SCARRIET’S BEST POEMS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Here, in no particular order, are Scarriet’s best poems of the 20th century.

Why these poems?

Because they hide from nothing, and all, on some level, break your heart.  Poe was right when he said poetry appeals to the heart and not the head.  Because many heads get this wrong, and think poetry is some kind of mental exercise, the universe has been turned upside-down for the last three-quarters of a century by a certain never-resting snobbery infesting perches in the taste-making branches of higher learning.  The poems on this list don’t get lost in minutea,  have no interest in proving how smart, or intellectual, or street they are.  They all aim for that middle ground which has intercourse with the earthy and the abstract, filtering each, as they combine nature with nature to make art.

If art is what we do to become gods, if art is what we consciously do, we don’t see why art should express the suicidal, or make us miserable, or should express the ugly, or the random.  Certainly melancholy approaching pain is allowed, but misery?

The usual coteries, which have slathered their cliquish influence over American Letters, are notably absent.   Our list reflects poetic talent, whether or not it happened, or happens, to reside within machinations of puffery. Some poets may be puffed, but not all the puffed are poets.

The Vanity of the Blue Girls -John Crowe Ransom
The People Next Door -Louis Simpson
litany  -Carolyn Creedon
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening  -Robert Frost
Recuerdo  -Edna Millay
When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone  -Galway Kinnell
Sailing To Byzantium  -William Yeats
Dirge Without Music  -Edna Millay
The Groundhog  -Richard Eberhart
Musee Des Beaux Arts  -W.H. Auden
Elegy for Jane  -Theodore Roethke
I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great  -Stephen Spender
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  -Dylan Thomas
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  -T.S. Eliot
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  -Randall Jarrell
In California During the Gulf War  -Denise Levertov
Wild Peaches  -Elinor Wylie
Moriturus  -Edna Millay
Whitsun Weddings  -Philip Larkin
A Subaltern’s Love Song  -John Betjeman
Aubade  -Philip Larkin
Patterns  -Amy Lowell
A Supermarket in California  -Allen Ginsberg
Her Kind  -Anne Sexton
Not Waving,  But Drowning  -Stevie Smith
i stopped writing poetry  -Bernard Welt
Dream On  -James Tate
Pipefitter’s Wife  -Dorianne Laux
On the Death of Friends In Childhood  -Donald Justice
Daddy  -Sylvia Plath
Resume’  -Dorothy Parker
Time Does Not Bring Relief  -Edna Millay
If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way  -Edna Millay
Evening in the Sanitarium  -Louise Bogan
At Mornington  -Gwen Harwood
Those Sunday Mornings  -Robert Hayden
Psalm and Lament  -Donald Justice
The Ship of Death  -D.H. Lawrence
One Train May Hide Another  -Kenneth Koch
Encounter  -Czeslaw Milosz
Anthem For Doomed Youth  -Wilfred Owen
The Little Box  -Vasko Popa
For My Daughter  -Weldon Kees
The Golden Gate  -Vikram Seth
The Grass  -Carl Sandburg
Mending Wall  -Robert Frost
Peter Quince at the Clavier  -Wallace Stevens
The Fresh Start  -Anna Wickham
Bavarian Gentians  -D.H. Lawrence
River Roses  -D.H. Lawrence
The Hill  -Rupert Brooke
La Figlia Che Piange  -T.S. Eliot
“Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments” -Archibald MacLeish
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why  -Edna Millay
What They Wanted  -Stephen Dunn
Down, Wanton, Down!  -Robert Graves
Cross  -Langston Hughes
As I Walked Out One Evening  -W.H. Auden
Love on the Farm  -D.H. Lawrence
Who’s Who  -W.H. Auden
The Waste Land  -T.S. Eliot
Snake  -D.H. Lawrence
At the Fishhouses  -Elizabeth Bishop
And Death Shall Have No Dominion  -Dylan Thomas
Reasons for Attendance  -Philip Larkin
Fern Hill  -Dylan Thomas
Distance From Loved Ones  -James Tate
The Hospital Window  -James Dickey
An Arundel Tomb  -Philip Larkin
My Father in the Night Commanding No  -Louis Simpson
I Know A Man  -Robert Creeley
High Windows  -Philip Larkin
The Explosion  -Philip Larkin
You Can Have It  -Philip Levine
Diving Into the Wreck  -Adrienne Rich
Pike  -Ted Hughes
Pleasure Bay  -Robert Pinsky
The Colonel  -Carolyn Forche
Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey  -Billy Collins
The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite  -William Kulik
The Year  -Janet Bowdan
How I Got That Name  -Marilyn Chin
Amphibious Crocodile  -John Crowe Ransom
The Mediterranean  -Allen Tate
To A Face In A Crowd  -Robert Penn Warren
Utterance  -Donald Davidson
The Ballad of Billie Potts  -Robert Penn Warren
Preludes  -T.S. Eliot
Sweeney among the Nightingales  -T.S. Eliot
Journey of the Magi  -T.S. Eliot
The Veiled Lady  -Maura Stanton
Prophecy  -Donald Hall
Archaic Torso of Apollo  -Rainer Maria Rilke
Of Poor B.B.  -Bertolt Brecht
Women  -Louise Bogan
Bored  –Margaret Atwood
A Happy Thought  -Franz Wright
The Idea of Ancestry -Etheridge Knight
Smiling Through  -Reed Whittemore
Histoire  -Harry Mathews
The Request  -Sharon Olds

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17 Comments

  1. 'The Onion' support said,

    September 24, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Distressed Nation Turns To Poet Laureate For Solace

    September 19, 2011

    FRESNO, CA—Struggling through difficult times marked by war, economic despair, and political turmoil, the nation turned en masse this week to its newly appointed poet laureate, seeking solace in his words as so many generations of Americans have before in the words of laureates past.

    Despondent citizens from across the country began gathering this weekend outside the Fresno home of 83-year-old Philip Levine, the California State University professor and poet who in less than two weeks will assume the widely celebrated title, beginning a yearlong term in which all Americans will turn their gaze upon him in search of hope and guidance.

