rocket sleds.

Cold-Blooded Creatures
by Elinor Morton Wylie

Man, the egregious egoist
(In mystery the twig is bent)
Imagines, by some mental twist,
That he alone is sentient

Of the intolerable load
That on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of his eyes.

He asks no questions of the snake,
Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a nightmare doom.

This is another scary poem by the wily Wylie. If the bent twig refers to the garden of Eden myth, as I suspect, Wylie may be making the point that since cold-blooded creatures understand evil (death), man was taken to the cleaners by his "god" or his religion, or both, since he got nothing of value from the "forbidden fruit."

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

This is one of the best (and cleverest) villanelles in the English poetic tradition. Elizabeth Bishop and Louise Bogan are the two best contemporary female poets to write in English, in my opinion.

Anthem For Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen is one of my favorite poets; no one has ever exceeded or even rivaled him as an anti-war poet. If the human race ever has the good sense to abandon war, Owen will have been one of the first causes.

To Brooklyn Bridge
by Hart Crane

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day ...

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn ...
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon ... Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,—

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year ...

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

Hart Crane has long been one of my favorite poets. Few poets can rival his strongest poems. He and Wallace Stevens wrote some of the most fluid rhythms to be found in modern English poetry.

The Most of It
by Robert Frost

He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree–hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder–broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter–love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff's talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

I imagine this poem to be about a poet seeking "original response" rather than "copy speech," only to be confronted by a force of nature beyond speech and understanding. And yet Frost managed to turn the experience into a damn good poem!

Time in Eternity
by T. Merrill

When you were as an angel in my arms,
Had laid your bare head just below my chin,
Your length pressed up to mine, entrusting charms
My whole youth's starward longing could not win;
With still the murmur of your love in me,
Miracle-tones of all my lifelong hope,
I wished that there might start eternity
And seal forever that sweet envelope;
And as it did, my thoughts are now for you
As every star is blotted by the sun,
And so the sun itself
Has perished too,
And with it, every dream of mine
But one.

This is a wonderfully tender poem about love and loss.

After the Persian
by Louise Bogan


I do not wish to know
The depths of your terrible jungle:
From what nest your leopard leaps
Or what sterile lianas are at once your serpents' disguise
     and home.

I am the dweller on the temperate threshold,
The strip of corn and vine,
Where all is translucence (the light!)
Liquidity, and the sound of water.
Here the days pass under shade
And the nights have the waxing and the waning moon.
Here the moths take flight at evening;
Here at morning the dove whistles and the pigeons coo.
Here, as night comes on, the fireflies wink and snap
Close to the cool ground,
Shining in a profusion
Celestial or marine.

Here it is never wholly dark but always wholly green,
And the day stains with what seems to be more than the
What may be more than my flesh.


I have wept with the spring storm;
Burned with the brutal summer.
Now, hearing the wind and the twanging bow-strings,
I know what winter brings.

The hunt sweeps out upon the plain
And the garden darkens.
They will bring the trophies home
To bleed and perish
Beside the trellis and the lattices,
Beside the fountain, still flinging diamond water,
Beside the pool
(Which is eight-sided, like my heart).


All has been translated into treasure:
Weightless as amber,
Translucent as the currant on the branch,
Dark as the rose's thorn.

Where is the shimmer of evil?
This is the shell's iridescence
And the wild bird's wing.


Ignorant, I took up my burden in the wilderness.
Wise with great wisdom, I shall lay it down upon flowers.


Goodbye, goodbye!
There was so much to love, I could not love it all;
I could not love it enough.

Some things I overlooked, and some I could not find.
Let the crystal clasp them
When you drink your wine, in autumn.

This has been one of my favorite poems since the day I first read it. It appears in a collection of poems by Louise Bogan entitled Blue Estuaries.

N. W.
by Robert Mezey

On a certain street there is a certain door,
Unyielding, around which rockroses rise,
Charged with the scent of a lost paradise,
Which in the evening sunlight opens no more,
Or not to me.  Once, in a better light,
Dearly awaited arms would wait for me
And in the impatient fading of the day
The joy and peace of the embracing night.
No more of that.  Now, a day breaks and dies,
Releasing empty hours and impure
Fantasies, and the abuse of literature,
The lawless images and artful lies,
And pointless tears, and the envy of other men.
And then the longing for oblivion.
                                                  after Borges

This is a wonderful poem about loss, by a contemporary poet.

