Do You Have a Favorite Poem?

Do You Have a Favorite Poem?

When I was 10, my best friend was 82…

Her name was Charlotte, and she was part of my mom’s book club. When I complimented her straw hat one afternoon, she invited me over for “tea and a poem.” My mom, of course, made me go. At first, I dreaded it. All my friends were selling Girl Scout cookies, and I was hanging out with Chaaaaarlotte.

But after a while, I started enjoying the (very caffeinated) English Breakfast tea she served. Even the poems she would choose felt welcoming and fun. They were always by Billy Collins, her favorite writer. “Delighted, overwhelmed and mystified,” she would exclaim after every reading, plopping three more sugar cubes into her already-sugared tea.

Here’s the first one Charlotte shared with me:

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

So great, right? (I also love how Billy Collins described his writing process, “I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.”)

After Charlotte worked her way through Billy Collins’s entire collection, she simply started again. “It’s never the same poem, because you are never the same person you were when you first read it,” she told me. Delighted, overwhelmed and mystified, indeed.

What about you? If you have a favorite poem or a book you enjoyed lately, I’d love to hear…

P.S. On memorizing a poem, and seven great new books.

(Photo by Lena Corwin for Cup of Jo.)

  1. I am almost three years late to this post, and it is still relevant! I only just discovered your blog, and am enjoying immensely (I just subscribed to received your e-newsletter… <3)

    I am a long-time lover of poetry, with too many favorite poets to name. A handful: Naomi Shihab Nye, Wendell Berry, Sharon Olds, William Stafford, Ellen Bass. Here's one of hers:

    Everything on the Menu by Ellen Bass

    In a poem it doesn’t matter
    if the house is dirty. Dust
    that claims the photographs like a smothering
    love. Sand spilled from a boy’s sneaker,
    the faceted grains scattered on the emerald rug
    like the stars and planets of a tiny
    solar system. Monopoly
    butted up against Dostoyevsky.
    El techo, a shiny sticker, labeling the ceiling
    from the summer a nephew studied Spanish.
    Mold on the bread in the refrigerator
    is as interesting as lichen on an oak –
    its miniscule hairs like the fuzz
    on an infant’s head, its delicate
    blues and spring greens, its plethora of spores,
    whole continents of creatures, dazzling in our palms.

    In a poem, life and death are equals.
    We receive the child, crushed
    like gravel under the tire.
    And the grandfather at the open grave
    holding her small blue sweatshirt to his face.
    And we welcome the baby born
    at daybreak, the mother naked, squatting
    and pushing in front of the picture window
    just as the garbage truck roars up
    and the men jump out, clanking
    the metal cans into its maw.

    In a poem, we don’t care if you got hired
    or fired, lost or found love,
    recovered or kept drinking.
    You don’t have to exercise
    or forgive. We’re hungry.
    We’ll take everything on the menu.

    In poems joy and sorrow are mates.
    They lie down together, their hands
    all over each other, fingers
    swollen in mouths,
    nipples chafed to flame, their sexes
    fitting seamlessly as day and night.
    They arch over us, glistening and bucking,
    the portals through which we enter our lives.

  2. Audrey J says...

    Thank you for this post, I have discovered so many beautiful poems here. One that has guided me through the past couple of years is “Happiness,” by Jane Kenyon.

    There’s just no accounting for happiness,
    or the way it turns up like a prodigal
    who comes back to the dust at your feet
    having squandered a fortune far away.

    And how can you not forgive?
    You make a feast in honor of what
    was lost, and take from its place the finest
    garment, which you saved for an occasion
    you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
    to know that you were not abandoned,
    that happiness saved its most extreme form
    for you alone.

    No, happiness is the uncle you never
    knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
    onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
    into town, and inquires at every door
    until he finds you asleep midafternoon
    as you so often are during the unmerciful
    hours of your despair.

    It comes to the monk in his cell.
    It comes to the woman sweeping the street
    with a birch broom, to the child
    whose mother has passed out from drink.
    It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
    a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
    and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
    in the night.
    It even comes to the boulder
    in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
    to rain falling on the open sea,
    to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

  3. Maggie says...

    A timeless poem:

    The Road Not Taken
    Robert Frost – 1874-1963

    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.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  4. Emma says...

    Oh this, since I first learned to read and found poems:

    By Joyce Kilmer
    I think that I shall never see
    A poem lovely as a tree.

    A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

    A tree that looks at God all day,
    And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

    A tree that may in Summer wear
    A nest of robins in her hair;

    Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
    Who intimately lives with rain.

    Poems are made by fools like me,
    But only God can make a tree.

    I have had a love of trees all my life and when going anywhere to visit a new place, I look for trees and find a favorite tree everywhere I go.

  5. Sera says...

    This haiku by Bashō.

    Even in Kyoto –
    hearing the cuckoo’s cry –
    I long for Kyoto.

    It’s the closest I can come to describing the lingering nostalgia I feel for time spent with my baby as a new mother.

  6. Misty Maynard says...

    My dear friend, Jo, used to tease me about liking poetry. She is gone now and I miss her every day. I found this blog by accident (?) or perhaps she somehow nudged me toward it. Here are two poems that I like very much –

    I Will Be All Light

    Summer is done with me –
    the leaf, the petal, the flower.
    But all is not over,
    My spirit grows boundless
    soaring without worry, without tiring
    through the most wreckful storms.
    I see through death and refuse it.
    Having known the firmness
    of branches and vines;
    of so many suns and moons;
    of every ennobling cold flake,
    I have learned to endure.
    No lament for this season.
    Peace shares the space where harsh words cry.
    Summer has fallen silent,
    but its virtues gather in waves.
    No winter tears. No parting sorrow.
    I am meant to grace this world
    that blessed me with such abundance.
    When this disgruntled season passes
    I will wing my way back to you.
    You will recognize my fragrance
    strewn along your footways.
    I will be all light.

    Gordon Parks
    Arias in Silence 1994

    They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
    My father, twenty-five, in the same suit
    of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
    Still two years old and trembling at his feet.

    My mother, twenty three, in a sprigged dress
    Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,
    Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.
    Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.

