Evolving Thoughts

A poem to remember – meme

Shelley at Restrospectacle gives a poem she learned in school, an excellent piece by A. E. Housman, So I got to thinking – what poem sticks with me? Is it the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by Eliot, who I think is a wonderful poet? Shakespeare? Kit Marlowe? I mulled and mulled for, oh, five seconds before I recall the first poem that ever really gripped me, by another Marlowe.:

To his Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day;

Thou by the Indian Ganges‘ side

Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the Flood;

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow.

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long preserv’d virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust.

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may;

And now, like am’rous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour,

Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.

Let us roll all our strength, and all

Our sweetness, up into one ball;

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Thorough the iron gates of life.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

I adored the Metaphysical poets in school, thanks to an excellent literature teacher, but this one, with its fine cynicism and skeptical outlook, just washes me with a frisson of verbal thrill.

So, how about it folks? What’s the poem that you will always love or remember?


  1. #1 Catherine
    January 17, 2008

    I don’t know who wrote this poem or when but I will always remember it fondly:

    Take a check-up
    From the neck up
    To eliminate the stinkin’ thinkin’
    And prevent hardening of the attitude.

    Short and sweet. I was a junior in high school (I’m now 37) and was very unhappy. This little poem was on the wall in my “Creative Writing” class and has been with me ever since.

  2. #2 Judith in Ottawa
    January 17, 2008

    The first and only poem I memorized was “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. I can still produce it as a party piece when needed (I run with a rough crowd.) But in some sort of cruel karmic cooincidence I now slave my days away entering data into a progamme called MultiMIMSY.

  3. #3 Dennis Hamon
    January 17, 2008

    The House by the Side of the Road by Sam Walter Foss


    It was my dad’s favorite, about the only poem he ever mentioned much.

    Last stanza:

    Let me live in my house by the side of the road
    Where the race of men go by;
    They are good, they are bad, they are weak,
    They are strong,
    Wise, foolish – so am I.
    Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
    Or hurl the cynic’s ban? –
    Let me live in my house by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.

  4. #4 etbnc
    January 17, 2008

    There’s a snippet from Eliot (“We shall not cease from exploration…”) that inspired me half a lifetime ago, and it still does. As for whole poems, however, E E Cummings (apparently it’s capitalized now) “anyone lived in a pretty how town” and “i sing of Olaf glad and big” stick with me years after I first read them in a lit class. Olaf strikes me as sadly relevant these days.

  5. #5 Anon
    January 17, 2008

    Poems that stick with me… there are too many, so I will choose just two. As I mentioned in another Sb, Frost’s “The road not taken” was recited, by memory, by a prof as the perfect illustration of selection by consequences. I liked the poem before that, but that recitation opened up a new understanding, simultaneously, of the poem and of evolution. It was a powerful moment. I know the poem is one that has been over-presented to the point where it risks becoming a cliche, but there is reason for that: it is that good. I now use it as the same illustration in my classes.

    The other is a vastly different poem. Non-rhyming, highly personal, and utterly beautiful. It is “Things I didn’t know I loved”, by the Turkish poet Nâz?m Hikmet. It is much too long to reproduce here, but it is well worth reading. I’ll dig up a link.
    This poem also has a personal back story with me–I found it, and showed it to a dear friend, only to find out that she had once been presented with a first edition of Hikmet’s poetry, signed by the author, in appreciation for her work with Amnesty International. This poem was also her favorite.

  6. #6 Starhawk Laughingsun
    January 17, 2008

    anyone lived in a pretty how town by E. E. Cummings

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain

  7. #7 gyokusai
    January 17, 2008

    Rainer Maria Rilke, XII. Sonnet from Die Sonette an Orpheus II

    I was about 14 or 15 when that one gripped me, and maybe also the first I learned by heart. And it still sticks, goosebumps and all:

    Wolle die Wandlung. O sei für die Flamme begeistert,
    drin sich ein Ding dir entzieht, das mit Verwandlungen prunkt;
    jener entwerfende Geist, welcher das Irdische meistert,
    liebt in dem Schwung der Figur nichts wie den wendenden Punkt.

