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
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.
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.
Hummingbird — He was dying and he knew it. Written for his wife.
To His Mistress Going to Bed — Not exactly subtle, but this 16th Century clergyman had game.
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
The Young Watch Us — An inspiration for older folks everywhere.
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
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
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”
I Knew a Woman — What a great last line: “(I measure time by how a body sways.)”
Good Friday — Unabashed in its religious devotion
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
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.”