    She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight
    From an old H. P. sauce-bottle, a screw
    Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out
    The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.

    The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
    My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
    Over the drifted stream. My father spins
    A stone along the water. Leisurely,

    They beckon to me from the other bank.
    I hear them call, ‘See where the stream-path is!
    Crossing is not as hard as you might think.’

    I had not thought that it would be like this.

    – Charles Causley, 1917 – 2003

  7. Sarina says...

    I’m late to this but here’s one that never fails to make me Content Breath. The Orange by Wendy Cope:

    At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
    The size of it made us all laugh.
    I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
    They got quarters and I had a half.

    And that orange, it made me so happy,
    As ordinary things often do
    Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
    This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

    The rest of the day was quite easy.
    I did all the jobs on my list
    And enjoyed them and had some time over.
    I love you. I’m glad I exist.

  8. Judy says...

    I agree with Charlotte. A poem is different each time you experience it. I also feel that I don’t have a favorite poem because poems are fluid the way life is, we need different poems at different times in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this poem for a year. I read it as part of the eulogy for my Dad in December 2017.

    The Spelling by the poet Simon Armitage:

    I left a spelling at my father’s house
    written in small coins on his front step.
    It said which star I was heading for next,
    which channel to watch, which button to press.
    I should have waited, given that spelling
    a voice but I was handsome and late.

    While I was gone he replied with pebbles
    and leaves at my gate. But a storm got up
    from the west, sluicing all meaning and shape.

    I keep his broken spelling in a tin,
    tip it out on the cellar floor, hoping
    a letter or even a word might form.
    And I am all grief, staring through black space
    to meet his eyes, trying to read his face.

  9. My favorite poem is a Greek one called Ithaka, by C.P. Cavafy

    As you set out for Ithaka
    hope the voyage is a long one,
    full of adventure, full of discovery.
    Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
    angry Poseidon—don’t 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 excitement
    stirs 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 the voyage is a long one.
    May there be many a summer morning 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 gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

    Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
    Arriving there is what you are destined for.
    But do not hurry the journey at all.
    Better if it lasts for years,
    so you are old by the time you reach the island,
    wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
    not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
    Ithaka 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, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
    Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
    you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

    • lisa brown says...

      I LOVE this. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Andrea says...

    I’m late to this party because I always tell myself I don’t like poetry. That isn’t precisely true. I don’t like to read poetry. I like to listen to poetry. I have a theory that poetry is meant to be read aloud, and you’re missing a huge part of it (or, at least, I am) if you just read the words on paper. All that by way of saying my current favorite poem is Human Family by Maya Angelou. There are some absolutely delightful recordings of her reading it available on YouTube.

  11. Allison Davis says...

    “Before” by Mark Halliday has been my favorite from the moment I first read it. It gives me butterflies and reminds me of those first romantic days when you’re just falling in love.

    Before you were you,
    before your bicycle appeared under the street-lamp,
    before you met me at the airport in a corduroy jacket,

    before you agreed to hold my five ballpoint pens
    while i ran to play touch football,
    before your wet hair nearly touched the piano keys

    and in advance of how your raincoat was tightly cinched
    when you asked about nonviolent anti-war activity
    and before you said “Truffaut,”

    before your voice supernaturally soft sang
    “I aweary wait upon the shore,”
    before you suddenly stroked my thigh in the old Volvo,

    when you had not yet said “Marcus Aureliius at 11:15”
    and before your white shirt on the train,
    before Pachelbel and “My Creole Belle”

    and before your lips were so cool under that street-lamp
    and before Buddy Holly in Vermont on the sofa
    and Yeats in the library lounge,

    prior to your denim cutoffs on the porch,
    prior to my notes and your notes
    and before your name became a pulsing star,

    before all this
    ah safer and smoother and smaller was my heart.

  12. Audra says...

    ‘When I Have Fears’—Keats. I even got the tattoo!

  13. Ellie McNevin says...

    My favorite poem is also by Billy Collins! I’ve had it taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet for years:


    Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
    the swale of the afternoon,
    the sudden dip into evening,

    then night with his notorious perfumes,
    his many-pointed stars?

    This is the best—
    throwing off the light covers,
    feet on the cold floor,
    and buzzing around the house on espresso—

    maybe a splash of water on the face,
    a palmful of vitamins—
    but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

    dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
    the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
    a cello on the radio,

    and, if necessary, the windows—
    trees fifty, a hundred years old
    out there,
    heavy clouds on the way
    and the lawn steaming like a horse
    in the early morning.

  14. I am solo traveling in Europe right now and have been coming back to this post every time I’m out for a meal or coffee and have felt so much peace and community because of it — THANK YOU, EVERYONE!

    This is a recent favorite, written by Victoria Safford. Hope is always the thing that saves me and keeps me going despite the hardships of life, both in my own and others, and I love how she captures it here.

    “Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope
    Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
    Which are somewhat narrower.
    Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
    Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
    Which creak on shrill and angry hinges.
    Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
    “Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
    But a different, sometimes lonely place,
    The place of truth-telling,
    About your own soul first of all and its condition.
    The place of resistance and defiance,
    The piece of ground from which you see the world
    Both as it is and as it could be,
    As it might be
    As it will be;
    The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
    But the joy in the struggle.
    And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
    Telling people what we are seeing
    Asking people what they see.”

    Also, love this short & powerful poem by Rupi Kaur. I found it after a heartbreak that truly felt physically painful, and the imagery perfectly matched my shattered, yet still living heart.

    “What is stronger
    Than the human heart
    Which shatters over and over
    And still lives”

  15. Caroline says...

    I found political consciousness through poetry- Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan…My mom read me poetry as bedtime stories. Anne of Green Gables introduced me to Byron, and I could repeat all those great poems when I was in second grade thanks to her (and still can)! :-)

  16. brooke says...

    I am a bit late, but I thought I’d share a poem that I think about often, even after reading it for the first time over five years ago.