    Was sich ins Bleiben verschließt, schon ists das Erstarrte;
    wähnt es sich sicher im Schutz des unscheinbaren Grau’s?
    Warte, ein Härtestes warnt aus der Ferne das Harte.
    Wehe –: abwesender Hammer holt aus!

    Wer sich als Quelle ergießt, den erkennt die Erkennung;
    und sie führt ihn entzückt durch das heiter Geschaffne,
    das mit Anfang oft schließt und mit Ende beginnt.

    Jeder glückliche Raum ist Kind oder Enkel von Trennung,
    den sie staunend durchgehn. Und die verwandelte Daphne
    will, seit sie lorbeern fühlt, daß du dich wandelst in Wind.

  8. #8 gyokusai
    January 17, 2008

    Now this sucks: the preview gets the umlaute right, but the post doesn’t. Hasn’t there been something like “UTF-8” out there for ages? Here’s the “purified” version:

    Rainer Maria Rilke, XII. Sonnet from Die Sonette an Orpheus II

    I was about 14 or 15 when that one gripped me, and maybe also the first I learned by heart. And it still sticks, goosebumps and all:

    Wolle die Wandlung. O sei fuer die Flamme begeistert,
    drin sich ein Ding dir entzieht, das mit Verwandlungen prunkt;
    jener entwerfende Geist, welcher das Irdische meistert,
    liebt in dem Schwung der Figur nichts wie den wendenden Punkt.

    Was sich ins Bleiben verschliesst, schon ists das Erstarrte;
    waehnt es sich sicher im Schutz des unscheinbaren Grau’s?
    Warte, ein Haertestes warnt aus der Ferne das Harte.
    Wehe –: abwesender Hammer holt aus!

    Wer sich als Quelle ergiesst, den erkennt die Erkennung;
    und sie fuehrt ihn entzueckt durch das heiter Geschaffne,
    das mit Anfang oft schliesst und mit Ende beginnt.

    Jeder glueckliche Raum ist Kind oder Enkel von Trennung,
    den sie staunend durchgehn. Und die verwandelte Daphne
    will, seit sie lorbeern fuehlt, dass du dich wandelst in Wind.

  9. #9 Chris' Wills
    January 17, 2008

    Well it has to be Rudyard Kipling.

    I had to learn some of his poems by heart for recitation exercises.

    I then, a lot later, started reading him again. I never could fathom why people considered him racist; an imperialist yes (nothing wrong with that) but never, I think, racist. Amazing writer and poet.

    It was because of him, in part, that I wanted to see the world and live in foreign climes.

    Ode, Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance, 1934
    is good but my best beloved are Mandalay (the dawn does come up like thunder outer China).

    Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
    Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
    For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
    By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
    On the road to Mandalay,
    Where the old Flotilla lay,
    With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
    O the road to Mandalay,
    Where the flyin’-fishes play,
    An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay !

    Followed by Gunga Din, the first of his poems I learnt by heart.

    ….Where I used to spend my time
    A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
    Of all them blackfaced crew
    The finest man I knew
    Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din…..

    The Ballad of East and West is the most oft misquoted of his poems. Well worth reading and easy to learn.

    0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!…….

    Mesopotamia is the most obviously relevant today, perhaps we should have learnt some history.

    THEY shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
    But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

    They shall not return to us; the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
    But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
    Are they too strong and wise to put away?

    Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide
    Never while the bars of sunset hold.
    But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

    Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
    When the storm is ended shall we find
    How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

    Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
    Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends,
    To conform and re-establish each career?

    Their lives cannot repay us their death could not undo
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
    But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

    Then of course, there is If.