    “We’ve long relied on our poet laureates as a beacon of hope in times of trouble,” said 55-year-old car mechanic Chuck Burgess, who traveled from Minneapolis to keep vigil alongside the many thousands waiting for the sagely Levine to emerge from his two-story ranch house and take up his new mantle. “Their masterfully crafted verses and subtle explorations of interiority dispel the nation’s fears in a way that nothing else can.”

    “Right now, America is eagerly anticipating his words,” added Burgess, later saying that he’s been tracking Levine’s work ever since it won the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine in 1981. “We’re counting on the discursive lyricism and shifting postures of fractiousness for which Mr. Levine’s poems are renowned to lift our spirits.”

    According to reports, copies of Levine’s 2004 collection Breath have been pulled down from bookshelves in living rooms throughout the nation, with friends and family gathering to reread the new laureate’s free verse testaments to the persistence of life in the presence of coming darkness.

    In addition, because the nation’s 300-million-plus citizens don’t want to miss a single word of what the poet has to say, continuous live news coverage from Fresno has preempted television programming on all channels.

    “There are few things Americans love more than poetry,” said Miami-area real estate agent William Chen, who was among the masses assembled on Levine’s front lawn. “At this point, one could even say that desire for intellectual stimulation through layered poetic musings might be the only thing holding our wounded nation together.”

    The position of United States poet laureate was introduced in 1937, when Joseph Auslander became the first to receive the honor, his rarefied diction and reliably metered verses having provided comfort to a nation debilitated by the Great Depression. Since then, sources confirmed, his successors have unfailingly provided Americans with the poetry they need just to be able to get through their day.

    “Thank God this country has a poet laureate,” recently out-of-work glassworker Mitch Tate, 44, told reporters. “Without [2004-2006 laureate] Ted Kooser’s profound lines likening the destruction of a galaxy billions of miles away to a snowflake falling on water, I’m not sure we ever could have mustered the inner strength to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.”

    While the majority of Americans have read all 20 volumes of Levine’s poetry—as well as the collected works of each past laureate—most agreed that seeing on paper works such as ‘The Water’s Chant,’ ‘I Sing The Body Electric,’ and ‘On The Meeting Of García Lorca And Hart Crane’ had only partly satisfied their needs.

    Now, sources said, it is absolutely essential they hear him read his poems aloud.

    “With so many Americans struggling to get by, it’s no wonder they’re craving more intellectual nourishment from their nation’s poets,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), standing among the cheering enthusiasts in Fresno. “The sheer excitement that overcomes our people when a poetry reading is announced tells you how badly we need this guy.”

    “Speak to us, poet,” Brown was later overheard saying as he gazed through Levine’s window. “Invoke the muses and soothe our distempered hearts!”

    As of press time, Levine had reportedly stepped out his front door to meet the hysterical crowd, immediately pacifying them with his mere presence.

    “Be still, my children, and listen,” said Levine, donning on a pair of wire-rim glasses, opening a brown leather-bound journal, and taking a seat on his porch swing. “I shall now read to you a poem entitled ‘Milkweed.’”

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/distressed-nation-turns-to-poet-laureate-for-solac,26109/

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Robert Southey, British poet laureate, from 1813 to 1843, planned, with Coleridge, to build a commune in America, writing in 1794:

      Their wants would be simple and natural; their toil need not be such as the slaves of luxury endure; where possessions were held in common, each would work for all; in their cottages the best books would have a place; literature and science, bathed anew in the invigorating stream of life and nature, could not but rise reanimated and purified. Each young man should take to himself a mild and lovely woman for his wife; it would be her part to prepare their innocent food, and tend their hardy and beautiful race.

      • Nooch said,

        September 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm

        The author of the Onion piece
        Finds humor in reality’s sadness —
        My guess is s/he’d be a very big fan
        Of Scarriet’s yearly March Madness.

  2. September 25, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Apparently one has to be a ‘Po-biz’ published, academy recognized poet to make the cut.

    Funny how ‘Foet’ rhymes with hypocrite.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Gary,

      It is unfortunate that my friends are not as good as Philip Larkin, so I have to leave my friends off the list.

      Foetry and good-poets-who-happen-to-have-connections can co-exist. It’s not a perfect world: good people write bad poetry; bad people write good poetry, poems of wisdom can be lousy poems, poems which are impossibly stupid can be good poems—and finally this doesn’t mean all these forms of good and bad are still not meaningful, and we’re not constantly trying to sort them out.

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘the academy’ when you say ‘academy recognized.’ College? Poets.org? Oscar Williams? Marianne Moore’s “Dial” magazine? John Crowe Ransom’s friends? W.H. Auden’s friends?

      One could say poetry is divided into two camps: the puffed and the unpuffed. You, for instance, fall into the latter camp, James Wright, John Ashbery, William Carlos Williams, W.S. Merwin, Jorie Graham, Marriane Moore, Erza Pound, H.D.,John Berryman, Robert Lowell, E.E. Cummings, Louise Gluck, Mark Strand, Richard Wilbur, Rita Dove, Charles Bernstein, Gerald Stern, Charles Simic, Chase Twitchell, Robert Kelly, John Hollander, Thom Gunn, John Ash, James Merrill, Frank O’Hara, A.R. Ammons, and Derek Walcott into the former; but none are on the list.

      Almost a quarter of the list are poems by four poets: Millay, Larkin, Lawrence, and Eliot. Good is so hard to launch that luck isn’t a factor; it’s not random. Good is not common. Millay had it; millions don’t. Too bad.

      Print yours.

      What’s your top lyric?

      Tom

      • September 26, 2011 at 12:49 am

        I was not speaking about myself, Tom, you (fill in preferred expletive). I was just noting how, with all the contemporary poets and independent publishers around today you selected only from the recognized ‘canon’. I don’t actually disagree with any of your selections but it’s just so…la de da. Almost like an introductory poetry class at…GASP…Harvard.

