The HyperTexts

The Best Romantic Poetry, or, "Who put the 'ah!' in 'stars'?"


compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch

Related pages: Romanticism Then and Now, Romanticism Defined, The Best Romantic Poetry, The Best Romantic Poets, The Best Romantic Imagery, American Sapphos

The following are, in my opinion, the best Romantic poems of all time. On this page I will attempt to trace the brilliant-but-elusive thread of Romanticism from the first Romantic poet (a hairy troglodyte in search of a mate) up to the great early Romantics: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. But the first great lyric poet of antiquity, and the first great Romantic poet we know by name, was undoubtedly Sappho ...



Gleyre Le Coucher de Sappho by Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre

Sappho of Lesbos is perhaps the first great female poet still known to us today, and she remains one of the very best poets of all time, regardless of gender. She is so revered for her erotic love poetry that we get our terms "sapphic" and "lesbian" from her name and island of residence. And as you can see from the two utterly stellar epigrams below, she remains a timeless treasure:

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Eros harrows my heart:
fierce gales sweeping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.

Sappho, fragment 155
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A short transparent frock?
It's just my luck
your lips were made to mock!



Oscar Wilde may be the most notorious "bad boy" in the annals of poetry and literature. He was flamboyantly gay at a time when polite society was prim, proper and violently homophobic. As a result, he was sentenced to hard labor at Reading Gaol and died soon after his release. Wilde is justly famous today for his disdain for "respectability" and dull and dulling conformity, as his witty epigrams prove. But the lovely, wonderfully moving poem below proves that he was also a great Romantic poet.

"Requiescat" by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life's buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/33/Conrad_Aiken.jpg

"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.

"Music When Soft Voices Die (To —)" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.





William Butler Yeats was the most famous Irish poet of all time, and his unrequited love for the beautiful and dangerous revolutionary Maud Gonne helped make her almost as famous as he was in Ireland. The moving poem below is Yeats' loose translation of a Ronsard poem, in which Yeats imagines the love of his life in her later years tending a fire. The second poem below, "The Wild Swans at Coole" is surely one of the most beautiful poems ever written, in any language.

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.

The Wild Swans at Coole
by William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/wysiwyg/image/barretts-of-wimpole-street-norma-shearer.jpg

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an early advocate of women's rights, and a staunch opponent of slavery. When she married Robert Browning, theirs became the most famous coupling in the annals of English poetry.

How Do I Love Thee?
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

http://www.dylanthomasboathouse.com/images/dylan/youngdylan.jpg

Dylan Thomas's elegy to his dying father is the best villanelle in the English language, in my opinion, and one of the most powerful and haunting poems ever written in any 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.


http://www.veerybooks.com/imgs/000190.jpg

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.

I will now continue on to the present day. There are over one billion speakers of English today and most, if not all, seem to be poets. So I've had to narrow my scope to the very best poems by the very best poets. For instance, take this darkly romantic poem by an American master:

"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.

Mary Elizabeth Frye is, perhaps, the most mysterious poet who appears on this page, and perhaps in the annals of poetry. Rather than spoiling the mystery, I will present her poem first, then provide the details ...

Do not stand at my grave and weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.

This consoling elegy had a very mysterious genesis, as it was written by Mary Elizabeth Frye, a Baltimore housewife who lacked a formal education, having been orphaned at age three. She had never written poetry before. Frye wrote the poem on a ripped-off piece of a brown grocery bag, in a burst of compassion for a Jewish girl who had fled the Holocaust only to receive news that her mother had died in Germany. The girl was weeping inconsolably because she couldn't visit her mother's grave to share her tears of love and bereavement. When the poem was named Britain's most popular poem in a 1996 Bookworm poll, with more than 30,000 call-in votes despite not having been one of the critics' nominations, an unlettered orphan girl had seemingly surpassed all England's many cultured and degreed ivory towerists in the public's estimation. Although the poem's origin was disputed for some time (it had been attributed to Native American and other sources), Frye's authorship was confirmed in 1998 after investigative research by Abigail Van Buren, the newspaper columnist better known as "Dear Abby." The poem has also been called "I Am" due to its rather biblical repetitions of the phrase. Frye never formally published or copyrighted the poem, so we believe it is in the public domain and can be shared, although we recommend that it not be used for commercial purposes, since Frye never tried to profit from it herself.