    All can be found at http://www.kipling.org.uk/kip_fra.htm and even more at http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/kipling_ind.html

  10. #10 Michael
    January 17, 2008

    My favorite is from my Medieval British Literature Course as an undergrad by Robert Herrick

    Corinna’s Going A-Maying

    Get up, get up for shame, the blooming Morn
    Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
    See how Aurora throws her fair
    Fresh-quilted colours through the air;
    Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
    The dew bespangling herb and tree.
    Each flower has wept, and bow’d toward the east,
    Above an hour since; yet you not drest,
    Nay! not so much as out of bed?
    When all the birds have matins said,
    And sung their thankful hymns, ’tis sin,
    Nay, profanation, to keep in,
    Whenas a thousand virgins on this day
    Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

    Rise; and put on your foliage, and be seen
    To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green;
    And sweet as Flora. Take no care
    For jewels for your gown, or hair;
    Fear not, the leaves will strew
    Gems in abundance upon you;
    Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
    Against you come, some orient pearls unwept;
    Come and receive them while the light
    Hangs on the dew-locks of the night;
    And Titan on the eastern hill
    Retires himself, or else stands still
    Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying;
    Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

    Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
    How each field turns a street, each street a park
    Made green and trimm’d with trees; see how
    Devotion gives each house a bough
    Or branch; each porch, each door ere this
    An ark, a tabernacle is,
    Made up of white-thorn, neatly interwove;
    As if here were those cooler shades of love.
    Can such delights be in the street
    And open fields and we not see’t?
    Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obey
    The proclamation made for May,
    And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
    But my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

    There’s not a budding boy, or girl, this day,
    But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
    A deal of youth, ere this, is come
    Back, and with white-thorn laden, home.
    Some have despatch’d their cakes and cream,
    Before that we have left to dream;
    And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted troth,
    And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth;
    Many a green-gown has been given;
    Many a kiss, both odd and even;
    Many a glance too has been sent
    From out the eye, love’s firmament;
    Many a jest told of the keys betraying
    This night, and locks pick’d, yet we’re not a-Maying.

    Come, let us go, while we are in our prime;
    And take the harmless folly of the time.
    We shall grow old apace, and die
    Before we know our liberty.
    Our life is short, and our days run
    As fast away as does the sun;
    And as a vapour, or a drop of rain,
    Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
    So when or you or I are made
    A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
    All love, all liking, all delight
    Lies drown’d with us in endless night.
    Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
    Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

  11. #11 Shelley Batts
    January 17, 2008

    Hey, thanks for picking up this meme, John. I’m really enjoying seeing what poems people remember.

  12. #12 Thony C.
    January 17, 2008

    The Little Vagabond

    Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold,
    But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;
    Besides I can tell where I am used well
    Such usage in heaven will never do well.

    But if at the Church they would give us some Ale,
    And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
    We’d sing and we’d pray all the live-long day,
    Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray.

    Then the Parson might preach, & drink, & sing,
    And we’d be as happy as birds in the spring;
    And modest dame Lurch, who is always at Church,
    Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch.

    And God, like a father rejoicing to see
    His children as pleasant and happy as he,
    Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel,
    But kiss him and give him both drink and apparel.

    Blake naturally! My favourite painting is of course Blake’s Newton!

  13. #13 Gwenny
    January 17, 2008

    Ah . . where to start. So many poems in my head. But there is just one that so stuck with me at an early age and that I’ve returned to time and time again when dealing with depression over a lifetime . . so much so that then I finally get my book written (yeah, sure) I will title it from a line of the poem.


    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of Circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of Chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    William Ernest Henley

  14. #14 The Ridger
    January 17, 2008

    Oh, many many … How about Ogden Nash’s Old Men:

    People expect old men to die,
    They do not really mourn old men.
    Old men are different. People look
    At them with eyes that wonder when…
    People watch with unshocked eyes;
    But the old men know when an old man dies.

    Or Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay

    Nature’s first green is gold,
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her first 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.

    Or ESVM’s The Princess Recalls Her One Adventure

    Hard is my pillow
    Of down from the duck’s breast,
    Harsh the linen cover;
    I cannot rest.

    Fall down, my tears,
    Upon the fine hem,
    Upon the lonely letters
    Of my long name;
    Drown the sigh of them.

    We stood by the lake
    And we neither kissed nor spoke;
    We heard how the small waves
    Lurched and broke,
    And chuckled in the rock.

    We spoke and turned away.
    We never kissed at all.
    Fall down, my tears.
    I wish that you might fall
    On the road by the lake,
    Where the cob went lame,
    And I stood with my groom
    Till the carriage came.