        GBF

        P.S. Don’t worry about me. Posterity will take care of me. :-)

        • thomasbrady said,

          September 26, 2011 at 2:02 am

          I dunno, Gary, a Harvard course would have Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Pound & WC Williams, O’Hara, at the least, and probably no Millay.

          Yes, I wanted very much to include little-known works, but where does one start? Can you imagine reading 100,000 poems to find some gems?

          We really do rely on anthologies—I’ve read all the Best American Poetry volumes, for instance, and that was helpful, and yes, it finally does come down to my subjective taste, which I think is fastidious enough to be pretty objective.

  3. marcusbales said,

    September 26, 2011 at 1:49 am

    Great 20th Century Poems Scarriet Forgot:

    Acquainted With The Night
    Robert Frost

    I have been one acquainted with the night.
    I have walked out in the rain — and back in rain.
    I have out-walked 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-bye;
    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.

    Adam’s Curse
    William Butler Yeats

    We sat together at one summer’s end,
    That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
    And you and I, and talked of poetry.
    I said, “A line will take us hours maybe;
    Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
    Better go down upon your marrow-bones
    And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
    Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
    For to articulate sweet sounds together
    Is to work harder than all these, and yet
    Be thought an idler by the noisy set
    Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
    The martyrs call the world.”
    And thereupon
    That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
    There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
    On finding that her voice is sweet and low
    Replied, “To be born woman is to know –
    Although they do not talk of it at school –
    That we must labour to be beautiful.”
    I said, “It’s certain there is no fine thing
    Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
    There have been lovers who thought love should be
    So much compounded of high courtesy
    That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
    precedents out of beautiful old books;
    Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.”

    We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
    We saw the last embers of daylight die,
    And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
    A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
    Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
    About the stars and broke in days and years.
    I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
    That you were beautiful, and that I strove
    To love you in the old high way of love;
    That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
    As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

    Advice to Young Ladies
    AD Hope

    A.U.C. 334: about this date,
    For a sexual misdemeanor which she denied,
    The vestal virgin Postumia was tried;
    Livy records it among affairs of state.

    They let her off: it seems she was perfectly pure;
    The charge arose because some thought her talk
    Too witty for a young girl, her eyes, her walk
    Too lively, her clothes too smart to be demure.

    The Pontifex Maximus, summing up the case,
    Warned her in future to abstain from jokes,
    To wear less modish and more pious frocks.
    She left the court reprieved, but in disgrace.

    What then? With her the annalist is less
    Concerned than what the men achieved that year:
    Plots, quarrels, crimes, with oratory to spare —
    I see Postumia with her dowdy dress,

    Stiff mouth and listless step; I see her strive
    To give dull answers. She had to knuckle down.
    A vestal virgin who scandalized that town
    Had fair trial, then they buried her alive.

    Alive, bricked up in suffocating dark;
    A ration of bread, a pitcher if she was dry,
    Preserved the body they did not wish to die
    Until her mind was quenched to the last spark.

    How many the black maw has swallowed in its time!
    Spirited girls who would not know their place,
    Talented girls who found that the disgrace
    Of being a woman made genius a crime.

    How many others, who would not kiss the rod,
    Domestic bullying broke or public shame?
    Pagan or Christian, it was much the same:
    Husbands, St. Paul declared, rank next to God.

    Livy and Paul, it may be, never knew
    That Rome was doomed; each spoke of her with pride.
    Tacitus, writing after both had died,
    Showed that whole fabric rotten, through and through.

    Historians spend their lives and lavish ink
    Explaining how great commonwealths collapse
    From great defects of policy — perhaps
    The cause is sometimes simpler than they think.

    It may not seem so grave an act to break
    Postumia’s spirit as Galileo’s, to gag
    Hypatia as crush Socrates, or drag
    Joan as Giordano Bruno to the stake.

    Can we be sure? Have more states perished, then,
    For having shackled the enquiring mind,
    Than those who, in their folly not less blind,
    Trusted the servile womb to breed free men?

    AFTER APPLE-PICKING
    Robert Frost

    My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
    Toward heaven still,
    And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
    Beside it, and there may be two or three
    Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
    But I am done with apple-picking now.
    Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
    The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
    I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
    I got from looking through a pane of glass
    I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
    And held against the world of hoary grass.
    It melted, and I let it fall and break.
    But I was well
    Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
    And I could tell
    What form my dreaming was about to take.
    Magnified apples appear and disappear,
    Stem end and blossom end,
    And every fleck of russet showing dear.
    My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
    It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
    I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
    And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
    The rumbling sound
    Of load on load of apples coming in.
    For I have had too much
    Of apple-picking: I am overtired
    Of the great harvest I myself desired.
    There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
    Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
    For all
    That struck the earth,
    No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
    Went surely to the cider-apple heap
    As of no worth.
    One can see what will trouble
    This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
    Were he not gone,
    The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
    Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
    Or just some human sleep.

    Art and Reality
    James Simmons

    From twenty yards I saw my old love
    Locking up her car.
    She smiled and waved, as lovely still
    As girls of twenty are.

    That cloud of auburn hair that bursts
    Like sunrise round her head,
    The smile that made me smile
    At ordinary things she said.

    But twenty years have gone and flesh
    Is perishable stuff;
    Can art and exercise and diet
    Ever be enough

    To save the tiny facial muscles
    And keep taut the skin,
    And have the waist, in middle-age,
    Still curving firmly in?

    Beauty invites me to approach,
    And lies make truth seem hard
    As my old love assumes her age,
    A year for every yard.

    A BALLADE OF SUICIDE
    GK Chesterton

    The gallows in my garden, people say,
    Is new and neat and adequately tall.
    I tie the noose on in a knowing way
    As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
    But just as all the neighbours — on the wall –
    Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
    The strangest whim has seized me … after all
    I think I will not hang myself today.

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

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

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

    Bloody Men
    Wendy Cope

    Bloody men are like bloody buses –
    You wait for about a year
    And as soon as one approaches your stop
    Two or three others appear.