Evening Wind
by Robert Mezey

One foot on the floor, one knee in bed,
Bent forward on both hands as if to leap
Into a heaven of silken cloud, or keep
An old appointment—tryst, one almost said—
Some promise, some entanglement that led
In broad daylight to privacy and sleep,
To dreams of love, the rapture of the deep,
Oh, everything, that must be left unsaid—

Why then does she suddenly look aside
At a white window full of empty space
And curtains swaying inward? Does she sense
In darkening air the vast indifference
That enters in and will not be denied
To breathe unseen upon her nakedness?
                                                             after an etching by Edward Hopper

Although I haven't seen the etching by Hopper, the poem is so wonderfully descriptive it paints a picture that stands by itself.

A Proof of Love
by Joe M. Ruggier

NOW WHEN I was fresh and easy, I would go
to Church ... devotion fill’d my soul with tears.
I guessed not all Gospels could so tiresome grow—
the same words repeated for twice a thousand years.
But middle-aged I have become aware
of all the paranoia, boredom, pain,
where with lame hands I grope ... of empty air
and dust, and chances lost, and littlest gain.
Yet here I am, my God, where I relax
in warmth of heaters, and Thy glowing smile,
where words, repeated, securer are than cheques,
the Love which then I felt, now lost awhile.
Thus We gave God, Whose Love does not change the story,
a proof of Love—seal of eternal glory!

This is a devotional poem with a warm, tender spirit and a nice touch of irony.

Other Contemporary Poems of Note

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot
The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
Munich, Winter 1973 by James Baldwin
Aubade by Philip Larkin
This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin
The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin
Churchgoing by Philip Larkin
Morning Song of Senlin by Conrad Aiken
The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop
The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop
Voyages by Hart Crane
Directive by Robert Frost
The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
Naming of Parts by Henry Reed
The Broken Tower by Hart Crane
At Melville's Tomb by Hart Crane
Cirque d'Hiver by Elizabeth Bishop
Resume by Dorothy Parker
Requiem by Robert L. Stevenson
The Unreturning by Wilfred Owen
On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday by Walter Savage Landor
First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Punishment by Seamus Heaney
The Forge by Seamus Heaney
Digging by Seamus Heaney
Shine, Perishing Republic by Robinson Jeffers
Hurt Hawks by Robinson Jeffers
Chicago by Carl Sandburg
Grass by Carl Sandburg
Adlestrop by Edward Thomas
A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine
The Lost Pilot by James Tate
The Blue Booby by James Tate
The Roundhouse Voices by Dave Smith
At the Cancer Clinic by Ted Kooser

Reading List

For purposes of this list, I will arbitrarily start with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, with the names of the major poets (in my subjective opinion) being bolded ...