  15. #15 John Pieret
    January 17, 2008

    Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas


    Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days,

    that time would take me

    Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

    In the moon that is always rising,

    Nor that riding to sleep

    I should hear him fly with the high fields

    And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

    Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

    Time held me green and dying

    Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

  16. #16 Gwenny
    January 17, 2008

    @The Rider

    I, too, like Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay. And it reminded me of another poem I love.

    To a Young Child

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By & by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you will weep & know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow’s springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    –Gerard Manley Hopkins

    This is a very satisfying poem to read out loud.

  17. #17 Bill Benzon
    January 17, 2008

    Colereidge’s “Kubla Khan.” I did a Master’s Thesis on it, published two articles on it, and am about to do a book chapter on it (plus another Coleridge poem, “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”). You can find one of the papers here:


  18. #18 John S. Wilkins
    January 17, 2008

    Oh Kubla Khan. Possibly the first opening stanza I ever read and memorised, because it was in a cool science fiction story I now cannot recall.

  19. #19 The Ridger
    January 17, 2008

    @Gwenny: I love Hopkins. Goldengrove Unleaving is one of my favorites; I also love The Windhover, No Worst There Is None, and Winter With the Gulf Stream.

  20. #20 Susan Silberstein
    January 17, 2008


    Even rocks crack, I’m telling you,
    and not on account of age.
    For years they lie on their backs
    in the heat and the cold,
    so many years,
    it almost creates the illusion of calm.
    They don’t move, so the cracks stay hidden.
    A kind of pride.
    Years pass over them as they wait.
    Whoever is going to shatter them
    hasn’t come yet.
    And so the moss flourishes, the seaweed
    whips around,
    the sea bursts forth and rolls back —
    and still they seem motionless.
    Till a little seal comes to rub up against the rocks,
    comes and goes.
    And suddenly the rock has an open wound.
    I told you, when rocks crack, it comes as a surprise.
    All the more so, people.

    -Dahlia Ravikovitch
    Translated from Hebrew by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch

  21. #21 jeff
    January 17, 2008

    Certainly Prufrock and Kubla Kahn, some of the romantics, Shakespeare, Yeats, Frost, maybe some of Pounds stuff. But for sheer impact and depth, Eliot’s The Wasteland is hard to beat. Just the immense gravity of the man…

  22. #22 John Monfries
    January 17, 2008

    How can you beat the mystery and magic of La Belle dame Sans Merci:

    O what can ail thee knight at arms
    Alone and palely loitering, etc

    Yes, His Coy Mistress is wonderful (and a wonderful seduction poem!) I always wonder whether men like that kind of poem better than women. Some of Cummings’ poems are modern equivalents.

    Auden – the More Loving One; and the poem read so beautifully by what’s-his-name in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”: “I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.”

    Beddoes – “If there were dreams to sell, Merry and sad to tell, And the cryer rang the bell, What would you buy?”

    Judith Wright – Bullocky.

    “Beside his heavy-shouldered team,
    thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
    he weathered all the striding years
    till they ran widdershins in his brain:

    Till the long solitary tracks
    etched deeper with each lurching load
    were populous before his eyes,
    and fiends and angels used his road.

    All the straining journey grew
    a mad apocalyptic dream,
    and he old Moses, and the slaves
    his suffering and stubborn team.

    Then in his evening camp beneath
    the half-light pillars of the trees
    he filled the steepled cone of night
    with shouted prayers and prophecies.

    While past the campfire’s crimson ring
    the star-struck darkness cupped him round,
    and centuries of cattlebells
    rang with their sweet uneasy sound.

    Grass is across the waggon-tracks,
    and plough strikes bone across the grass,
    and vineyards cover all the slopes
    where the dead teams were used to pass.

    O vine, grow close upon that bone
    and hold it with your rooted hand.
    The prophet Moses feeds the grape,
    and fruitful is the Promised Land.

    And of course Shakespeare;

    Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day
    Thou art more lovely yet more temperate, etc

    Has anyone a poem about science, though? I seem to recall Dawkins mentioning a poem about science by Auden in “River out of Eden” but can’t recall it at present.