    You look at them flashing their indicators,
    Offering you a ride.
    You’re trying to read the destinations,
    You haven’t much time to decide.

    If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
    Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
    While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
    And the minutes, the hours, the days.

    Carmen
    Newman Levy

    In Spain, where the courtly Castilian hidalgo
    twangs lightly each night his romantic guitar,
    Where castanets clink on the gay piazetta,
    and strains of fandangos are heard from afar,
    There lived, I am told, a bold hussy named Carmen,
    a pampered young vamp full of devil and guile.
    Cigarette and cigar men were smitten with Carmen;
    from near and from far men were caught with her smile.
    Now one day it happened she got in a scrap and
    proceeded to beat up a girl in the shop
    ‘Til someone suggested they have her arrested,
    and though she protested they called in a cop.
    In command of the guard was a shavetail named Jose,
    a valiant young don with a weakness for janes,
    And so great was her beauty this bold second loot he
    could not do his duty and put her in chains.
    “I’m sorry, my dear, to appear to arrest you –
    at best you are hardly much more than a kid.
    If I let you go, say, there’ll be some expose.
    But beat it,” said Jose. And beat it she did.
    The scene now is changed to a strange sort of tavern –
    a hangout of gypsies, a rough kind of dive,
    And Carmen who can sing is warbling and dancing,
    awaiting her date the late loot to arrive.
    In comes Escamillo the toreadoro
    and sings his great solo ‘mid plaudits and cheers,
    And when he concludes, after three or four encores,
    the gypsies depart and Don Jose appears.
    These gypsy companions of Carmen are smugglers,
    the worst band of bandits and cutthroats in Spain.
    And Jose’s, we know well, A.W.O.L
    Says he, “Since that’s so, well, I guess I’ll remain.”
    The gypsies depart to the heart of the mountains,
    and with them goes Jose who’s grouchy and sore,
    For Carmen, the flirt, has deserted poor Jose,
    and transferred her love to the toreador.
    And as he sits sulking he sees Escamillo.
    A challenge is passed and they draw out their knives.
    ‘Til Jose, though lighter, disarms the bull fighter,
    and near kills the blighter when Carmen arrives.
    Now comes Micaela, Don Jose’s young sweetheart,
    a nice-looking blonde without much in her dome.
    Says she, “Do you know, kid, your ma’s kinda low, kid?”
    Says Jose, “Let’s go, kid,” and follows her home.
    At last we arrive at the day of the bull fight;
    the grandstand is packed and the bleachers are full;
    A picturesque scene, a square near the arena,
    the Plaza del Toro, or Place of the Bull.
    Dark-skinned senoritas with fans and mantillas,
    and haughty Castilians in festive array;
    And dolled out to charm men, suspecting no harm, en-
    ters, last of all, Carmen to witness the fray.
    But here’s our friend Jose who seizes her bridle –
    a wild homicidal glint gleams in his eye.
    He’s mad and disgusted and cries out, “You’ve busted
    the heart that once trusted you. Wed me or die!”
    Though Carmen is frightened at how this scene might end,
    I’m forced to admit she is game to the last.
    She says to him “Banish the notion and vanish.
    Vamos! Which is Spanish for “run away fast.”
    A scream and a struggle! She reels and she staggers,
    for Don Jose’s dagger’s plunged deep in her breast.
    No more will she flirt in her old way that’s certain.
    So ring down the curtain, poor Carmen’s at rest.

    Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop
    William Butler Yeats

    I met the Bishop on the road
    And much said he and I.
    ‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
    Those veins must soon be dry;
    Live in a heavenly mansion,
    Not in some foul sty.’

    ‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
    And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
    ‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
    Nor grave nor bed denied,
    Learned in bodily lowliness
    And in the heart’s pride.

    ‘A woman can be proud and stiff
    When on love intent;
    But Love has pitched his mansion in
    The place of excrement;
    For nothing can be sole or whole
    That has not been rent.’

    Defeat
    Witter Bynner

    On a train in Texas German prisoners eat
    With white American soldiers, seat by seat,
    While black American soldiers sit apart,
    The white men eating meat, the black men heart.
    Now, with that other war a century done,
    Not the live North but the dead South has won,
    Not yet a riven nation comes awake.
    Whom are we fighting this time, for God’s sake?
    Mark well the token of the separate seat.
    It is again ourselves whom we defeat.

    Desert Places
    Robert Frost

    Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
    In a field I looked into going past,
    And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
    But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

    The woods around it have it – it is theirs.
    All animals are smothered in their lairs.
    I am too absent-spirited to count;
    The loneliness includes me unawares.

    And lonely as it is, that loneliness
    Will be more lonely ere it will be less –
    A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
    With no expression, nothing to express.

    They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
    Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
    I have it in me so much nearer home
    To scare myself with my own desert places.

    Design
    Robert Frost

    I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
    On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
    Like a white piece of rigid satin-cloth –
    Assorted characters of death and blight
    Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
    Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth –
    A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
    And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

    What had that flower to do with being white,
    The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
    What brought the kindred spider to that height,
    Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
    What but design of darkness to appall?
    If design govern in a thing so small.

    Dulce Et Decorum Est
    Wilfred Owen

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

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

    In all my dreams before my helpless sight
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
    If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
    Bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
    A.E. Housman

    These, in the day when heaven was falling,
    The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
    Followed their mercenary calling,
    And took their wages, and are dead.

    Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
    They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
    What God abandoned, these defended,
    And saved the sum of things for pay.

    Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
    Hugh MacDiarmid

    It is a God-damned lie to say that these
    Saved, or knew, anything worth any man’s pride.
    They were professional murderers and they took
    Their blood money and impious risks and died.
    In spite of all their kind some elements of worth
    With difficulty persist here and there on earth.

    In Memory of W.B. Yeats

    died January 1939

    I

    He disappeared in the dead of winter:
    The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
    And snow disfigured the public statues;
    The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day.

