The rhythm of the tongue brings wordless music into the air; it is in poetry that the human essence is refined to such ritualistic purity. It’s in the steady beats, the sonorous rise-and-fall of speech; for a moment it appears as if all the mysteries of the world have unlocked themselves to our private view.
It’s these works which are celebrated on World Poetry Day, falling on 21 March (yesterday), in which UNESCO recognizes the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture.
In honor of these celebrations, below is a small collection of parts of poems from 25 of the greatest poets and some of the most powerful words written in poetic form in history.
‘Because I could not stop for Death’
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
‘To My Wife’
And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand
‘Dark Pines Under Water’
But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world; There is something down there and you want it told
‘The Hollow Men’
This is the way the world ends
not with a bang but a whimper
Out of the ash I rise
With my red hair
And I eat men like air
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue
‘Dulce et Decorum est’
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.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
‘Variation on the Word Sleep’
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary
e e cummings
‘the boys i mean are not refined’
they speak whatever’s on their mind
they do whatever’s in their pants
the boys i mean are not refined
they shake the mountains when they dance
‘O Captain! My Captain!’
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won
‘Leaves of Grass’
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles
The weight of the world
Under the burden
under the burden
the weight we carry
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
‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom
‘Still I Rise’
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise
William Butler Yeats
‘The Second Coming’
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 ‘
Edna St. Vincent Millay
‘Dirge Without Music’
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned
‘Eloisa to Abelard’
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d
Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shake
Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world
‘The Unblinking Grief’
you are much more than simply dead
I am a dish for your ashes
I am a fist for your vanished air
the most terrible thing about life
is finding it gone
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
She had blue skin,
and so did he.
He kept it hid
and so did she.
They looked for blue
their whole life through.
Then passed right by—
and never knew
‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where
Nor any drop to drink
‘Let America Be America Again’
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek –
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak
‘Suicide in the Trenches’
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go
‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
‘The Road Not Taken’
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.