The 39 Most Iconic Poems in English

Explore the timeless beauty of English poetry with ‘The 39 Most Iconic Poems in English.’ From classic sonnets to modern masterpieces, immerse yourself in the rich literary heritage of these iconic poems. Discover the power of words that have left an indelible mark on the English language and cultural history.

The 39 Most Iconic Poems in English

39 Most Iconic Poems in English

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Sylvia Plath – “Daddy”

Daddy” is a poem written by Sylvia Plath, and it was published posthumously in 1965. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

The full poem is longer and delves into themes of the poet’s complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died when she was eight years old. The poem is known for its intense emotions, vivid imagery, and exploration of personal and psychological struggles.

Rudyard Kipling – “If”

If—” is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and it was first published in 1910. Here is the full text of the poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Audre Lorde – “Power”

Power” is a poem written by Audre Lorde, a prominent American poet, essayist, and civil rights activist. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic

Trying to make power out of hatred and destruction, Lorde’s poem explores the consequences of violence and the struggle for justice. The full poem is poignant and powerful, reflecting Lorde’s commitment to addressing social issues through her poetry.

Kevin Young – “Errata”

Errata” is a poem written by Kevin Young, an American poet and essayist. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

I am not a catalog, a ledger,
a list of every artifact
I have ever found
or been.

I am not a book of blackness
though, I tell you, I am born
of such catalogues
and ledgers,
of blackness
so thick it can’t
be remembered
any more than you, exact,

your street now flown
on paper.

I am made of paper
and of it,
am both lost
and found,
a ream in a writer’s hands
as it leaves and leaves

off leaves
what’s left
will be an art-
ifact of me:

a menace and
a might,
a trade and
a terrible type.

A clever and introspective piece, “Errata” explores themes of identity, history, and the limitations of documentation. Kevin Young’s work often delves into the complexities of the African American experience, and “Errata” is no exception. The poem reflects on the challenges of capturing and preserving the richness of one’s identity and history.

Allen Ginsberg – “Howl”

Howl” is a poem by Allen Ginsberg, one of the most famous works of the Beat Generation. It was written in 1955 and is known for its bold, unapologetic language and its critique of societal norms. Here is an excerpt from the opening of the poem:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unspoken demands in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,

who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,

who ate fire in Brooklyn nightclubs, poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unspoken demands in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,

who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,

who ate fire in Brooklyn nightclubs.

The full poem is longer and explores various themes, including the disillusionment with societal expectations, critiques of capitalism, and a celebration of countercultural values. “Howl” is considered a landmark work in American literature and has had a lasting impact on poetry and culture.

Marianne Moore – “Poetry”

Poetry” is a poem by Marianne Moore, an American modernist poet. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but
because they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–

nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”–above
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in
them,” shall we have

it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
in defiance of their opinion–
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

The full poem further explores Marianne Moore’s thoughts on the nature and essence of poetry, emphasizing the importance of the genuine and the need for a balance between imagination and reality.

William Blake – “The Tyger”

The Tyger” is a poem by William Blake, part of his collection “Songs of Experience” published in 1794. Here is the full text of the poem:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

“The Tyger” explores themes of creation, innocence, and experience. It contrasts the tiger, a powerful and fearsome creature, with the lamb, symbolizing innocence. The poem raises questions about the nature of creation, the divine, and the existence of both good and evil in the world.

Elizabeth Bishop – “One Art”

One Art” is a well-known poem by Elizabeth Bishop. Here’s the full text of the poem:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

“One Art” is a villanelle that explores the theme of loss. The repetition in the poem, particularly the refrain “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” emphasizes the speaker’s attempt to convince herself that losing things is a skill that can be mastered. However, as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that some losses are deeply felt, and the refrain transforms into a poignant acknowledgment that certain losses are indeed significant and difficult to cope with.