    Far from his illness
    The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
    The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
    By mourning tongues
    The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

    But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
    An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
    The provinces of his body revolted,
    The squares of his mind were empty,
    Silence invaded the suburbs,
    The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

    Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
    And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
    To find his happiness in another kind of wood
    And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
    The words of a dead man
    Are modified in the guts of the living.

    But in the importance and the noise of tomorrow
    When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
    And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
    And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
    A few thousand will think of this day
    As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day.

    II

    You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
    The parish of rich women, physical decay,
    Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
    For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
    In the valley of its making where executives
    Would never want to tamper, flows on south
    From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
    Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
    A way of happening, a mouth.

    III

    Earth, receive an honoured guest:
    William Yeats is laid to rest.
    Let the Irish vessel lie
    Emptied of its poetry.

    In the nightmare of the dark
    All the dogs of Europe bark,
    And the living nations wait,
    Each sequestered in its hate;

    Intellectual disgrace
    Stares from every human face,
    And the seas of pity lie
    Locked and frozen in each eye.

    Follow, poet, follow right
    To the bottom of the night,
    With your unconstraining voice
    Still persuade us to rejoice;

    With the farming of a verse
    Make a vineyard of the curse,
    Sing of human unsuccess
    In a rapture of distress;

    In the deserts of the heart
    Let the healing fountain start,
    In the prison of his days
    Teach the free man how to praise.
    Incident
    Countee Cullen

    Once riding in old Baltimore
    Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
    I saw a Baltimorean
    Kept looking straight at me.

    Now I was eight and verysmall
    And he was no whit bigger,
    And so I smiled but he poked out
    His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

    I saw the whole of Baltimore
    From May until December;
    Of all the things that happened there
    That’s all that I remember.

    The Kings
    A D Hope

    The lion in deserts royally takes his prey;
    Gaunt crags cast back the hunting eagle’s scream.
    The King of Parasites, delicate, white and blind,
    Ruling his world of fable even as they,
    Dreams out his greedy and imperious dream
    Immortal in the bellies of mankind.

    In a rich bath of pre-digested soup,
    Warm in the pulsing bowel, safely shut
    From the bright ambient horror of sun and air,
    is slender segments ripening loop by loop,
    Broods the voluptuous monarch of the gut,
    The Tapeworm, the prodigious Solitaire.

    Alone among the royal beasts of prey
    He takes no partner, no imperial mate
    Seeks his embrace and bears his clamorous brood;
    Within himself, in soft and passionate play,
    Two sexes in their vigour celebrate
    The raptures of helminthine solitude.

    From the barbed crown that hooks him to his host,
    The limble ribbon, fecund, flat and wet
    Sways as the stream’s delicious juices move;
    And as the ripe joints rupture and are lost,
    Quivers in the prolonged, delirious jet
    And spasm of unremitting acts of love.

    And Nature no less prodigal in birth
    In savage profusion spreads his royal sway:
    Herds are his nurseries till the mouths of men
    At public feasts, or the domestic hearth,
    Or by the hands of children at their play,
    Transmit his line to human flesh again.

    The former times, as emblems of an age,
    Graved the gier-eagle’s pride, the lion’s great heart,
    Leviathan sporting in the perilous sea;
    Pictured on History’s of the Muse’s page,
    All knew the King, the Hero, set apart
    To stand up stiff against calamity,

    Breed courage amid a broken nation’s groans,
    Cherish the will in men about to die,
    To chasten with just rule a barbarous tribe
    And guard, at last the earth that kept his bones.
    And still the Muse, who does not flatter or lie,
    Finds for our age a symbol to describe.

    The secret life of Technocratic Man,
    Abject desire, base fear that shapes his law,
    His idols of the cave, the mart, the sty -
    No lion at bay for a beleaguered clan,
    No eagle with the serpent in his claw,
    Nor dragon soter with his searing eye,

    But the great, greedy, parasitic worm,
    Sucking the life of nations from within
    Blind and degenerate, snug in excrement.
    `Behold your dream!’ she says. `View here the form
    And mirror of Time, the Shape you trusted in
    While your world crumbled and my heavens were rent.’

    Leda and the Swan
    William Butler Yeats

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

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

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

    Lush Life
    William Thomas Strayhorn

    I used to visit all the very gay places
    Those come-what-may places
    Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
    To get the feel of life
    From jazz and cocktails

    The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
    With distingue traces
    That used to be there
    You could see where they’d been washed away
    By too many through the day
    Twelve o’clock tales

    Then you came along with your siren song
    To tempt me to madness
    I thought for awhile that your poignant smile
    Was tinged with the sadness
    Of a great love for me
    Ah yes, I was wrong
    Again, I was wrong

    Life is lonely again
    And only last year
    Everything seemed so sure
    Now life is awful again
    A trough full of hearts could only be a bore

    A week in Paris could ease the bite of it
    All I care is to smile in spite of it

    I’ll forget you, I will
    While yet you are still
    Burning inside my brain
    Romance is mush
    Stifling those who strive
    So I’ll live a lush life in some small dive
    And there I’ll be, while I rot with the rest
    Of those whose lives are lonely too