    Thanks, John, for the thought.

  23. #23 bad Jim
    January 18, 2008

    Innumerable force of spirits armed
    That durst dislike His reign, and me preferring,
    His utmost power with adverse power opposed
    In dubious battle on the plains of heaven
    And shook His throne. What though the field be lost?
    All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
    And study of revenge, immortal hate,
    And courage never to submit or yield:
    And what is else not to be overcome?

    Milton (by way of Steinbeck). The devil always gets the best lines. Schiller noted:

    To please the pious as well as the worldly
    Paint a picture of lust – and the devil beside it!

  24. #24 Josh Hayes
    January 18, 2008

    Probably this says more about my generally defeatist and pessimistic outlook, but: W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  25. #25 Josh Hayes
    January 18, 2008

    Oops. And I forgot this one, which vies with the Yeats poem as my marker for the last decade or so: “i sing of olaf glad and big”, by e e cummings:

    i sing of Olaf glad and big
    whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
    a conscientious object-or

    his wellbelov�d colonel(trig
    westpointer most succinctly bred)
    took erring Olaf soon in hand;
    but–though an host of overjoyed
    noncoms(first knocking on the head
    him)do through icy waters roll
    that helplessness which others stroke
    with brushes recently employed
    anent this muddy toiletbowl,
    while kindred intellects evoke
    allegiance per blunt instruments–
    Olaf(being to all intents
    a corpse and wanting any rag
    upon what God unto him gave)
    responds,without getting annoyed
    “I will not kiss your fucking flag”

    straightway the silver bird looked grave
    (departing hurriedly to shave)

    but–though all kinds of officers
    (a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
    their passive prey did kick and curse
    until for wear their clarion
    voices and boots were much the worse,
    and egged the firstclassprivates on
    his rectum wickedly to tease
    by means of skilfully applied
    bayonets roasted hot with heat–
    Olaf(upon what were once knees)
    does almost ceaselessly repeat
    “there is some shit I will not eat”

    our president,being of which
    assertions duly notified
    threw the yellowsonofabitch
    into a dungeon,where he died

    Christ(of His mercy infinite)
    i pray to see;and Olaf,too

    preponderatingly because
    unless statistics lie he was
    more brave than me:more blond than you

  26. #26 jeff
    January 18, 2008

    …oh, and I should also mention that Monty Python wrote some memorable poetry (not sure exactly who, probably Idle):


    Much to his Mum and Dad’s dismay
    Horace ate himself one day.
    He didn’t stop to say his grace,
    He just sat down and ate his face.
    “We can’t have this his Dad declared,
    “If that lad’s ate, he should be shared.”
    But even as he spoke they saw
    Horace eating more and more:
    First his legs and then his thighs,
    His arms, his nose, his hair, his eyes…
    “Stop him someone!” Mother cried
    “Those eyeballs would be better fried!”
    But all too late, for they were gone,
    And he had started on his dong…
    “Oh! foolish child!” the father mourns
    “You could have deep-fried that with prawns,
    Some parsley and some tartar sauce…”
    But H. was on his second course:
    His liver and his lights and lung,
    His ears, his neck, his chin, his tongue;
    “To think I raised him from the cot
    And now he’s going to scoff the lot!”
    His Mother cried: “What shall we do?
    What’s left won’t even make a stew…”
    And as she wept, her son was seen
    To eat his head, his heart, his spleen.
    And there he lay: a boy no more,
    Just a stomach, on the floor…
    None the less, since it was his
    They ate it � that’s what haggis is.

    And who can ever really forget Vogon poetry?

    Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
    Thy micturations are to me
    As plurdled gabbleblotchits
    On a lurgid bee.
    Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes
    And hooptiously drangle me
    With crinkly bindlewurdles,
    Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,

    See if I don’t!

  27. #27 Chris' Wills
    January 18, 2008

    Oh Kubla Khan. Possibly the first opening stanza I ever read and memorised, because it was in a cool science fiction story I now cannot recall.
    Posted by: John S. Wilkins

    The ‘Infinity Concerto’ and its sequel ‘The Serpent Mage’ (published in one book as ‘Songs of Earth and Power’) perhaps?