    Shopping by Faith Shearin

    My husband and I stood together in the new mall
    which was clean and white and full of possibility.
    We were poor so we liked to walk through the stores
    since this was like walking through our dreams.
    In one we admired coffee makers, blue pottery
    bowls, toaster ovens as big as televisions. In another,

    we eased into a leather couch and imagined
    cocktails in a room overlooking the sea. When we
    sniffed scented candles we saw our future faces,
    softly lit, over a dinner of pasta and wine. When
    we touched thick bathrobes we saw midnight

    swims and bathtubs so vast they might be
    mistaken for lakes. My husband’s glasses hurt
    his face and his shoes were full of holes.
    There was a space in our living room where
    a couch should have been. We longed for

    fancy shower curtains, flannel sheets,
    shiny silverware, expensive winter coats.
    Sometimes, at night, we sat up and made lists.
    We pressed our heads together and wrote
    our wants all over torn notebook pages.
    Nearly everyone we loved was alive and we

    were in love but we liked wanting. Nothing
    was ever as nice when we brought it home.
    The objects in stores looked best in stores.
    The stores were possible futures and, young
    and poor, we went shopping. It was nice
    then: we didn’t know we already had everything.

  17. Alison Steeves says...

    I have never been very good at poetry. I was never good at it in school. I LOVE reading poems, but perhaps I can’t let myself fall into them to a point where I really understand them. Maybe I haven’t read the right poem.

    My grandmother really loved a poem. She loved it so much that she told me that when she dies, she wants that poem in her obituary.

    I have it in front of me (it features a beautiful photograph of her, so I have it in my cubicle at work)

    Miss Me But Let Me Go

    When I come to the end of the road
    And the sun has set for me
    I hope you will realize
    My pain at last is free.
    Miss me a little… but not too long
    And not with your head bowed low,
    Remember the love that
    we once shared
    Miss me… but let me go.
    For this is a journey that
    we all must take
    and each must go alone,
    It’s all part of a master plan
    A step on the road to home.
    When you are lonely
    and sick at heart
    Just go to some friends you know,
    Try burying your sorrows
    In some good deeds
    Miss me… but let me go.

    I haven’t let her go yet, I miss her like crazy – but I take comfort in the poem that she loved. :)

    • Angela says...

      This was so beautiful. Lovely poem!

  18. Leah says...

    Wow I love this! Charlotte sounds like a pretty special woman.

  19. Jenni says...

    I am still reading through all the comments so I don’t know if someone has posted this one already (also, THANK YOU for this post. I keep coming back to it in between reading terrible things about children being separated from their parents and the Supreme Court and everything else.) This poem is a newer favorite, and only discovered now that I have three sons. I was reading through my book of Michael Ondaatje poems looking for “7 or 8 Things I Know About Her – a Stolen Biography”, and was reminded that my best friend was the first person to send me Ondaatje’s poetry and it was such a wonderful discovery and now I think of her every time I read it. That poem, a little too long for the comments, can be found here on someone’s livejournal site

    Griffin of the Night
    by Michael Ondaatje

    I’m holding my son in my arms
    sweating after nightmares
    small me
    fingers in his mouth
    his other fist clenched in my hair
    small me
    sweating after nightmares.

  20. Pauline says...

    My favourite Poem is by Marge Piercy:

    The Seven Of Pentacles

    Under a sky the color of pea soup
    she is looking at her work growing away there
    actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
    as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
    If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
    if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
    if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
    if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
    then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.
    Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
    You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
    More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
    Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
    Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
    Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
    Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
    Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
    Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
    Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
    a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
    interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
    Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
    reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
    This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
    for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,
    after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

  21. Laura says...

    I will never not think of this poem.

    A Letter

    I have been wondering
    What you are thinking about, and by now suppose
    It is certainly not me.
    But the crocus is up, and the lark, and the blundering
    Blood knows what it knows.
    It talks to itself all night, like a sliding moonlit sea.

    Of course, it is talking of you.
    At dawn, where the ocean has netted its catch of lights,
    The sun plants one lithe foot
    On that spill of mirrors, but the blood goes worming through
    Its warm Arabian nights,
    Naming your pounding name again in the dark heart-root.

    Who shall, of course, be nameless.
    Anyway, I should want you to know I have done my best,
    As I’m sure you have, too.
    Others are bound to us, the gentle and blameless
    Whose names are not confessed
    In the ceaseless palaver. My dearest, the clear unquaried blue

    Of those depths is all but blinding.
    You may remember that once you brought my boys
    Two little woolly birds.
    Yesterday the older one asked for you upon finding
    Your thrush among his toys.
    And the tides welled about me, and I could find no words.

    There is not much else to tell.
    One tries one’s best to continue as before,
    Doing some little good.
    But I would have you know that all is not well
    With a man dead set to ignore
    The endless repetitions of his own murmurous blood.

    Anthony Hecht

  22. Trish says...

    My all-time favourite poem is ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. It is pumped with all the life lessons one would need in their lifetime.

    Other Poems I really like are –
    All the World’s a Stage by Shakespeare
    The Road Not Taken by Frost

  23. Rosie says...

    This is one of the best posts ever!! I have forgotten how much I love poetry, forgotten (with two kids and a full time job) that part of me that *needs* poetry, and am so grateful for this wonderful reminder! (Also – just realized that poems fit perfectly in the little pockets of time I can find for myself during the day and are SO much more meaningful than my usual internet-reading self care ;)

  24. To be honest I probably haven’t read a poem since college. But recently I’ve been craving the short, loaded phrases. There’s something so impressive about that kind of writing. Maybe it’s from living in a world of 140-character messages.

  25. I have now officially spent my entire afternoon reading every single poem mentioned in these comments. I’ve smiled, I’ve cried, and I’ve realized that I like poetry a whole lot more than I realized. Thanks, all, for sharing your favorites with me!

  26. Saz says...

    I’ll be coming back here again later! How lovely this is!

    My favourite has always been Sonnet XVII from ‘One Hundred Love Sonnets’ by Pablo Neruda. I have a framed copy of it on my living room wall.

    I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
    or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
    I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
    secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

    I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
    the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
    and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
    from the earth lives dimly in my body.

    I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
    I love you directly without complexity or pride:
    I love you because I know no other way than this,
    Where I am I, and you are you,
    so close that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
    so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

    • Ashley says...