    mehitabel and her kittens
    Don Marquis
    well boss
    mehitabel the cat
    has reappeared in her old
    haunts with a
    flock of kittens
    three of them this time
    archy she says to me
    yesterday
    the life of a female
    artist is continually
    hampered what in hell
    have i done to deserve
    all these kittens
    i look back on my life
    and it seems to me to be
    just one damned kitten
    after another
    i am a dancer archy
    and my only prayer
    is to be allowed
    to give my best to my art
    but just as i feel
    that i am succeeding
    in my life work
    along comes another batch
    of these damned kittens
    it is not archy
    that i am shy on mother love
    god knows i care for
    the sweet little things
    curse them
    but am i never to be allowed
    to live my own life
    i have purposely avoided
    matrimony in the interests
    of the higher life
    but i might just
    as well have been a domestic
    slave for all the freedom
    i have gained
    i hope none of them
    gets run over by
    an automobile
    my heart would bleed
    if anything happened
    to them and i found it out
    but it isn t fair archy
    it isn t fair
    these damned tom cats have all
    the fun and freedom
    if i was like some of these
    green eyed feline vamps i know
    i would simply walk out on the
    bunch of them and
    let them shift for themselves
    but i am not that kind
    archy i am full of mother love
    my kindness has always
    been my curse
    a tender heart is the cross i bear
    self sacrifice always and forever
    is my motto damn them
    i will make a home
    for the sweet innocent
    little things
    unless of course providence
    in his wisdom should remove
    them they are living
    just now in an abandoned
    garbage can just behind
    a made over stable in greenwich
    village and if it rained
    into the can before i could
    get back and rescue them
    i am afraid the little
    dears might drown
    it makes me shudder just
    to think of it
    of course if i were a family cat
    they would probably
    be drowned anyhow
    sometimes i think
    the kinder thing would be
    for me to carry the
    sweet little things
    over to the river
    and drop them in myself
    but a mother s love archy
    is so unreasonable
    something always prevents me
    these terrible
    conflicts are always
    presenting themselves
    to the artist
    the eternal struggle
    between art and life archy
    is something fierce
    my what a dramatic life i have lived
    one moment up the next
    moment down again
    but always gay archy always gay
    and always the lady too
    in spite of hell

    well boss it will
    be interesting to note
    just how mehitabel
    works out her present problem
    a dark mystery still broods
    over the manner
    in which the former
    family of three kittens
    disappeared
    one day she was taking to me
    of the kittens
    and the next day when i asked
    her about them
    she said innocently
    what kittens
    interrogation point
    and that was all
    i could ever get out
    of her on the subject
    we had a heavy rain
    right after she spoke to me
    but probably that garbage can
    leaks so the kittens
    have not yet
    been drowned

    Miniver Cheevy
    EA Robinson

    Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
    Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
    He wept that he was ever born,
    And he had reasons.

    Miniver loved the days of old
    When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
    The vision of a warrior bold
    Would set him dancing.

    Miniver sighed for what was not,
    And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
    He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
    And Priam’s neighbors.

    Miniver mourned the ripe renown
    That made so many a name so fragrant;
    He mourned Romance, now on the town,
    And Art, a vagrant.

    Miniver loved the Medici,
    Albeit he had never seen one;
    He would have sinned incessantly
    Could he have been one.

    Miniver cursed the commonplace
    And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
    He missed the mediæval grace
    Of iron clothing.

    Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
    But sore annoyed was he without it;
    Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
    And thought about it.

    Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
    Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
    Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
    And kept on drinking.

    More Light! More Light!
    Anthony Hecht

    For Heinrich Blucher and Hannah Arendt
    Composed in the Tower before his execution
    These moving verses, and being brought at that time
    Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
    “I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime.”

    Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
    The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
    His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
    Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.

    And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst;
    Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
    And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
    That shall judge all men, for his soul’s tranquility.

    We move now to outside a German wood.
    Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
    In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
    And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.

    Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
    Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
    A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
    He was ordered to change places with the Jews.

    Much casual death had drained away their souls.
    The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
    When only the head was exposed the order came
    To dig him out again and to get back in.

    No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
    When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
    The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
    He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.

    No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
    Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
    Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
    And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.

    The Naked and the Nude
    Robert Graves

    For me, the naked and the nude
    (By lexicographers construed
    As synonyms that should express
    The same deficiency of dress
    Or shelter) stand as wide apart
    As love from lies, or truth from art.

    Lovers without reproach will gaze
    On bodies naked and ablaze;
    The Hippocratic eye will see
    In nakedness, anatomy;
    And naked shines the Goddess when
    She mounts her lion among men.

    The nude are bold, the nude are sly
    To hold each treasonable eye.
    While draping, by a showman’s trick,
    Their dishabille in rhetoric,
    They grin a mock-religious grin
    Of scorn at those of naked skin.

    The naked, therefore, who compete
    Against the nude may know defeat,
    Yet when they both together tread
    The briary pastures of the dead,
    By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
    How naked go the sometime nude!

    Neither Out Far Nor In Deep
    Robert Frost

    The people along the sand
    All turn and look one way.
    They turn their back on the land.
    They look at the sea all day.

    As long as it takes to pass
    A ship keeps raising its hull;
    The wetter ground like glass
    Reflects a standing gull

    The land may vary more;
    But wherever the truth may be––
    The water comes ashore,
    And the people look at the sea.

    They cannot look out far.
    They cannot look in deep.
    But when was that ever a bar
    To any watch they keep?

    One Perfect Rose
    Dorothy Parker

    A single flower he sent me, since we met.
    All tenderly his messenger he chose;
    Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
    One perfect rose.

    I knew the language of the floweret;
    “My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
    Love long has taken for his amulet
    One perfect rose.

    Why is it no one’s ever sent me yet
    One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
    Ah, no – it’s always just my luck to get
    One perfect rose.

    Dear Boy
    from “Candide”
    Richard WilburI

    Dear boy, you will not hear me speak
    With sorrow or with rancour
    Of what has paled my rosy cheek
    And blasted it with canker;
    T’was Love, great Love, that did the deed
    Through nature’s gentle laws,
    And how should ill effects proceed
    From so divine a cause?
    Sweet honey comes from bees that sting,
    As you are well aware;
    To one adept in reasoning,
    Whatever pains disease may bring
    Are but the tangy seasoning
    To love’s delicious fare.
    II
    Columbus and his men, they say,
    Conveyed the virus hither
    Whereby my features rot away
    And vital powers wither;
    Yet had they not traversed the seas
    And come infected back,
    Why, think of all the luxuries
    That modern life would lack!
    All bitter things conduce to sweet
    As this example shows;
    Without the little spirochete
    We’d have no chocolate to eat,
    Nor would tobacco’s fragrance greet
    The European nose.
    III
    Each nation guards its native land
    With cannon and with sentry,
    Inspectors look for contraband
    At every port of entry,
    Yet nothing can prevent the spread
    Of love’s divine disease:
    It rounds the world from bed to bed
    As pretty as you please.
    Men worship Venus everywhere,
    As plainly may be seen;
    The decorations which I bear
    Are nobler than the Croix de Guerre,
    And gained in service of our fair
    And universal Queen.