    Though as they came out in 1984, they may not be ancient enough.

  28. #28 fusilier
    January 18, 2008

    Chris’Wills beat me to it: Kipling’s “Mandalay.”

    Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee” is pretty good, too; I think that’s the first poem I read and remembered after the test.

    Then, of course, there’s “The Ballad of Eskimo Nell.” NSFW, of course.

    James 2:24

  29. #29 Luna_the_cat
    January 18, 2008

    I have a lot of “favourite” poems, and I’m thrilled to see some of them already mentioned above — especially “Invictus” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. To those, I would have to add:

    The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

    Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
    When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
    He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
    We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

    Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
    Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
    And remember men will scorn it, ’tis original and true,
    And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

    But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
    You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
    What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
    What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

    You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
    But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
    Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
    I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

    –Sarah Williams

    And, perhaps all the more apropos for the kinds of discussions we’ve all had:

    He Tells Her

    He tells her that the earth is flat —
    He knows the facts, and that is that.
    In altercations fierce and long
    She tries her best to prove him wrong.
    But he has learned to argue well.
    He calls her arguments unsound
    And often asks her not to yell.
    She cannot win. He stands his ground.

    The planet goes on being round.

    –Wendy Cope

    …aside from that…is anyone out there but me familiar with “Mount Clutter”, by Sarah Lindsay? If you aren’t, you really, really should fix that.

  30. #30 Luna_the_cat
    January 18, 2008

    Turn Us into Trees

    Turn us into trees, they said,
    holding hands, blushing a little
    before the bemused immortals. After we die,
    let us not be divided or human.

    The thunder god and his messenger,
    playing hobo on Earth to escape from boredom,
    grew hungry, but found no welcome except
    from the aging couple in the poorest one-room house.
    Invited to dine, the strapping deities
    hunkered down at a makeshift table, trying to follow
    discourse on mathematics and travel
    and making up answers to lots of friendly questions.
    She poured out the last of the olive oil
    and her husband called her beautiful;
    he stood to carve their only goose
    and she gazed at him as if he were Achilles.

    So Zeus and Hermes unveiled themselves
    and offered the world, and this was the mortals’ request
    of the storm god with a history of briefly loving
    anything soft that moved, and the thief
    who knew, laughed at, possibly authored
    every sad story of squandered wishes
    that ended with hair sold for watch fobs
    or a sausage stuck to a nose.
    Sobered by such constancy and willingness
    to stay in one place, the noisy god
    and the lightfoot lightfingered god released these two
    from the Fates. And threw in a couple of geese.

    Time passed, almost enough, not enough.
    They were ready. She drew his cot outside
    with his jaundiced, lightening body. He let out his breath.
    She saw his eyes film with sky. “Sweet man.”
    She drifted along his side and touched his face,
    then felt the wind lift her arms,
    wind under her hair, in her mouth.
    “Dear love,” said her mouths
    that were also her hands and hair
    shaken out by the wind.
    She bowed, he bowed,
    they began forming rings for each other.

    The breezes brought them traveling air
    that knew similar stories–crinoids in shale
    whose hardened shapes were Precambrian valentines,
    bristlecone pines a canyon apart
    that grew toward each other an inch every hundred years,
    a pair of cathedral trunks in a rain forest
    offering up bromeliad cups of water,
    red miro trees on a coral atoll
    with nothing to feed their roots but their own fallen leaves,
    two oaks on Elm Street reaching arch-wristed
    to touch across four lanes of traffic,
    the steepled red rose and the briar….

    But also the lightning strike, bark strips peeled
    from steaming wood. Slow galls and cankers,
    beetles under the skin. Extraction whole,
    like molars, from sodden ground. Or simply
    ripe old age and decay. They didn’t ask
    for eternity, only years of brushing together.
    She tosses him olives; he combs her hair. They scatter
    seed endearments in a circle around their feet,
    and each that sprouts
    will age to sow its own circle,
    till the continent is covered with slow-blooming rings
    like a pond in the rain.