      Neruda is one of my very favorites of all time, and his love sonnets are sooooo sexy! I love to read the spanish versions aloud — even though I don’t know what I’m saying (or I only half-understand!), there is something so luscious & sensual about the words filling my mouth.
      This poem you’ve posted was my very first introduction to him — the first one my first college friend read to me. I have loved it since.

    • Jocelyne says...

      I love this poem. It was read in English and Spanish during our wedding ceremony. Great choice.

  27. Molly Guenther says...

    This poem simply gives me joy.
    The Long Meadow
    Near the end of one of the old poems, the son of righteousness,
    the source of virtue and civility
    on whose back the kingdom is carried,
    passes into the next world.
    The wood is dark. The wood is dark,
    And on the other side of the wood the sea is shallow, warm, and endless.
    In and around it, there is no threat of life–
    so little is the atmosphere charged with possibility that
    he might as well be wading through a flooded basement.
    He wades for what seems like forever,
    and never stops to rest in the shade of the metal rain trees
    springing out of the water at fixed intervals.
    Time, though endless is also short,
    so he wades on, until he walks out of the sea and into the mountains,
    where he burns on the windward slopes and freezes in the valleys.
    After unendurable struggles,
    he finally arrives at the celestial realm.
    The god waits there for him. The god invites him to enter.
    But, looking through the glowing portal,
    he sees on that happy plain not those he thinks wait eagerly for him–
    his beloved, his brothers, his companions in war and exile,
    whose arrogance and viscious indolence
    plunged the world into grief.
    The god informs him that, yes, those he loved have been carried down
    the river of fire. Their thirst for justice
    offended the cosmic powers, who are jealous of justice.
    In their place in the celestial realm, called Alaukika in the ancient texts,
    the breaker of faith is now glorified.
    He, at least, acted in keeping with his nature.
    Who has not felt a little of the despair the son of righteousness now feels,
    staring wildly around him?
    The god watches, not without compassion and a certain wonder.
    This is the final illusion,
    the one to which all the others lead.
    He has to pierce through it himself, without divine assistance.
    He will take a long time about it,
    with only his dog to keep him company,
    the mongrel dog, celebrated down the millenia,
    who has waded with him,
    and never abandoned him to his loneliness.
    That dog bears a slight resemblance to my dog,
    a skiny, restless, needy, overprotective mutt,
    who was rescued from a crack house by Suzanne.
    On weekends, and when I can shake free during the week,
    I take her to the Long Meadow, in Prospect Park, where dogs
    are allowed off the leash in the early morning.
    She’s gray-muzzled and old now, but you can’t tell that by the way she runs.
    -Vijay Seshadri

  28. Megan says...

    Love this post. Many of my favourites have been mentioned here but thought I would share this gem I found perusing a “Lost Poetry Quotation” board many years ago. It’s been a poem I’ve often shared with friends because I would wish these things for them too.

    Wishes for William by W.M. Letts (1882 – 1972)

    These things I wish you for our friendship’s sake –
    A sunburnt thatch, a door to face the sun
    At westering, the noise of homing rooks;
    A kind, old lazy chair, a courtly cat
    To rub against your knees;
    Shelves of well-chosen books;
    I wish you these.

    I wish you friends whose wisdom makes them kind,
    Well-leisured friends to share your evening’s peace,
    Friends who can season knowledge with a laugh;
    A hedge of lavender, a patch of thyme,
    With sage and marjoram and rosemary,
    A damask rosebush and a hive of bees,
    And cabbages that hold the morning dew,
    A blackbird in the orchard boughs – all these
    And – God bless you.

    Children, no matter whose, to watch for you
    With flower faces at your garden gate,
    And one to watch the clock with eager eyes,
    Saying: “He’s late – he’s late.”

  29. Judy says...

    I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud


    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.

    Continuous as the stars that shine
    And twinkle on the milky way,
    They stretched in never-ending line
    Along the margin of a bay:
    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they
    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
    A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company:
    I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie
    In vacant or in pensive mood,
    They flash upon that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude;
    And then my heart with pleasure fills,
    And dances with the daffodils.

    • Caroline says...

      My mom read this poem to me when I was a kid. I always loved it because she loved it. So it was this one and The Owl and the Pussycat.

  30. Lauren Cherny says...

    I just spent an hour reading beautiful poetry, what a nice start to a Saturday. :) One of my very favorite poems is by the wonderful e.e. cummings. I especially love the first stanza.

    somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
    any experience,your eyes have their silence:
    in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
    or which i cannot touch because they are too near

    your slightest look easily will unclose me
    though i have closed myself as fingers,
    you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
    (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

    or if your wish be to close me,i and
    my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
    as when the heart of this flower imagines
    the snow carefully everywhere descending;

    nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
    the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
    compels me with the colour of its countries,
    rendering death and forever with each breathing

    (i do not know what it is about you that closes
    and opens;only something in me understands
    the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
    nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

  31. Estelle says...

    Love After Love by Derek Walcott

    The time will come
    when, with elation,
    you will greet yourself arriving
    at your own door, in your own mirror,
    and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

    and say, sit here. Eat.
    You will love again the stranger who was your self.
    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, whom you ignored
    for another, who knows you by heart.
    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    the photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your own image from the mirror.
    Sit. Feast on your life.

    • Neola says...

      Derek Walcott is from my country, so glad to see you mention him here ?

    • J. says...

      Estelle, so thankful you shared this. It is my all-time favorite; I stumbled upon it one day when I was in the throes of the most soul-crushing heartbreak I could imagine, and it felt like time stopped when I read these words. I cried and laughed at the same time, and then set to memorizing it (per a Cup of Jo recommendation from years ago— mental furniture!) It is one I return to often, and it always fills me with the same emotion I had then— thank you, world, for this perfectly perfect gift. I’m so happy to see it’s someone else’s favorite, too!

  32. Meghan says...

    This one currently speaks to my worried mom heart and the part of me that is always anxiously wondering whether I do enough.

