Our Favorite Poems

A few weeks ago I asked our Facebook followers to share the name of their favorite poem. As you'll see below, the responses were both enthusiastic and eclectic!

Do you see any of your favorites here? Whether that's a yes or no, do take a moment to click on the comments option at the bottom and tell us about your favorite or favorites!


Phyllis SB got in first, within a few seconds of me posting, with her recommendation of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service, which was seconded by Dana VB.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
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Leslie W put in her vote for "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, which Kristy Sorenson McRae also voted for.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; --on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

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Karen Nelson Mangold recommended "Variations on the Word Sleep" by Margaret Atwood.

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head
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While Melissa Karkowski Gasparini voted for "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, which immediately received a flurry of likes from others.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
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And prompted Ana Morales to suggest "The Road Not Taken", also by Robert Frost, which also received a flurry of likes.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
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Which led Linda Euler to make yet another Robert Frost suggestion, "Choose Something Like a Star".

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.
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Perhaps the star theme reminded Lee Bailleu of her favorite: Ogden Nash's "Kindly Unhitch That Star, Buddy".

I hardly suppose I know anybody who wouldn't rather be a
success than a failure,
Just as I suppose every piece of crabgrass in the garden would
much rather be an azalea,
And in celestial circles all the run-of-the-mill angels would
rather be archangels or at least cherubim and seraphim,
And in the legal world all the little process-servers hope to
grow up into great big bailiffim and sheriffim.
Indeed, everybody wants to be a wow,
But not everybody knows exactly how.
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Ariana Kincaid suggested James Whitcomb Riley's "She is Just Away".

I cannot say, and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away!
With a Cheery Smile and a wave of the hand
She has wandered into an unknown land.
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While Kim Harvey Butler voted for "The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke, which was quickly liked by a number of others.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
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Barbara Garske Kaufmann refused to be tied down saying, "It depends on what's going on in my life. Today it's 'The Daffodils.' On Sunday it was 'High Flight.' Often it's Emily Dickinson or EE Cummings. Many days it's Rilke. There can be no one favorite poem for me. That's like choosing a favorite child!"

So, here's a sampling of two of Barbara's favorites, "The Daffodils" by William Wordsworth and "High Flight" by Gillespie Magee:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
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Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
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Marci Kastner put her vote in for "The Blue Swallows" by Howard Nemerov.

Across the millstream below the bridge
Seven blue swallows divide the air
In shapes invisible and evanescent,
Kaleidoscopic beyond the mind's
Or memory's power to keep them there.
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Tom Walsh proposed "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot (one of my favorites too).

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
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Alison A. Baker voted for "Mythopoeia" by JRR Tolkien.

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, Inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.
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Melissa Anne White suggested a poem by Laurence Hope which, based on her description, I believe is "On The City Wall":

Upon the City ramparts, lit up by sunset gleam,
The Blue eyes that conquer, meet the Darker eyes that dream.

The Dark eyes, so Eastern, and the Blue eyes from the West,
The last alight with action, the first so full of rest.

Brown, that seem to hold the Past; its magic mystery,
Blue that catch the early light, of ages yet to be.

Meet and fall and meet again, then linger, look, and smile,
Time and distance all forgotten, for a little while.
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Kim Mancini opted for "Lessons of the War: Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed.

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.
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Vivian Copeland Harrington lightened things by proposing "The Bear Story" by James Whitcomb Riley, because "my dad used to read this to us when we were children."

W'y, wunst they wuz a Little Boy went out
In the woods to shoot a Bear. So, he went out
'Way in the grea'-big woods--he did.--An' he
Wuz goin' along--an' goin' along, you know,
An' purty soon he heerd somepin' go "Wooh!"--
Ist thataway--"Woo-ooh!" An' he wuz skeered,
He wuz. An' so he runned an' clumbed a tree--
A grea'-big tree, he did,--a sicka-more tree.
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Vivian also professed a soft spot for "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" by Ogden Nash.

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
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Bill Hooper offered "Holderlin" by Delmore Schwartz:

Now as before do you not hear their voices
Serene in the midst of their rejoicing
Chating to tose who have hopes and make choices
Clear as the birds in teh thick summer foliage:
It is! It is!
We are! We Are!
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Suzanne Garnish Segady suggested "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
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Rona Kruger offered "Leisure" by William Henry Davis

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
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Celia Henry Arnaud voted for "The Second Coming" by William Butler 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.
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Patricia McRae suggested "The Heights of Macchu Picchu", part of Pablo Neruda's Canto General, an epic poem about the history and pre-history of Latin America

From the air to the air, like an empty net,
I went on through streets and thin air, arriving and
leaving behind,
at autumn's advent, the coin handed out
in the leaves, and between spring and ripe grain,
the fullness that love, as in a glove's
fall, gives over to us like a long-drawn moon.
(translated by John Felstiner)
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Lastly, Al Jiwa rounded up the suggestions with a poem by Mohammed Ali, which apparently is recognized as the shortest poem in the English language; and is the only poem presented here in full:

Me,
Whee!

Although some think it should be rendered

Me,
We.

While others say that it wasn't originated by Ali at all!



Thanks to all who contributed to our quick Facebook survey.

What's your favorite poem? Please share the name and perhaps a few lines by commenting below....

Davina Morgan-Witts, BookBrowse editor

Somehow missed this during Poetry Month in April but I didn't see that anyone had suggested Forgetfulness by Billy Collins - it is not only one of my favorites but perfect for this group. The first line is "The name of the author is the first to go."
Forgetfulness



    The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
# Posted By Dottie MacKeen | 5/11/11 10:13 AM
Ithaca by CP Cafavy, a Greek poet. Because it was written in Greek, it has had many translations, and all of them seem to vary just a bit. This one is from the vangelis.com website, and it's the translation I prefer.

As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
# Posted By Susan Green | 5/12/11 9:06 AM
Absolutely delighted to see that Sam McGee was in first and twice! A long-time favourite of mine! Also, have just fallen in love with a book called WonTon by Lee Wardlaw illustrated by Eugene Yelchin written completely in Haiku by and about a rescued cat coming to a new home. It is brilliant, funny, and clever all at once. Here's one sample: The Yard
Crickets crunch mice snap.
Wing thing makes a dusty snack.
No meat on a moth.
# Posted By Lesley | 5/13/11 8:53 PM
Thanks for reminding me of this marvelous poem. My first contact with it was at the wedding of a friend. I am adding it to my "funeral folder".
# Posted By Marcia | 5/14/11 7:26 AM
My favorite poem is Mary Oliver's WILD GEESE

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean bule air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things."
# Posted By Marilyn G Carmichael | 5/20/11 9:31 AM
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