While you may quibble with my definition of "Romantic," I don't think you'll quibble with the poems themselves. If you don't care for essays, please proceed directly to the poems. If you're interested in hearing a brief, somewhat tongue-in-cheek history of Romanticism first, here goes . . .

Romanticism Then and Now

"Define your terms!"

So Sophocles, the wisest man in ancient Greece, persistently insisted, and so I immediately find myself at a sticky point in this essay, because "Romanticism" and "Romantic" are among the most nebulous of terms. Rather than using various excellent (but not necessarily helpful) definitions, I will instead warp back in time to the very first poet and tap into that first bright vein of Romanticism which soon became the motherlode of all poetry . . .

We find our first cave-poet in a pickle of a predicament, because he's a pounded-upon, beaten-down, intensely hairy, foul-smelling troglodyte almost totally bereft of language. What's worse, he's trying to attract a mate, and all the other male troglodytes are far hairier and fouler-smelling than he! They have every alpha-male advantage! What is our despised, wordless, nameless poet to do? The object of his affection, known to him longingly as Grunt, studiously ignores him because her other suitors supply her with great hunks of raw mastodon haunch, while he has only a few albino termites to proffer. His cause seems hopeless . . .

Until, one night, staring up miserably at the stars that seem to wink knowingly overhead, mocking his plight, he has a sudden revelation. The stars glitter like crystals he has seen littering certain tracts of stony ground nearby. Risking life and stubby limb, he dashes past a few catnapping sabertooths to scoop up as much of the glittery quartz as he can manage to carry and not be eaten alive. Hands full of iridescent symbols of his adoring longing, he rushes back to the communal cave, finds Grunt, and proceeds to dump out his treasure at her fulsomely hairy feet.

Tentatively, she picks up a crystal and licks it. Nope, it's not salt, although if it had been salt it would have been an impressive gift. She grunts, fidgets, frowns, quickly loses interest, then starts looking for something more edible, settling on a juicy anteater carcass recently brought to her by a suitor she thinks of admiringly as Belch.

Our ignominious poet, so nondescript Grunt hasn't even bothered to assign him a sound-name, is now totally despondent. If he can't communicate his idea to her, his cause is lost. There'll be no tiny male troglodyte to replicate his genes (which means no poetry for us, today). Forlornly, he moons up at the stars, then, overtaken by wonder and awe, begins suddenly to mouth new, strange, never-before-heard sounds: ah, ah!, stars! Excitedly, he points up at the night's brilliant panorama of stars, then to the crystals shining at Grunt's beaver-pelt-feet. Stars! Stars!

She looks blankly at him for a moment, then suddenly she gets it. Shrimp bring Grunt stars? In humankind's first moment of tenderness not attributable to the procurement of foodstuffs, she has bequeathed upon him her sound-name for the most scrumptious of all the delicacies she knows.

More importantly, Shrimp and Grunt have made the great simultaneous leap to sounds, words, metaphor, artistic imagination, and the communication and transference of emotion. This delightful mélange, I call Romanticism, especially when the emotion conveyed is somehow exaggerated in the process. Romanticism is, by my definition, primarily amplification of emotion. Now that statement will probably make many intellectuals wince. Aren't we talking about, shudder, overstatement? Yes, we are. As we proceed, I will illustrate that the best poets do indeed engage in extravagance, in hyperbole, in overstatement.

It is my contention that the best poets do pretty much what Shrimp did so many millennia ago: they impress the people they want to impress—then potential mates, now primarily readers—by amplifying emotion. We moderns have become so accustomed to words that we sometimes forget the "ah!" in "stars," the tinkle in "laughter," the hiss of danger in "sinister." But the best poets don't forget these things, nor do they take them for granted. Instead, the best poets use every weapon in the poetic arsenal of incendiary devices to conjure emotion. Poems are crafted of words just as buildings are crafted of stone. It is a Romantic impulse that causes a Christopher Wren to imagine St. Paul's Cathedral rather than a stone hovel; it is a similar Romantic impulse that causes our friend Shrimp to imagine he can give Grunt the "ah!" in "stars."