    When all the others were away at Mass

    Seamus Heaney


    When all the others were away at Mass
    I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
    They broke the silence, let fall one by one
    Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
    Cold comforts set between us, things to share
    Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
    And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
    From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

    So while the parish priest at her bedside
    Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
    And some were responding and some crying
    I remembered her head bent towards my head,
    Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
    Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

  33. Tanith says...

    I’m so caught up in reading everyone’s poetry! I’ll be back for a while to read more…

    My favorite poet is Robert Frost, and like so many, The Road Not Taken is my very favorite poem ever. But since everyone knows it, I wanted to share one of my other favorites that feels more pertinent now than ever with the issue of the US-Mexico border wall and what it means to keep others separate.

    Mending Wall
    By Robert Frost

    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
    That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
    And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
    And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
    The work of hunters is another thing:
    I have come after them and made repair
    Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
    But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
    To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
    No one has seen them made or heard them made,
    But at spring mending-time we find them there.
    I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
    And set the wall between us once again.
    We keep the wall between us as we go.
    To each the boulders have fallen to each.
    And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
    We have to use a spell to make them balance:
    “Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
    We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
    Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
    One on a side. It comes to little more:
    There where it is we do not need the wall:
    He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
    My apple trees will never get across
    And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
    He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
    Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
    If I could put a notion in his head:
    “Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
    Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
    Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offense.
    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
    That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
    But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
    He said it for himself. I see him there
    Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
    In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
    He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
    Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
    He will not go behind his father’s saying,
    And he likes having thought it so well
    He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


    • Yes! I love this poem & also “Birches” by Robert Frost is one of my favorites.

  34. Rebecca says...

    Is this the best comments section ever or what? I have an 8 week old baby and have been yearning for time and sleep, but I also miss reading a lot. And I’m trying to start and find my way through this new world of motherhood. This post could not have come at a better time! Each of these shared poems is like a bright gem, shining with emotion and meaning. Thank you for this. I keep a running Google Doc with poems that I love, and I have added SO many wonderful poems from these comments! Here’s one that I love:

    From Blossoms
    by Li-Young Lee

    From blossoms comes
    this brown paper bag of peaches
    we bought from the boy
    at the bend in the road where we turned toward
    signs painted Peaches.

    From laden boughs, from hands,
    from sweet fellowship in the bins,
    comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
    peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
    comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

    O, to take what we love inside,
    to carry within us an orchard, to eat
    not only the skin, but the shade,
    not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
    the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
    the round jubilance of peach.

    There are days we live
    as if death were nowhere
    in the background; from joy
    to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
    from blossom to blossom to
    impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

    • Ashley says...

      So lovely. So, SO lovely. Thank you for sharing this!!

  35. Hannah says...

    Growing up my parents hung framed poems in the bathroom. I would always end up memorizing them because reading them was a good way to pass teeth-brushing and other time! My favorite two were a pair of Emily Dickinson poems about butterflies that they’d paired together.

    1. The Butterfly upon the Sky,
    That doesn’t know its Name
    And hasn’t any tax to pay
    And hasn’t any Home
    Is just as high as you and I,
    And higher, I believe,
    So soar away and never sigh
    And that’s the way to grieve –

    2. My Cocoon tightens — Colors teaze —
    I’m feeling for the Air —
    A dim capacity for Wings
    Demeans the Dress I wear —

    A power of Butterfly must be —
    The Aptitude to fly
    Meadows of Majesty implies
    And easy Sweeps of Sky —

    So I must baffle at the Hint
    And cipher at the Sign
    And make much blunder, if at last
    I take the clue divine —

    • Lee says...

      I love this idea! There is nothing hanging on our bathroom walls right now and I think I am going to change that!

  36. sarah says...

    always walt whitman, always and forever. the last few stanzas of “song of myself” make me cry and swell just thinking about it!

    • Neola says...

      I just read it…it brought tears to my eyes!

  37. One of my summer projects for this year is to memorize one poem every week. I’m trying to combat the lack of focus brought about by having to be in front of a screen for so long.

    I’m choosing to read poetry and focus on words rather than keep scrolling mindlessly.

  38. Gail says...

    I just found these last night. My husband kept saying…come to bed.
    I want to print them all out and scotch tape them to my bedroom wall.

  39. Danielle says...

    I sat next to Billy Collins at a bar once :)
    Mary Oliver has gotten me through some very difficult times.
    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 the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about your 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 blue 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.

    • Ashley says...

      Mary Oliver is what I read when I don’t know what to do with a perfect morning! I was reorganizing my bookshelves one day and realized I had two copies of the same book of hers (the collected poems, vol 1) because I love her so much I buy her whenever I’m in a bookstore!
      This particular one is so beautiful — I cry at “you do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert”.
      It’s a close tie between her, Neruda, and Whitman for sure.

  40. Nicole Wight says...

    I love Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” A friend gifted a pop-up version and one day after reading it to my toddler I tossed it at the end of his bed. Later when I checked on him I found the book ripped to shreds and my son said, “I kill that Jabberwock.” This story captivates my second grade class every year and they request I tell it over and over, several kids will memorize the poem afterward, and I will find them fighting their imaginary Jabberwockies on the playground at recess.

    ’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!”

    He took his vorpal sword in hand;
    Long time the manxome foe he sought—
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And, as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

    One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

    “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
    He chortled in his joy.

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

    Thank you for sharing this, and your story of your childhood BFF. I’m going to be spending oodles of time this afternoon devouring the shared poems here and their accompanying stories. Swoon!

    • Jo says...

      Yas!! My fifth graders memorize it every year! Timeless.

  41. Christi says...

    I love Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem “The Invitation”. It comes from a place of true authentic place and resonates with me. I use it as a touchstone when things feel like they are spiraling out of control.

    The Invitatation

    It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

    It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

    It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

    I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

    I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

    It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

    I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

    I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

    It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

    It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

    It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

    I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

    • Helen says...

      Oh I love this poem—- this is the conversation we all wish we could have with one another.

    • Hemingway says...

      Oh this took my breath away. Thank you.

  42. mj says...