    Playboy
    Richard Wilbur

    High on his stockroom ladder like a dunce
    The stock-boy sits, and studies like a sage
    The subject matter of one glossy page,
    As lost in curves as Archimedes once.

    Sometimes, without a glance, he feeds himself.
    The left hand, like a mother-bird in flight,
    Brings him a sandwich for a sidelong bite,
    And then returns it to a dusty shelf.

    What so engrosses him? The wild decor
    Of this pink-papered alcove into which
    A naked girl has stumbled, with its rich
    Welter of pelts and pillows on the floor,

    Amidst which, kneeling in a supple pose,
    She lifts a goblet in her farther hand,
    As if about to toast a flower-stand
    Above which hovers an exploding rose

    Fired from a long-necked crystal vase that rests
    Upon a tasseled and vermilion cloth
    One taste of which would shrivel up a moth?
    Or is he pondering her perfect breasts?

    Nothing escapes him of her body’s grace
    Or of her floodlit skin, so sleek and warm
    And yet so strangely like a uniform,
    But what now grips his fancy is her face,

    And how the cunning picture holds her still
    At just that smiling instant when her soul,
    Grown sweetly faint, and swept beyond control,
    Consents to his inexorable will.

    A study of Reading Habits
    Philip Larkin

    When getting my nose in a book,
    Cured most things, short of school,
    It was worth ruining my eyes
    To know I could still keep cool,
    And deal out the old right hook
    To dirty dogs twice my size.

    Later, with inch-thick specs,
    Evil was just my lark:
    Me and my cloak and fangs
    Had ripping times in the dark.
    The women I clubbed with sex!
    I broke them up like meringues.

    Don’t read much now, the dude
    Who lets the girl down before
    The hero arrives, the chap
    Who’s yellow and keeps the store,
    Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
    Books are a load of crap.

    Sailing to Byzantium
    W.B.Yeats

    That is no country for old men. The young
    In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
    – Those dying generations – at their song,
    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
    Caught in that sensual music all neglect
    Monuments of unageing intellect.

    An aged man is but a paltry thing,
    A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
    Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
    For every tatter in its mortal dress,
    Nor is there singing school but studying
    Monuments of its own magnificence;
    And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
    To the holy city of Byzantium.

    O sages standing in God’s holy fire
    As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
    Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
    And be the singing-masters of my soul.
    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity.

    Once out of nature I shall never take
    My bodily form from any natural thing,
    But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
    Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

    The Second Coming
    WB Yeats

    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 the 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?
    Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins
    R S Gwynn

    Good Catholic girl, she didn’t mind the cleaning.
    All of her household chores, at first, were small
    And hardly labors one could find demeaning.
    One’s duty was one’s refuge, after all.

    And if she had her doubts at certain moments
    And once confessed them to the Father, she
    Was instantly referred to texts in Romans
    And Peter’s First Epistle, chapter III.

    Years passed. More sinful every day, the Seven
    Breakfasted, grabbed their pitchforks, donned their horns,
    And sped to contravene the hopes of heaven,
    Sowing the neighbors’ lawns with tares and thorns.

    She set to work. Pride’s wall of looking glasses
    Ogled her dimly, smeared with prints of lips;
    Lust’s magazines lay strewn, bare tits and asses
    Weighted by his “devices” – chains, cuffs, whips.

    Gluttony’s empties covered half the table,
    Mingling with Avarice’s cards and chips,
    And she’d been told to sew a Bill Blass label
    Inside the blazer Envy’d bought at Gyps.

    She knelt to the cold master bathroom floor as
    If a petitioner before the Pope,
    Retrieving several pairs of Sloths’s soiled drawers,
    A sweat-sock and a cake of hairy soap.

    Then, as she wiped the Windex from the mirror
    She noticed, and the vision made her cry,
    How much she’d grayed and paled, and how much clearer
    Festered the bruise of Wrath beneath her eye.

    “No poisoned apple needed for this Princess,”
    She murmured making X’s with her thumb.
    A car door slammed, bringing her to her senses:
    Ho-hum. Ho-hum. It’s home from work we come.

    And she was out the window in a second,
    In time to see a Handsome Prince, of course,
    Who, in spying her distressed condition, beckoned
    For her to mount (What else?) his snow-white horse.

    Impeccably he spoke. His smile was glowing.
    So debonair! So charming! And so Male.
    She took a step, reversed and without slowing
    Beat it to St. Anne’s where she took the veil.

    This Be The Verse
    Philip Larkin

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    To a friend whose work has come to nothing
    WB Yeats

    Now all the truth is out,
    Be secret and take defeat
    From any brazen throat,
    For how can you compete,
    Being honor bred, with one
    Who, were it proved he lies,
    Were neither shamed in his own
    Nor in his neighbors’ eyes?
    Bred to a harder thing
    Than triumph, turn away
    And like a laughing string
    Whereon mad fingers play
    Amid a place of stone,
    Be secret and exult,
    Because of all things known
    That is most difficult.

    .
    To an Athlete Dying Young
    A.E. Housman

    The time you won your town the race
    We chaired you through the market-place;
    Man and boy stood cheering by,
    And home we brought you shoulder-high.

    Today, the road all runners come,
    Shoulder-high we bring you home,
    And set you at your threshold down,
    Townsman of a stiller town.

    Smart lad, to slip betimes away
    >From fields where glory does not stay
    And early though the laurel grows
    It withers quicker than the rose.

    Eyes the shady night has shut
    Cannot see the record cut,
    And silence sounds no worse than cheers
    After earth has stopped the ears:

    Now you will not swell the rout
    Of lads that wore their honours out,
    Runners whom renown outran
    And the name died before the man.