Maya Angelou – “Still I Rise”

Still I Rise” is a powerful poem by Maya Angelou. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt

Langston Hughes – “Harlem”

Harlem” is a poem by Langston Hughes, and it’s also known by the title “A Dream Deferred.” Here’s an excerpt:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

This poem reflects on the consequences of postponing or suppressing one’s dreams and aspirations. Hughes uses vivid imagery and metaphors to convey the potential impact of deferred dreams on individuals and society.

Robert Burns – “To a Mouse”

To a Mouse” is a poem written by Robert Burns. Here’s an excerpt from this famous poem:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

The poem reflects on the nature of fate and the unpredictability of life. The lines you see here express the sentiment that even the best-laid plans often go awry, and while the mouse might not worry about the future, the poet finds himself looking back on past hardships and facing an uncertain future.

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T. S. Eliot – “The Waste Land”

The Waste Land” is a long poem by T.S. Eliot, first published in 1922. Due to its length, I can provide only a brief excerpt from the beginning of the poem:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

These opening lines set the tone for the poem, which is known for its complex structure, rich symbolism, and exploration of various cultural and literary references. “The Waste Land” is often considered a landmark work of modernist poetry, reflecting the disillusionment and fragmentation of post-World War I society.

Louise Glück – “Mock Orange”

Mock Orange” is a poem by Louise Glück. Here is an excerpt:

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
paralyzing body—

and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—

In this poem, Glück explores themes of desire, disappointment, and the complex emotions associated with relationships. The mock orange flowers become a metaphor for the speaker’s conflicting feelings, and the poem delves into the raw and sometimes uncomfortable aspects of human connection.

Edgar Allan Poe – “The Raven”

The Raven” is a narrative poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1845. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the poem:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Poe’s “The Raven” is a famous narrative poem that tells the story of a man who is visited by a mysterious raven. The poem explores themes of grief, loss, and the narrator’s descent into madness. The repetitive refrain of the raven’s response, “Nevermore,” adds to the poem’s haunting and melancholic atmosphere.

Lewis Carroll – “Jabberwocky”

Jabberwocky” is a poem by Lewis Carroll, appearing in his novel “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” (1871). Here is an excerpt:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

The poem is known for its playful and nonsensical language, with many words coined by Carroll himself. It tells the story of a young boy’s encounter with the fearsome Jabberwock and his quest to slay the creature. “Jabberwocky” remains a classic example of linguistic creativity and imaginative wordplay in poetry.

Carolyn Forché – “The Colonel”

The Colonel” is a poem by Carolyn Forché. Here is an excerpt:

What you have heard is true. I was in his house.
His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His
daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the
night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol
on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on
its black cord over the house. On the television
was a cop show. It was in English.

The poem describes an encounter with a military officer, referred to as “The Colonel,” and explores the stark contrast between the domestic scene in his house and the harsh reality of violence and oppression. Carolyn Forché’s work often engages with political and social themes, and “The Colonel” is a powerful example of her poetry that reflects on the brutality of war and its impact on individuals and communities.

Gertrude Stein – “Sacred Emily”

Sacred Emily” is a poem by Gertrude Stein. Here is an excerpt:

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
Lovely lychee.
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

It is a repetition of this sentence and some others that are equally about roses. The poem is known for its use of repetition and exploration of language, a characteristic style in Gertrude Stein’s work. The repetitive nature of the text invites readers to consider the meaning of language and the relationship between words and their referents.

Nikki Giovanni – “Ego Tripping”

Ego Tripping” is a poem by Nikki Giovanni. Here is an excerpt:

I was born in the Congo
I walked to the Fertile Crescent and built
the Sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with Allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe
to cool my thirst

In the poem, Nikki Giovanni takes on a boastful and imaginative tone, presenting a speaker who claims to have incredible powers and accomplishments. The poem is a celebration of African and African American heritage, emphasizing strength, resilience, and a connection to history and mythology.

Walt Whitman – “Song of Myself”

Song of Myself” is a poem by Walt Whitman, part of his collection “Leaves of Grass.” Here is an excerpt:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is a celebration of individuality, human connection, and the interconnectedness of all living things. The poem explores themes of democracy, equality, and the vastness of the self.

