Great Poems

If I were to compile a collection of great poems, this is what it would look like.  What we have here is a list of poems that have broken through to me at one time or another in an intense way.  It’s  personal, quirky and contrarian.


Considered by many to be in the trinity of the great classical haiku masters, Basho scores a direct hit to the heart with this one.

even in Kyoto
when I hear the cuckoo
I long for Kyoto

Betjeman, John

Christmas — Nice poem by a believer, who is hoping that it’s really true

The Licorice Fields at Pontefract — You really couldn’t tell it from this, but this guy was the Poet Laureate of the UK.  I love this poem anyway.

Browning, Robert

Summum Bonum — An exceedingly romantic poem.  I included this is my first collection of “favorite poems” compiled for a high school English class.  It still ranks pretty high.

Carver, Raymond

Hummingbird — He was dying and he knew it.  Written for his wife.

Donne, John

To His Mistress Going to Bed Not exactly subtle, but this 16th Century clergyman had game.

Frost, Robert

Dust of Snow — So simple and so good

Reluctance — Oh my aching heart!

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening — One of my mother’s favorites, and hence, mine, too

The Ovenbird — “The question that he frames in all but words, is what to make of a diminished thing.”  Wow

Hall, Donald

The Young Watch Us —  An inspiration for older folks everywhere.

Hill, Geoffrey

In Memory of Jane Fraser — Not your typical eulogy

Hopkins, Gerard Manley

Pied Beauty — Possibly my favorite poem of all time

Spring and Fall — This one inspired Kenneth Lonergan’s movie “Margaret” and also a contender for my favorite poem

The Windhover — Thought to be Hopkins’s favorite

Houseman, A.E.

White in the Moon the Long Road Lies If you’ve ever taken a lonely walk under a bright moon, this one is for you.

Issa, Kobayashi — Haiku written about his late wife …

The moon tonight–
I even miss
her grumbling.

Marlowe, Christopher

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love — I had to include this because I shamelessly ripped off Marlowe’s first line for my proposal poem to my wife.  (She said “yes.”)

Ransom, John Crowe

Winter Remembered — One of the best lines, ever:  “Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather”

Roethke, Theodore

I Knew a Woman — What a great last line:  “(I measure time by how a body sways.)”

Rossetti, Christina

Good Friday — Unabashed in its religious devotion

Thomas, Dylan

Fern Hill — To get the full effect you really need to hear this read by Thomas himself.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night — My favorite villanelle

Whitman, Walt

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d — What can I say?  I love lilacs.  Written upon the  death of President Lincoln, this is a thoroughly American poem.

Yeats, William Butler

When You Are Old — Every poet hopes someone will one day “take down this book.”