Contemporary poets to consider reading include Conrad Aiken, Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, Matthew Arnold, John Ashbery, Margaret Atwood, W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, John Berryman, John Betjeman, Elizabeth Bishop, Michael Blumenthal, Robert Bly, Louise Bogan, Greg Brownderville, Charles Bukowski, Jack Butler, Jared Carter, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Wendy Cope, Stephen Crane, Hart Crane, Thomas Raine Crowe, Countee Cullen, e. e. cummings, Annie Diamond, Emily Dickinson, James Dickey, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Alfred Dorn, Anita Dorn, Rita Dove, Ernest Dowson, Ann Drysdale, Norman Dubie, Paul Laurence Dunbar, T. S. Eliot, Louise Erdrich, Rhina P. Espaillat, James Fenton, Jack Foley, Carolyn Forche, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Dana Gioia, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Robert Graves, R. S. Gwynn, Marilyn Hacker, Donald Hall, Thomas Hardy, Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, Seamus Heaney, Anthony Hecht, Roger Hecht, Geoffrey Hill, Jane Hirshfield, A. D. Hope, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Ted Hughes, Randall Jarrell, Robinson Jeffers, Donald Justice, X. J. Kennedy, Janet Kenny, Thomas Kinsella, Yusef Komunyakaa, Stanley Kunitz, Philip Larkin, D. H. Lawrence, Denise Levertov, C. Day Lewis, Robert Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Louis MacNeice, James Merrill, Tom Merrill, W. S. Merwin, Robert Mezey, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Richard Moore, Paul Muldoon, Ogden Nash, Howard Nemerov, Alfred Noyes, Naomi Shihab Nye, Frank O'Hara, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Michael Ondaatje, Wilfred Owen, Gregory Pardlo, Dorothy Parker, Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Mary Rae, Craig Raine, John Crowe Ransom, Henry Reed, Adrienne Rich, Alberto Rios, Kevin N. Roberts, Edward Arlington Robinson, Theodore Roethke, Isaac Rosenberg, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Joe M. Ruggier, Carl Sandburg, Siegfried Sassoon, Anne Sexton, Leslie Marmon Silko, Shel Silverstein, Charles Simic, Dave Smith, Stevie Smith, W. D. Snodgrass, Gary Soto, William Stafford, Harvey Stanbrough, A. E. Stallings, Wallace Stevens, David St. John, Cathy Song, Mark Strand, Wislawa Szymborska, Allen Tate, James Tate, Sara Teasdale, Dylan Thomas, Edward Thomas, Natasha Trethewey, David Waggoner, Derek Walcott, Robert Penn Warren, Walt Whitman, Richard Wilbur, Miller Williams, William Carlos Williams, James Wright, Elinor Wylie and William Butler Yeats.

And I believe we should also include poetic singer-songwriters like Adele, Joan Baez, Bono, David Bowie, Jackson Browne, Mariah Carey, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Enya, Dan Fogelberg, Lady Gaga, Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, Cyndi Lauper, John Lennon, Gordon Lightfoot, Madonna, Brian May, Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Pink, Prince, John Prine, Little Richard, Keith Richards, Sade, Smokey Robinson, Pete Seeger, Tupac Shakur, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens, Taylor Swift, Bernie Taupin, Roger Waters, Hank Williams Sr., Ann and Nancy Wilson, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Frank Zappa.

American Poet Laureates

American Consultants in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the holder of this position became known as the American Poet Laureate in 1986)

1937–1941: Joseph Auslander
1943–1944: Allen Tate
1944–1945: Robert Penn Warren
1945–1946: Louise Bogan
1946–1947: Karl Shapiro
1947–1948: Robert Lowell
1948–1949: Léonie Adams
1949–1950: Elizabeth Bishop
1950–1952: Conrad Aiken
1952–1952: William Carlos Williams
1956–1958: Randall Jarrell
1958–1959: Robert Frost
1959–1961: Richard Eberhart
1961–1963: Louis Untermeyer
1963–1964: Howard Nemerov
1964–1965: Reed Whittemore
1965–1966: Stephen Spender
1966–1968: James Dickey
1968–1970: William Jay Smith
1970–1971: William Stafford
1971–1973: Josephine Jacobsen
1973–1974: Daniel Hoffman
1974–1976: Stanley Kunitz
1976–1978: Robert Hayden
1978–1980: William Meredith
1981–1982: Maxine Kumin
1982–1984: Anthony Hecht
1984–1985: Reed Whittemore (interim)
1984–1985: Robert Fitzgerald
1985–1986: Gwendolyn Brooks

Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry
1986–1987: Robert Penn Warren
1987–1988: Richard Wilbur
1988–1990: Howard Nemerov
1990–1991: Mark Strand
1991–1992: Joseph Brodsky
1992–1993: Mona Van Duyn
1993–1995: Rita Dove
1995–1997: Robert Hass
1997–2000: Robert Pinsky
2000–2001: Stanley Kunitz
2001–2003: Billy Collins
2003–2004: Louise Glück
2004–2006: Ted Kooser
2006–2007: Donald Hall
2007–2008: Charles Simic
2008–2010: Kay Ryan
2010–2011: W. S. Merwin
2011–2012: Philip Levine
2012–2014: Natasha Trethewey
2014–2015: Charles Wright
2015–2017: Juan Felipe Herrera
2017–present: Tracy K. Smith

Special Consultants in Poetry
1999–2000 (for Library of Congress' 200th Anniversary) Rita Dove, Louise Glück, and W. S. Merwin

The HyperTexts