    By Walter De La Mare

    When Sam goes back in memory,
    It is to where the sea
    Breaks on the shingle, emerald-green,
    In white foam, endlessly;
    He says – with small brown eye on mine –
    “I used to keep awake,
    And lean from my window in the moon,
    Watching those billows break.
    And half a million tiny hands,
    And eyes, like sparks of frost,
    Would dance and come tumbling into the moon,
    On every breaker tossed.
    And all across from star to star,
    I’ve seen the watery sea,
    With not a single ship in sight,
    Just ocean there, and me;
    And heard my father snore. And once,
    As sure as I’m alive,
    Out of those wallowing, moon-flecked waves
    I saw a mermaid dive;
    Head and shoulders above the wave,
    Plain as I now see you,
    Combing her hair, now back, now front,
    Her two eyes peeping through;
    Calling me, ‘Sam!’ – quietlike – ‘Sam!’…
    But me … I never went,
    Making believe I kind of thought
    ‘Twas some one else she meant….
    Wonderful lovely there she sat,
    Singing the night away,
    All in the solitudinous sea
    Of that there lonely bay.”

    “P’raps,” and he’d smooth his hairless mouth,
    “P’raps, if ’twere now, my son,
    P’raps, if I heard a voice say, ‘Sam!’…
    Morning would find me gone.”

  43. Emma says...

    I want to spend a million saturday afternoons in this comment section.

    my favorite for parenting is “On Children” by Kahill Gibran, and my favorite of all is “Litany” by Billy Collins

    You are the bread and the knife,
    the crystal goblet and the wine.
    You are the dew on the morning grass
    and the burning wheel of the sun.
    You are the white apron of the baker,
    and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

    However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
    the plums on the counter,
    or the house of cards.
    And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
    There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

    It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
    maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
    but you are not even close
    to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

    And a quick look in the mirror will show
    that you are neither the boots in the corner
    nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

    It might interest you to know,
    speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
    that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

    I also happen to be the shooting star,
    the evening paper blowing down an alley
    and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

    I am also the moon in the trees
    and the blind woman’s tea cup.
    But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
    You are still the bread and the knife.
    You will always be the bread and the knife,
    not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

  44. I love this post, thank you for sharing your wonderful story!

    I go to poetry very often when I need some comfort or clarity- I adore Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver but a few others have stuck with me recently:

    “Soft and Silent” by James Kavanaugh

    Everything I love is soft and silent
    My cat, the morning, the end of the day,
    Even the moon in its way.

    Everything I love is soft and silent,
    The water, the forest, the snow at play,
    Even the mountain in its way.

    Everything I love is soft and silent,
    The sun on the sand, a rainy day,
    Even the wind in it’s way.

    Everything I love is soft and silent,
    The grass, the brook, the leaves at play,
    Even you in your way.

    “Here” by Grace Paley

    Here I am in the garden laughing
    an old woman with heavy breasts
    and a nicely mapped face

    how did this happen
    well that’s who I wanted to be

    at last a woman
    in the old style sitting
    stout thighs apart under
    a big skirt grandchild sliding
    on off my lap a pleasant
    summer perspiration

    that’s my old man across the yard
    he’s talking to the meter reader
    he’s telling him the world’s sad story
    how electricity is oil or uranium
    and so forth I tell my grandson
    run over to your grandpa ask him
    to sit beside me for a minute I
    am suddenly exhausted by my desire
    to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

    “Waiting” by Raymond Carver

    Left off the highway and
    down the hill. At the
    bottom, hang another left.
    Keep bearing left. The road
    will make a Y. Left again.
    There’s a creek on the left.
    Keep going. Just before
    the road ends, there’ll be
    another road. Take it
    and no other. Otherwise,
    your life will be ruined
    forever. There’s a log house
    with a shake roof, on the left.
    It’s not that house. It’s
    the next house, just over
    a rise. The house
    where trees are laden with
    fruit. Where phlox, forsythia,
    and marigold grow. It’s
    the house where the woman
    stands in the doorway
    wearing the sun in her hair. The one
    who’s been waiting
    all this time.
    The woman who loves you.
    The one who can say,
    “What’s kept you?”

  45. Jen says...

    Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye. Sums it all up.

    • Lee says...

      Also one of my favorites! So many of my favorites are hers.

  46. Mandy says...

    My daughter (6) and I memorized WB Yeats poem, “When You are Old,” by listening to Cillian Murphy recite it on You tube. His voice and insanely handsome face made it an incredibly easy task for both of us. Lucy (my kiddo) performs it regularly now… for teachers, for neighbors in the elevator, for grocery store cashiers, and often and bed time, and uses the same inflections as the Cillian Murphy version. It’s super charming.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is so sweet, mandy!

    • Ashley says...

      That poem has stuck with me since college– I think of it ALL THE TIME, I think about what it will be like, looking back on this time from that perspective. So glad to hear it touches others so as well. –AW

  47. I LOVE that you posted about poetry! Billy Collins is one of the reasons I did my Master’s in poetry–he inspired me with accessible poetry in college and I couldn’t stop writing. And then, I moved to Scotland to learn about poetry (from his British editor), and met my husband there. So, poetry: thank you! People don’t talk much about poetry, because it’s not a huge emphasis in our ed system, but it’s more important than ever. My favorite poem will always be The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop, because you can just walk along as she watches the scene. It’s transporting and that’s what I try to do with my own poetry these days. Thanks for talking about poetry here!!

  48. Near my favorite dog park in San Diego, there is a home with a “poet tree” out front. They string up poems that you can read, or take home with you! I always like to tool over with my pup and see if there’s anything I recognize or am inspired by. After a tough day a few weeks ago, I spotted an old favorite poem–Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh. It was the exact little lift that I needed, and now I keep it in my car to reread when necessary!

  49. Lauren says...

    Me And My Lass, We Are A Poem by John Rybicki

    We tangle our hair in the moon,
    then she coughs and I have no net

    to catch the cough so I make her hot tea
    with honey. I call her my coughing alarm clock,

    but she’s warmer and smoother than our oven
    for waltzing with.

    When we travel in our covered wagon,
    she’s in the bathtub splashing her way

    across the prairie, singing Bo Diddley songs.
    Any drops she spills

    the prairie dogs lick them up.
    That’s the kind of poem she is.

    When we lie down in the earth,
    we’ll need coffins with holes bored

    through their sides: we’ll each have
    one arm hanging out

    so I can take hold of her
    hand, even while we’re in the dirt.