Lucie Brock-Broido – “Am Moor”

Am Moor” is a poem by Lucie Brock-Broido. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

All your hurting she had heard about.
All your hurting she had heard about.
And where was the little of you that had been here?
The burnished self, your one true
Love. Who’d keep you from harm?

The poem explores themes of loss, identity, and the search for self in the face of pain. Lucie Brock-Broido’s poetry often delves into intricate imagery and a rich, evocative language to convey complex emotions.

Robert Hayden – “Middle Passage”

Middle Passage” is a powerful poem by Robert Hayden. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

Jeeze, it was sad, a toss of chance
from winnowing fan or pox sick Indian
sifting out the pariahs, that rag of chance
swept, too, his tears away.
Wasn’t there mishap, wasn’t there
the better part of blame, revenge,
the better part of blame and hate and pain?

The poem “Middle Passage” delves into the historical and human aspects of the transatlantic slave trade. It reflects on the brutal conditions endured by enslaved Africans during their journey across the Atlantic Ocean and the dehumanizing impact of this historical atrocity. Hayden’s poem captures the cruelty and inhumanity of the Middle Passage while addressing broader themes of history, suffering, and survival.

Philip Larkin – “This Be The Verse”

This Be The Verse” is a poem by Philip Larkin. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

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.

Larkin’s poem is known for its blunt and pessimistic view on the impact of parents on their children. It explores the idea that the mistakes and flaws of one generation are often passed down to the next, perpetuating a cycle of suffering and dysfunction.

John McCrae – “In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders Fields” is a war poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae during World War I. Here’s an excerpt:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

The poem reflects on the graves of soldiers in Flanders, a region in Belgium, and uses the image of poppies to symbolize the lives lost in war. “In Flanders Fields” is one of the most famous war poems and is often recited in remembrance ceremonies honoring military personnel who have died in conflict.

W. B. Yeats – “The Second Coming”

The Second Coming” is a poem by W. B. Yeats. Here is an excerpt:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center 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.

The poem reflects on the state of the world in the aftermath of World War I, using powerful imagery and symbolism. It expresses Yeats’s concern about the collapse of order and the rise of chaos, with the “Second Coming” alluding to a sense of impending change or upheaval.

Gwendolyn Brooks – “We Real Cool”

We Real Cool” is a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. Here is an excerpt:

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

This concise and impactful poem captures the rebellious spirit of a group of young individuals who have chosen to defy societal norms. The repeated use of “We” creates a sense of collective identity, and the poem addresses themes of youth, defiance, and the consequences of risky behavior.

Robert Frost – “The Road Not Taken”

The Road Not Taken” is a famous poem by Robert Frost. Here is an excerpt:

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;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

This iconic poem explores themes of choice, regret, and the impact of decisions on one’s life journey. It’s often cited as an expression of individualism and the complexity of decision-making.

Percy Bysshe Shelley – “Ozymandias”

Ozymandias” is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here is an excerpt:

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

The poem explores the transience of power and the inevitable decline of mighty empires. The ruined statue in the vast desert serves as a powerful symbol of the impermanence of human achievements.

Lucille Clifton – “Homage to My Hips”

Homage to My Hips” is a poem by Lucille Clifton. Here’s an excerpt:

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.

they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.

they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.

I appreciate your request to explore this poem, but it’s important to note that “Homage to My Hips” is a copyrighted work, and I can’t provide extensive excerpts. However, I can offer summaries, analysis, or answer specific questions about the poem if you’d like.

Terrance Hayes – “The Golden Shovel”

“The Golden Shovel” is a poetic form created by Terrance Hayes. The form involves taking a short poem, often a line from another poem, and using each word in that line as the end word for each line in a new poem. Here is an example, with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool”:

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks:
We real cool. We
Left school. We

“The Golden Shovel” by Terrance Hayes:
By Gwendolyn Brooks
for a trio of bright black boys who wrote it with a wishbone

We real cool. We
Left school. We

In this example, each word from the Gwendolyn Brooks line becomes the end word for each line in Terrance Hayes’s poem. This poetic form pays homage to the original while allowing the poet to explore their own themes and ideas.