    So set, before its echoes fade,
    The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
    And hold to the low lintel up
    The still-defended challenge-cup.

    And round that early-laurelled head
    Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
    And find unwithered on its curls
    The garland briefer than a girl’s.

    Two Tramps in Mud Time
    Robert Frost

    Out of the mud two strangers came
    And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
    And one of them put me off my aim
    By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
    I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
    And let the other go on a way.
    I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
    He wanted to take my job for pay.

    Good blocks of oak it was I split,
    As large around as the chopping block;
    And every piece I squarely hit
    Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
    The blows that a life of self-control
    Spares to strike for the common good,
    That day, giving a loose to my soul,
    I spent on the unimportant wood.

    The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
    You know how it is with an April day
    When the sun is out and the wind is still,
    You’re one month on in the middle of May.
    But if you so much as dare to speak,
    A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
    A wind comes off a frozen peak,
    And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

    A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
    And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
    His song so pitched as not to excite
    A single flower as yet to bloom.
    It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
    Winter was only playing possum.
    Except in color he isn’t blue,
    But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

    The water for which we may have to look
    In summertime with a witching wand,
    In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
    In every print of a hoof a pond.
    Be glad of water, but don’t forget
    The lurking frost in the earth beneath
    That will steal forth after the sun is set
    And show on the water its crystal teeth.

    The time when most I loved my task
    These two must make me love it more
    By coming with what they came to ask.
    You’d think I never had felt before
    The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
    The grip of earth on outspread feet,
    The life of muscles rocking soft
    And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

    Out of the wood two hulking tramps
    (From sleeping God knows where last night,
    But not long since in the lumber camps).
    They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
    Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
    The judged me by their appropriate tool.
    Except as a fellow handled an ax
    They had no way of knowing a fool.

    Nothing on either side was said.
    They knew they had but to stay their stay
    And all their logic would fill my head:
    As that I had no right to play
    With what was another man’s work for gain.
    My right might be love but theirs was need.
    And where the two exist in twain
    Theirs was the better right–agreed.

    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation
    As my two eyes make one in sight.
    Only where love and need are one,
    And the work is play for mortal stakes,
    Is the deed ever really done
    For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

    We Wear The Mask
    Paul Lawrence Dunbar

    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,­-
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream other-wise,
    We wear the mask.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    September 26, 2011 at 2:36 am

    Marcus,

    Thanks for those—I think most would say they are similar in spirit to my list: I did consider most: the Parker ‘rose’ poem, Dunbar’s work I like, more Frost, more Yeats (I included ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ which you posted), Wilbur, etc. Housman published his best in the 19th cen.

    You tend to favor a certain poem which strikes me as slightly too much like a Gilbert &Sullivan song lyric, and some of your selections are too didactic for my taste, they fail to have that ‘undercurrent of meaning’ which Poe thought was important. I appreciate them, but I wouldn’t consider them ‘the best.’ I rejected Hardy for this reason. There’s a lot of Frost and Yeats chestnuts which I reject for this reason, too, and there’s some well-loved Yeats which veers toward doggerel to my ears. A lot of Frost is dogmatic and harsh to my taste. Finally, I rejected poems that were too vulgar, ugly, pessimistic and sour, though many consider them fine poems. Many don’t consider this an aesthetic criterion, but I do.

    Tom

  5. marcusbales said,

    September 26, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Tom: a man who admires Poe’s poetry objects to ‘a certain poem … too much like a Gilbert & Sullivan song’? Now that’s funny.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Marcus,

      Really? You don’t see the difference between H.M.S. Pinafore and “Alone” or “City By The Sea?” Very well, then.

      Anyway, this is fascinating. From Wiki:

      Patience (1881) satirised the aesthetic movement in general and its colourful poets, in particular, combining aspects of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler and others in the rival poets Bunthorne and Grosvenor. Grossmith, who created the role of Bunthorne, based his makeup, wig and costume on Swinburne and especially Whistler, as seen in the adjacent photo.The work also lampoons male vanity and chauvinism in the military. The story concerns two rival “aesthetic” poets, who attract the attention of the young ladies of the village, who had been engaged to the members of a cavalry regiment. But the two poets are each in love with Patience, the village milkmaid, who detests one of them and feels that it is her duty to avoid the other despite her love for him. Richard D’Oyly Carte was the booking manager for Oscar Wilde, a then lesser-known proponent of aestheticism, and dispatched Wilde on an American lecture tour in conjunction with the opera’s U.S. run, so that American audiences might better understand what the satire was all about.

      Tom

  6. September 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Is it true that WordPress just awarded Marcus Bales an award for ‘Longest Internet Post of the Year’?

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Gary,

      Should I ban him?

      Actually, I thought Marcus was kind to quote all those poems in full. I was also happy to find he hadn’t found a poem I greatly regretted having left off the list.

      Why don’t you post one of your poems you think should be considered as best of the 20th century?

      Tom

      • September 28, 2011 at 4:10 am

        Jeez…some people can’t take a joke. Just kidding, Tom. Just kidding,

        In response to your question, I’m not finding any Robinson Jeffers or Gary Snyder in your list.

        And leaving E.E. Cummings out is like forgetting Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin when talking about the ‘Founding Fathers’.

        • Nooch said,

          September 28, 2011 at 10:40 am

          Bales’ comment was voluminous,
          Rivaling catalogs from Spiegel—
          I printed it in toto, filling
          22 pages (of legal!).

          Thanks, Mr. B.!

        • thomasbrady said,

          September 28, 2011 at 1:57 pm

          Gary,

          Robinson Jeffers and Gary Snyder. Too regionally self-conscious. I find Jeffers just too crackpot.

          Cummings? Gawd. Too cute. Plus you know how I feel about white spaces…

          Tom

  7. Anonymous said,

    September 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Many can’t stomach the idea of BEST,
    EQUALITY beats evenly in the uniqueness of their breast;
    If you say “this!” they will read the REST,
    While picking at a thread sticking out of their vest.


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