    Some nights our bed floats through
    the bedroom wall. We’re on our bellies

    laughing and rowing with one arm.
    When we get tired, the stars

    make nice pillows for our heads.
    The wind is what wakes me,

    blowing so hard I watch my love’s skin
    flake off: a whole storm of her

    flutters away from me until all that’s left
    inside her is a tired old woman

    holding her spine like a candle.

  50. Mona says...

    My beloved baby sister died when I was a freshman in college, oh, so many years ago. I still miss her, still think of her often. I wonder who she would have been at this age or that age, since she had only 11 short years. This year on her birthday I found a poem by Shel Silverstein which was so lovely and comforting.

    Somebody Has To
    Somebody has to go polish the stars,
    They’re looking a little bit dull.
    Somebody has to go polish the stars,
    For the eagles and starlings and gulls
    Have all been complaining they’re tarnished and worn,
    They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
    So please get your rags
    And your polishing jars,
    Somebody has to go polish the stars.
    Shel Silverstein

    • Camille says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Misty Maynard says...

      I love this. It is so beautiful.

  51. Lillian says...


    This is where those who hate monuments
    pay last disrespects to the world. They’ve wrecked art,
    cities, the language passed woman to man and back.
    They’ve destroyed personal records, birth, school, marriage
    and divorce. With luck they’ll board a final ship
    that flies a flag no colour on earth.
    They’ll bribe the captain to destroy the record of death.
    For them the horizon is a pass.
    Beyond it the glamour and thrill of ignorant waste.

    And I’ll be one of them, no shame. I’ll tear every poem
    and toss lines in tatters to that great God, wind.
    I’ll leave laughing. Everything ends here, life
    hope, civilisation, love, loneliness and regret. The end
    promised children. The world on medieval maps
    that drops off blue for water into white for void.
    I’ll give up whatever’s hard, saying the plural of ghost,
    the singular of girls.
    I’ll shed my life and sail counter to breakers.

    The ship will tire far out and lose stroke and start back
    in the wash. On my way home I’ll dream it again,
    something like history even if wrong, starting with sun
    and coming down the ages, unclassified tooth
    to computer, star to diamond and back. If you find me
    broken and babbling on rock, listen very hard.
    The tongue may be dated. If you pick up a phrase
    you can match it with words on that scrap of paper.
    You found it in Wind. You don’t worship wind anymore.

    R. Hugo

    • Linda says...

      Thank you for sharing this – it really touched me.

    • Carrie says...

      Richard Hugo fans unite! “Degrees of Gray in Phillipsburg” knocks my socks off every time.

  52. Maria says...

    So many, but this little one by Robert Graves helped me when I was spending my first winter alone, heartbroken and homesick:

    She tells her love while half asleep,
    In the dark hours,
    With half-words whispered low:
    As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
    And put out grass and flowers
    Despite the snow,
    Despite the falling snow

  53. Libby Pierson says...

    I really love this story. It’s great that you got to foster a relationship with some older like that! She’s sounds like she was very wise.


  54. jaime says...

    When I was working as an editor in Korea, I was invited to a quaint, super sweet wedding reception at a local vinyl club after two friends got married at city hall. There was no expectation of gifts, but I wanted to bring something. I ended up hand-writing the following poem from Clementine von Radics and tying it around a bottle of cheap champagne with some string. From what I’ve heard, it was posted next to the doorway of their apartment in Seoul and eventually made its way to their new place in NYC:

    I am not the first person you loved.
    You are not the first person I looked at
    with a mouthful of forevers. We
    have both known loss like the sharp edges
    of a knife. We have both lived with lips
    more scar tissue than skin. Our love came
    unannounced in the middle of the night.
    Our love came when we’d given up
    on asking love to come. I think
    that has to be part
    of its miracle.
    This is how we heal.
    I will kiss you like forgiveness. You
    will hold me like I’m hope. Our arms
    will bandage and we will press promises
    between us like flowers in a book.
    I will write sonnets to the salt of sweat
    on your skin. I will write novels to the scar
    of your nose. I will write a dictionary
    of all the words I have used trying
    to describe the way it feels to have finally,
    finally found you.

    And I will not be afraid
    of your scars.

    I know sometimes
    it’s still hard to let me see you
    in all your cracked perfection,
    but please know:
    whether it’s the days you burn
    more brilliant than the sun
    or the nights you collapse into my lap
    your body broken into a thousand questions,
    you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
    I will love you when you are a still day.
    I will love you when you are a hurricane.

    • SB says...

      I love this!

    • Thank you so much for sharing this. How beautiful.

  55. alex says...

    The last couple lines of this one get me every time!

    The Archipelago of Kisses
    by Jeffrey McDaniel

    We live in a modern society. Husbands and wives don’t
    grow on trees, like in the old days. So where
    does one find love? When you’re sixteen it’s easy,
    like being unleashed with a credit card
    in a department store of kisses. There’s the first kiss.
    The sloppy kiss. The peck.
    The sympathy kiss. The backseat smooch. The we
    shouldn’t be doing this kiss. The but your lips
    taste so good kiss. The bury me in an avalanche of tingles kiss.
    The I wish you’d quit smoking kiss.
    The I accept your apology, but you make me really mad
    sometimes kiss. The I know
    your tongue like the back of my hand kiss. As you get
    older, kisses become scarce. You’ll be driving
    home and see a damaged kiss on the side of the road,
    with its purple thumb out. If you
    were younger, you’d pull over, slide open the mouth’s
    red door just to see how it fits. Oh where
    does one find love? If you rub two glances, you get a smile.
    Rub two smiles, you get a warm feeling.
    Rub two warm feelings and presto-you have a kiss.
    Now what? Don’t invite the kiss over
    and answer the door in your underwear. It’ll get suspicious
    and stare at your toes. Don’t water the kiss with whiskey.
    It’ll turn bright pink and explode into a thousand luscious splinters,
    but in the morning it’ll be ashamed and sneak out of
    your body without saying good-bye,
    and you’ll remember that kiss forever by all the little cuts it left
    on the inside of your mouth. You must
    nurture the kiss. Turn out the lights. Notice how it
    illuminates the room. Hold it to your chest
    and wonder if the sand inside hourglasses comes from a
    special beach. Place it on the tongue’s pillow,
    then look up the first recorded kiss in an encyclopedia: beneath
    a Babylonian olive tree in 1200 B.C.
    But one kiss levitates above all the others. The
    intersection of function and desire. The I do kiss.
    The I’ll love you through a brick wall kiss.
    Even when I’m dead, I’ll swim through the Earth,
    like a mermaid of the soil, just to be next to your bones.