But now let me move beyond my clumsy attempts to apply a stethoscope to the Romantic (im)pulse, and get on to the really good (nay, the wondrous) stuff, the poems . . .

"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.

"Piano" 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.

"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.

"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.

"The Light of Other Days" by Tom Moore

Oft, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me:
    The smiles, the tears
    Of boyhood's years,
  The words of love then spoken;
    The eyes that shone,
    Now dimm'd and gone,
  The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

When I remember all
  The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
  Like leaves in wintry weather,
    I feel like one
    Who treads alone
  Some banquet-hall deserted,
    Whose lights are fled,
    Whose garlands dead,
  And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me.
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

"The Unreturning" by Wilfred Owen

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled,
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men's sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering Wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

"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
spring

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
it's
spring
and

      the
                goat-footed

 baloonMan      whistles
far
and
wee

"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.

"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.

"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.

"Cradle Song" by William Blake

Sleep, sleep, beauty bright,
Dreaming in the joys of night;
Sleep, sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit and weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles,
Little pretty infant wiles.

As thy softest limbs I feel
Smiles as of the morning steal
O'er thy cheek, and o'er thy breast
Where thy little heart doth rest.

O the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep!
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful night shall break.

"Song
" by John Donne

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devils foot;
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights
Till Age snow white hairs on thee;
Thou, when thou return'st wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear
No where
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find'st one let me know;
Such a pilgrimage were sweet.
Yet do not; I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet.
Though she were true when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two or three.

"Lullaby" 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.

"A Noiseless Patient Spider"
by Walt Whitman


A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

"Full Fathom Five"
by William Shakespeare

Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
        Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — ding-dong, bell.

"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: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

"Song"
by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
  Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
  Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
  With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
  And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
  I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
  Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
  That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
  And haply may forget.

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.  Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

"In A Station Of The Metro" by Ezra Pound

The apparition  of these faces  in the crowd:
Petals  on a wet, black  bough .

"So We'll Go No More A-Roving"
by George Gordon, Lord Byron

So we'll go no more a-roving
    So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
    And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
    And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
    And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
    And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
    By the light of the moon.

"My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold" by William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
   A rainbow in the sky:         
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety. 

"The Sick Rose"
by William Blake

O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

"Upon Julia's Clothes"
by Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free,
Oh, how that glittering taketh me!

"A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
Oh my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

"Sonnet 147" by William Shakespeare

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest.
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed,
       For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
       Who art as black as Hell, as dark as night.

"When I have fears that I may cease to be" by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

"The Fountain Of Blood" by Charles Baudelaire (translated by Rachel Hadas)

A fountain's pulsing sobs—like this my blood
Measures its flowing, so it sometimes seems.
I hear a gentle murmur as it streams;
Where the wound lies I've never understood.

Like water meadows, boulevards are flooded.
Cobblestones, crisscrossed by scarlet rills,
Are islands; creatures come and drink their fill.
Nothing in nature now remains unblooded.

I used to hope that wine could bring me ease,
Could lull asleep my deeply gnawing mind.
I was a fool: the senses clear with wine.

I looked to Love to cure my old disease.
Love led me to a thicket of IVs
Where bristling needles thirsted for each vein.

"Hope Is A Thing With Feathers" by Emily Dickinson

Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings a tune without words
And never stops at all.

And sweetest, in the gale, is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That keeps so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity
It ask a crumb of me.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"To Celia" by Ben Jonson

Drink to me, only, with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
Doth ask a drink divine:
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

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

"When I Was One-and-Twenty" by A. E. Housman

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
"The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue."
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

"
To Daffodils" by Robert Herrick

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
    You haste away so soon.
As yet the early-rising sun
    Hath not attained his noon.
        Stay, stay,
    Until the hasting day
        Has run
    But to the even-song;
And, having prayed together, we
    Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you;
    We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
    As you, or any thing.
        We die.
    As your hours do, and dry
        Away
    Like to the summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew
    Ne'er to be found again.

"Go, Lovely Rose"
by Edmund Waller


Go, lovely Rose,—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
     That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

     Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
     That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

     Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retir'd:
     Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desir'd,
And not blush so to be admir'd.