Adrienne Rich – “Diving into the Wreck”

Diving into the Wreck” is a poem by Adrienne Rich. Here’s an excerpt:

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

Rich’s poem explores themes of identity, self-discovery, and the journey into the depths of the self. The speaker embarks on a symbolic dive, equipped with tools and armor, to confront and navigate the wreckage of societal and personal expectations. “Diving into the Wreck” is a powerful feminist poem that engages with the complexities of gender, language, and the search for one’s authentic self.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – “Kubla Khan”

Kubla Khan” is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

This poem is famous for its vivid and dreamlike imagery. Coleridge claimed that the poem came to him in a dream after he had taken opium, and he tried to capture the fantastical and otherworldly scenes he envisioned. The poem remains a classic example of Romantic poetry and is celebrated for its rich and imaginative language.

Muriel Rukeyser – “The Book of the Dead”

The Book of the Dead” is a long poem by Muriel Rukeyser. As it’s quite extensive, I can provide a brief excerpt:

“The road to the cemetery rises uphill.
In sun that strong
feels everything beginning.
And to be a part of everything, there is a covenant.
For death must come back and be on earth again,
must be here among us,
it is more and more evident every day.”

Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” is a powerful and multi-faceted poem that explores the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster in West Virginia, where many workers were exposed to silica dust. The poem delves into issues of labor, justice, and the impact of industrialization on communities.

Paul Laurence Dunbar – “We Wear the Mask”

We Wear the Mask” is a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Here’s an excerpt:

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.

This powerful poem explores the theme of hiding one’s true feelings behind a metaphorical mask, conveying the challenges and sacrifices individuals make to conform to societal expectations. Dunbar, an African American poet, often addressed issues of race and identity in his work, and “We Wear the Mask” is a poignant reflection on the complexities of self-presentation.

Frank O’Hara – “Meditations in an Emergency”

Meditations in an Emergency” is a collection of poems by Frank O’Hara. One of the poems from this collection is titled “Steps.” Here’s an excerpt:

oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

O’Hara’s poetry often captures the energy of urban life, and “Meditations in an Emergency” is known for its vibrant and sometimes unconventional expressions of love, desire, and daily experiences. The excerpt provided offers a glimpse into O’Hara’s style and the way he infuses everyday moments with a sense of immediacy and passion.

William Carlos Williams – “The Red Wheelbarrow”

The Red Wheelbarrow” is a short poem by William Carlos Williams. Here’s the poem in its entirety:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Williams’ poem is celebrated for its simplicity and vivid imagery. It encapsulates the idea that ordinary things in life can have profound significance when observed with a keen eye.

Emily Dickinson – “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”

Because I could not stop for Death” is a poem by Emily Dickinson. Here is an excerpt:

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

The poem explores the theme of death as an inevitable part of life, personifying Death as a gentle and patient guide who takes the speaker on a carriage ride through different stages of life. Dickinson’s work often delves into profound aspects of existence, and “Because I could not stop for Death” is a classic example of her contemplative and introspective poetry.

Sappho – “The Anactoria Poem” (translated by Jim Powell)

The Anactoria Poem” is a poem attributed to the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Here is a translation by Jim Powell:

Some say horsemen, some say warriors,
some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
vision in this dark world, but I say it’s
what you love.

The full poem is celebrated for its lyrical quality and its exploration of themes related to love and desire. Sappho is known for her poems expressing emotions, particularly those associated with love and the beauty of the world.

Wallace Stevens – “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a poem by Wallace Stevens. Here’s an excerpt:


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

This poem is composed of thirteen short sections, each offering a different perspective or image of a blackbird. It’s a notable example of Stevens’ modernist and imagist approach to poetry, exploring varied ways of perceiving a single subject.

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