    –Sarah Lindsay

  31. #31 Michael Siemon
    January 18, 2008

    From high school, on through (and past) my undergraduate career, poetry was often a refuge and consolation. Also a wonderful game to play and parody with friends… :-)

    Ultimately, I’ve found a lot of W. H. Auden’s work to stick with me, more so than Eliot’s,
    which often feels over-contrived and pretentious (though still wonderful in recitation).

    For a long while I used a quatrain from Auden’s “As I walked out one evening” as a usenet sig. quote. The poem in full is:

    As I walked out one evening,
    Walking down Bristol Street,
    The crowds upon the pavement
    Were fields of harvest wheat.

    And down by the brimming river
    I heard a lover sing
    Under an arch of the railway:
    “Love has no ending.

    “I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
    Till China and Afica meet,
    And the river jumps over the mountain
    And the salmon sing in the street.

    “I’ll love you till the ocean
    Is folded and hung up to dry
    And the seven stars go squawking
    Like geese about the sky.

    “The years shall run like rabbits,
    For in my arms I hold
    The Flower of the Ages,
    And the first love of the world.”

    But all the clocks in the city
    Began to whirr and chime:
    “O let not Time deceive you
    You cannot conquer Time.

    “In the burrows of the Nightmare
    Where Justice naked is,
    Time watches from the shadow
    And coughs when you would kiss.

    “In headaches and in worry
    Vaguely life leaks away,
    And time will have his fancy
    To-morrow or to-day.

    “Into many a green valley
    Drifts the appalling snow
    Time breaks the threaded dances
    And the diver’s brilliant bow.

    “O plunge your hands in water
    Plunge them up to the wrist;
    Stare, stare in the basin
    And wonder what you’ve missed.”

    “The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
    The desert sighs in the bed,
    And the crack in the tea-cup opens
    A lane to the land of the dead.

    “Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
    And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
    And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer
    And Jill goes down on her back.”

    “O look, look in the mirror,
    O look in your distress;
    Life remains a blessing
    Although you cannot bless.”

    “O stand, stand at the window
    As the tears scald and start;
    You shall love your crooked neighbor
    With your crooked heart.”

    It was late, late in the evening
    The lovers they were gone;
    The clocks had ceased their chiming,
    And the deep river ran on.


    The .sig was this bit:

    “O stand, stand at the window
    As the tears scald and start;
    You shall love your crooked neighbor
    With your crooked heart.”

  32. #32 John S. Wilkins
    January 18, 2008

    It’s looking like my readers love Eliot, Auden and Kipling, amongst others. I find that comforting.

    The Kublai Khan short story was in the early 60s, probably in Amazing. I recall the sheer imagination of it vividly. Possibly a Poul Anderson story?

  33. #33 Caledonian
    January 18, 2008

    “Here lies a fallen god.
    His fall was not a small one.
    We did but build his pedestal,
    a narrow and a tall one.”

    — ‘Tleilaxu epigram’, Frank Herbert

  34. #34 Eamon Knight
    January 18, 2008

    There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool
    That’s noted for fresh air and fun.
    And Mister and Missus Ramsbottom
    went there with young Albert, their son….

    (I’m sorry, my poetic education was sadly neglected. I memorized “Albert and the Lion” for a recitation in grade 6. But it really only works if you can do a decent Lancashire accent).

  35. #35 Chris' Wills
    January 19, 2008

    ….The Kublai Khan short story was in the early 60s, probably in Amazing. I recall the sheer imagination of it vividly. Possibly a Poul Anderson story?
    Posted by: John S. Wilkins

    May have been in Amazing in the 60s, some of his stories saw the light of day in F&SF and Astounding.

    I haven’t the collection to hand, but could it have been from his ‘Time Patrol’ series. The one where the Mongol empire visits North America (story called: The Only Game in Town which came out in 1960).

    The complete Time Patrol series is available in paperback, which is how I read it.

    ‘Songs of Earth and Power’ is by Greg Bear; Poul Anderson’s son in law, IIRC, so perhaps it was a sequel of sorts.

  36. #36 mary d
    January 19, 2008

    I’m partial to Fox in Socks.