     Then die, that she
The common fate of all things rare
     May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share,
That are so wondrous sweet and fair.

"Afton Water" by Robert Burns

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,
I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.
How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark'd with the courses of clear winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye.
How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev'ning sweeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.
Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides,
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As gathering sweet flowrets she stems thy clear wave.
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

"High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.  Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

"To Helen" by Edgar Allan Poe

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!

"
Rondel" 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.

"Safe Harbor" by Michael R. Burch

for Kevin N. Roberts

The sea at night seems
an alembic of dreams
the moans of the gulls,
the foghorns’ bawlings.

A century late
to be melancholy,
I watch the last shrimp boat as it steams
to safe harbor again.

In the twilight she gleams
with a festive light,
done with her trawlings,
ready to sleep . . .

Deep, deep, in delight
glide the creatures of night,
elusive and bright
as the poet’s dreams.

The poem above was written in 2001 after a discussion about Romanticism in the late 20th century.

"Season" by Mary Rae

I
Youth and love unite beneath the power
of velvet skin and dark, half-sleeping eyes.
Spring seems to last forever to the flower
that feels the rush of chlorophyll's green rise.
Time is not—cannot be of the essence
when second hands are slow, standing still,
while all around the sun is streaming gold.
The thought of end, of beauty's obsolescence,
seems unreasonable and cannot hold
as long as love is dressed in daffodil.

II
Youth never sees itself or has a reason
to know that it has no infinity.
It turns, like spring, a sweet, unknowing season,
never doubting its divinity.
But as in fall trees look down on their leaves
that once had been too much a part to see,
powerless to reconstitute the whole;
so age sees fallen beauties and it grieves
the unclothing of the lonely soul
that, now in rags, goes begging tree to tree.

More Romantic Poems

"Tom O' Bedlam's Song" (Anonymous Ballad, circa 1620)
"The Bustle In A House" by Emily Dickinson
"The Dark-Eyed Gentleman" by Thomas Hardy
"Directive" by Robert Frost
"Ulysses" by Lord Alfred Tennyson
"Mariana" by Lord Alfred Tennyson
"One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop
"Cirque d'Hiver" by Elizabeth Bishop
"The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop
"The Armadillo" by Elizabeth Bishop
"the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls" by e. e. cummings
"Methought I Saw" by John Milton
"The Send-Off" by Wilfred Owen
"Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen
"Anthem For Doomed Youth" by Wilfred Owen
"Roman Fountain" by Louise Bogan
"On the Eve of His Execution" by Chidiock Tichborne
"No Second Troy" by William Butler Yeats
"The Balloon Of The Mind" by William Butler Yeats
"Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed
"When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer" by Walt Whitman
"The Listeners" by Walter De La Mare
"Exile" by Hart Crane
"Dying Speech Of An Old Philosopher" by Walter Savage Landor
"An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" by William Butler Yeats
"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost
"In My Craft Or Sullen Art" by Dylan Thomas 
"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold
"The Broken Tower" by Hart Crane
"Forgetfulness" by Hart Crane
"Interior" by Hart Crane
"Cargoes" by John Masefield
"Aplolgia Pro Vita Sua" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"The Garden Of Love" by William Blake
"Jerusalem" by William Blake
"London" by William Blake
"The Tyger" by William Blake
"It Is A Beauteous Evening, Calm And Free" by William Wordsworth
"The World Is Too Much With Us" by William Wordsworth
"Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"
by William Wordsworth
"The Fitful Alternations Of The Rain" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
"I, Being Born a Woman, and Distressed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"What Lips My Lips Have Kissed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Beginning My Studies" by Walt Whitman
"On My First Son" by Ben Jonson
"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden
"Cold-Blooded Creatures" by Elinor Morton Wylie
"The Mill" by Edward Arlington Robinson
"Credo" by Edward Arlington Robinson
"Here Dead Lie We Because We Did Not Choose" by A. E. Housman
"To Brooklyn Bridge" by Hart Crane
"A Slumber Did My Spirit Steal" by William Wordsworth
"To the Moon" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
"I Knew A Woman" by Theodore Roethke


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