I love poetry. There is a qualification to that statement. I love poetry that I can easily decipher and understand what the poet is saying. It is not my cup of tea to read the poets who are so abstract that I wonder if they know what they are saying.
I love some poetry of some poets. For example, I love several of Robert Frost's poetry; however, there are some of his poems that I do not understand his point. His old standards speak volumes to me.
I have discovered Thomas Hardy. He is a great poet. His poems about his wife that died after he divorced her are compelling.
Give me a poem that uses beautiful language and phrasing and has something to say about life...I can guarantee that I will love it.
Now to the question: My favorite poem is "If" by Rudyard Kipling. There are so many life lessons to learn from that poem. I would like to be that person that he wants the boy in the poem to be when he grows up.
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I have many favorites, but it is this fragment that might be my most loved:
Western wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ! If my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!
This has never been attributed to anyone, to the best of my knowledge. I first saw this in high school, when I was fortunate enough to be assigned as a textbook John Ciardi's How Does a Poem Mean?, which is about the best book about poetry I have ever read and one I strongly recommend to everyone. The yearning in the poem spoke to my teenage heart, and actually, it still does. It is also the basis for the title of one of Madeleine L'Engle's books, The Small Rain.
When I was in school, there was a requirement to memorize poems, which was also a tradition in my family. My father, at age 90, could still recite poems he had memorized as a child. I lament the passing of this tradition. It has always seemed to me to be much like playing the piano. Once you memorize a piece, you can really understand it much better as time goes on.
Even though I teach English I don't claim to be an expert in poetry. I do have a few favorites however. One of them is "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden. This poem appeals to me because it looks at the relationship between a father and a grown child. The following stanza doesn't idealize the relationship at all, but looks at it in a realistic way, sometimes we behave "indifferently" to those who take care of us. The second line, describing the father as one who has "driven out the cold" is one of my favorite lines in any poem. How could you describe what a father does any better than that. To "drive out the cold" is to defeat nature in the interest of caring for your family.
Speaking indifferently to him,who had driven out the coldand polished my good shoes as well.What did I know, what did I knowof love’s austere and lonely offices?
It's hard for an old English teacher to pick just one favorite poem. I love e e cummings, particularly "My Sweet Old Etcetera." Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and Kipling's "If" are among my favorite British poems. Poe's "Annabel Lee" and "The Raven" are American classics, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat."
I'm not a big one for poetry, but I do love A. E. Housman's stuff (even if I do often try to refer to him as P. G. Wodehouse...). For one thing, the lowbrow in me likes the fact that the poems rhyme and that they have an obvious rhythm to them. But I also love the poignancy of his take on the idea of how transitory life is. I think I started to like his stuff when I first saw it late in high school. I was on my third high school in 4 years, had never lived in one place more than 4 years at that point. Life felt rather transitory. I still get very nostalgic. And so when I read stuff like
Now, of my threescore years and ten,Twenty will not come again,And take from seventy springs a score,It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,About the woodlands I will goTo see the cherry hung with snow.
It really strikes a chord with me.
There are many poetic sections of the Bible that speak to my soul and faith in a multitude of ways. Many of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes ("There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven...") offer shining examples of poetic description and beauty of thought.
I am also a fan of Robert Frost. My high school chorus sang a wonderful Randall Thompson setting of "Choose Something Like a Star" that could, in my humble opinion, be a required piece in high school literature courses. It sets up a standard for personal achievement that is exquisitely expressed.
Choose Something Like a Star
by Robert Frost - 1947
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
Although it is not an uplifting poem, my favorite poem of all time is "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot. I tend to enjoy poems that speak about the human condition and humankind's sense of itself in this fallen world. This poem speaks to me as relates to these concerns in a very significant way.
The pared down structure of the poem and the clean, sparse lines say much to the reader who reads, then rereads this poem. I find it is the poem I reread the most, and I've continued to return to the poem year after year to taste of its stark beauty.
A second poem I return to, although I don't agree with all the sentiments expressed in the poem, is "Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens. This is a premier example of Blank Verse and highlights the power and beauty of this poetic form. This poem glides from stanza to stanza and there's a rhythmic grace to the work.
The above two poems are certainly my all time favorites amongst a host of well-written and powerful poems that I enjoy.
As an addendum, I'd also add the more contemporary poem Borderlands by Suji Kwock Kim. It's also in my top list of favorite poems.
It is so hard to choose a favorite poem. It's like asking which is my favorite child. My favorite poem is whichever one I am reading at the time! Ok, that's a little bit of a cop out. Here is a poem that gives me goosebumps. It's from the Lord of the Rings, and is usually called "All that Glitters"- here is my favorite part.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost. (lotr.wikia)
I honestly do not know why I chose this poem on this particular day. I think your favorite poem depends on where you are in your life. Since it is the holiday season, I have been reflective lately. I have been thinking about what a strange journey I have taken to get where I am. It is true- not all those who wander are lost, even if they think they are!
I find "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats to be among the most powerful poems in English literature. It captures the anxiety of a specific moment in time, wondering what the future holds when what the author perceives as the underpinnings of society have been destroyed, and uses some of the most powerful, apocalyptic language imaginable. Like Hollow Men, it is hardly uplifting, but I find it darkly and perhaps ominously beautiful.
I'm not a huge fan of poetry, but I recently answered a question on the poem "Ulysses," by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and found myself unexpectedly moved. This is a strong comment on the inevitability of time and age, and the struggle to remain strong and sane in the face of death. The protagonist of the poem will not lie down, he will not comply, but he will end his life as he lived it; searching for new experiences. I am reminded of Alexander the Great, who wept when he thought there were no new worlds to conquer; Ulysses similarly finds his love of adventure too strong to leave behind. The individuality of the protagonist is what makes him strong, and he is not willing to submit himself to "idle kingship." The final lines of the poem speak powerfully to something inside of me.
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Never stop moving, never give up, and never concede defeat. Remember the words of Hemingway's Santiago: "A man can be destroyed, but he can never be defeated." That is Ulysses.
To try and respond, I have narrowed the questions farther (to myself): What is my favorite Victorian poem? Christina Rossetti's "When I am Dead, My Dearest" because it bucks classic Judeo-Christian interpretations of death, mourning, and the afterlife that were often so ingrained in the culture at the time. It maintains the sing-song Victorian style, but is so sweetly dark in its messages that it resonates today with the Tim Burton artistic styles. At first glance, it can easily be dismissed as a simple verse, but when brought into historical context and sociological parameters, it is quite deep. Enjoy the poem of a single Victorian woman - sister to Dante G. Rosetti and knee-deep in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
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.
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