  37. #37 Olaf Davis
    January 19, 2008

    Having had my profession and my name mentioned in titles of people’s poems I feel compelled to join in.

    I’ve always loved FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. A few selected verses:

    A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
    A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
    Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
    Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

    Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
    One thing at least is certain – This Life flies;
    One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
    The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

    The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

    And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
    Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
    Lift not your hands to It for help – for It
    As impotently moves as you or I.
    And do you think that unto such as you,
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
    God gave the secret, and denied it me�
    Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.

    The Koran! well, come put me to the test:
    Lovely old book in hideous error drest.
    Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
    The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

    And, since we’ve not had much Shakespeare yet, Sonnet 55:

    Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
    Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
    But you shall shine more bright in these contents
    Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
    When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
    And broils root out the work of masonry,
    Nor Mars his sword, nor war’s quick fire shall burn
    The living record of your memory.
    ‘Gainst death, and all-oblivious enmity
    Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
    Even in the eyes of all posterity
    That wear this world out to the ending doom.

    So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
    You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

  38. #38 Josh Hayes
    January 19, 2008

    I almost forgot one that never fails to convulse my wife when I declaim it:

    “The boy stood on the burning deck,
    His beard was white as snow”

    And that’s as far as I get before she, well….never mind.

    Hey, some women LIKE poetry.


  39. #39 Tony Jeremiah
    January 20, 2008

    Ode to Spot

    I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations
    A singular development of cat communications
    That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
    For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.

    A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents
    You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
    And when not being utilized to aide in locomotion
    It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion

    O Spot, the complex levels of behaviour you display Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array
    And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend
    I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

    Lt.Cmd Data (Star Trek, Next Generation)

  40. #40 lovable liberal
    January 24, 2008

    For sheer memorable awfulness, a Burton Watson translation of Su Tung-P’o:

    Bad wine is like bad men,
    Deadlier in attack than arrows or knives.
    I collapse on the platform;
    Victory hopeless, truce will have to do.
    The old poet carries on bravely,
    The Zen master’s words are gentle and profound.
    Too drunk to follow what they’re saying.
    I’m conscious only of a red and green blur.
    I wake to find the moon sinking into the river,
    The wind rustling with a different sound.
    A lone lamp burns by the altar,
    But the two heroes – both have disappeared.

  41. #41 octopod
    January 28, 2008

    #30: Thank you. It’s been a long time since I read a poem that made me cry. I think I’ve seen that once before, but it was a long time ago, and I’ve fallen in love since then.

    What do I have memorized? Let’s see…I really like Octavio Paz, “Primavera a la vista”.

    Pulida claridad de piedra diáfana,
    lisa frente de estatua sin memoria:
    cielo de invierno, espacio reflejado
    en otro más profundo y más vacío.

    El mar respira apenas, brilla apenas.
    Se ha parado la luz entre los árboles,
    ejército dormido. Los despierta
    el viento con banderas de follajes.

    Nace del mar, asalta la colina,
    oleaje sin cuerpo que revienta
    contra los eucaliptos amarillos
    y se derrama en ecos por el llano.

    El día abre los ojos y penetra
    en una primavera anticipada.
    Todo lo que mis manos tocan, vuela.
    Está lleno de pájaros el mundo.

    (clumsy translation to English by me: “Spring at the overlook”
    Polished clarity of diaphanous stone,
    smooth face of a statue without memory:
    winter sky, all space reflected
    in another, deeper and emptier.

    The sea barely breathes, barely shines.
    The light has halted among the trees,
    a sleeping army. Awakens them
    the wind with its banners of leaves.

    Born of the sea, it oversweeps the hills,
    a bodiless wave which breaks
    against the yellow eucalypus
    and loses itself in echoes on the plain.

    The day opens its eyes and presses onward
    into a long-anticipated spring.
    Everything that my hands touch, takes flight.
    The world is full of birds.)

  42. #42 gwen
    November 6, 2008

    im looking for a memorial poem but cant remmember name or author

    some of it is :
    remember me with smiles not tears for that is how i will remember all of you

    if anyone can help me with this i would be greatful

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