    • Bill says...

      Oh my goodness. I of course scrolled to the last couple of lines and gasped. How beautiful. Thank you for sharing

    • Misty Maynard says...

      Oh. My. God.

  56. Estee says...

    This has long been a favorite. I loved it so much I had it posted on my bedroom wall just like a teenager ha.
    Touch Me
    by Stanley Kunitz

    Summer is late, my heart.
    Words plucked out of the air
    some forty years ago
    when I was wild with love
    and torn almost in two
    scatter like leaves this night
    of whistling wind and rain.
    It is my heart that’s late,
    it is my song that’s flown.
    Outdoors all afternoon
    under a gunmetal sky
    staking my garden down,
    I kneeled to the crickets trilling
    underfoot as if about
    to burst from their crusty shells;
    and like a child again
    marveled to hear so clear
    and brave a music pour
    from such a small machine.
    What makes the engine go?
    Desire, desire, desire.
    The longing for the dance
    stirs in the buried life.
    One season only,
    and it’s done.
    So let the battered old willow
    thrash against the windowpanes
    and the house timbers creak.
    Darling, do you remember
    the man you married? Touch me,
    remind me who I am.

  57. Riley says...

    I love poems. I love writing them and reading them and working through them. John Updike’s Perfection Wasted is one of my favorites. My mom sent it to me after my grandmother died, with the note “a lovely poem to inspire you”. I think about that poem often, I have a few lines of it tattooed on me. I think anyone who has lost someone would find it deeply relatable.

    • Katie says...

      Thank you for this, Riley. Just what I feel about my older sister, who died 15 years ago.

  58. Sio says...

    My grandmother had a great gift for writing poetry. Her most beloved one was a description of her childhood days with her younger sister in the English countryside, it totally transported you. My favourite was one about Christmas, which I can only ever remember one line which was something like ‘the pickle stabber aimed right on target, it was Christmas present from Cyril and Maragret’.
    Although she suffered from dementia in the last 10 years of her life she could still recite them, mostly word for word, with the help of my mum. I would love to try and get them published someday.

  59. Ana says...

    A very simple poem written by Mary Oliver about her dog Percy:

    “I ask Percy how I should live my life”

    Love, love, love, says Percy.
    And hurry as fast as you can
    along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

    Then, go to sleep.
    Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
    Then, trust.

  60. Alicia says...

    The Great Lover
    Rupert Brooke, 1887 – 1915
    I have been so great a lover: filled my days
    So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
    The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
    Desire illimitable, and still content,
    And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
    For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
    Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
    Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
    Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far,
    My night shall be remembered for a star
    That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
    Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
    Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me
    High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
    The inenarrable godhead of delight?
    Love is a flame:–we have beaconed the world’s night.
    A city:–and we have built it, these and I.
    An emperor:–we have taught the world to die.
    So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
    And the high cause of Love’s magnificence,
    And to keep loyalties young, I’ll write those names
    Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
    And set them as a banner, that men may know,
    To dare the generations, burn, and blow
    Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming . . . .

    These I have loved:
    White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
    Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
    Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
    Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
    Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
    And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
    And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
    Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
    Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
    Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
    Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
    Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
    Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
    The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
    The good smell of old clothes; and other such–
    The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
    Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
    About dead leaves and last year’s ferns. . . .
    Dear names,
    And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
    Sweet water’s dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
    Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
    Voices in laughter, too; and body’s pain,
    Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
    Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
    That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
    And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
    Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
    Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
    And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
    And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;–
    All these have been my loves. And these shall pass,
    Whatever passes not, in the great hour,
    Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power
    To hold them with me through the gate of Death.
    They’ll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,
    Break the high bond we made, and sell Love’s trust
    And sacramented covenant to the dust.
    —-Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
    And give what’s left of love again, and make
    New friends, now strangers. . . .
    But the best I’ve known
    Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
    About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
    Of living men, and dies.
    Nothing remains.

    O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
    This one last gift I give: that after men
    Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
    Praise you, ‘All these were lovely’; say, ‘He loved.’

  61. “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski quite possibly saved my life. It still hangs above my desk, next to “Heavy” by Mary Oliver, which is a close second.

    • Sara says...

      Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese saved my life, I know just what you mean.

  62. Rhonda says...

    One of my all time favorites:
    Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
    by Edna St. Vincent Millay

    Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
    Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
    I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
    I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
    The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
    And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
    But last year’s bitter loving must remain
    Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
    There are a hundred places where I fear
    To go,—so with his memory they brim.
    And entering with relief some quiet place
    Where never fell his foot or shone his face
    I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
    And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

  63. Heather Cosby says...

    I found this poem a few months after a friend’s death and it comforts me every time I’ve read it in the years since.

    Other Worlds Await You by Omid Safi

    Wipe your tears
    It’s not the end of the world.

    It’s the end of a world.

    Beyond this world,
    many worlds there are

    It’s not the end of the world.
    It’s the end of the world
    you’ve known.

    Other worlds await you.

    Worlds you’ll inhabit
    Worlds you’ll create.

    Mourn now,
    my child.
    Mourn this world
    coming to an end.

    Grieve the dreams
    That will never come to be

    Wipe your tears,
    And dream again.

    There are more worlds to come.

    After every apocalypse
    You will rise again,
    my child.

    One world ends,
    Another begins.

    The Jesus of your soul
    Now on the cross
    Buried under
    Will rise again

    After this year of sadness
    There’ll be an ascension

    The joy tomorrow
    Is already inside
    The grief today

    Inna ma’a ‘l-usri yusra
    Fa inna ma’a ‘l-usri yusra.

    It’s not the end of the world
    Many worlds there are
    Other worlds
    Worlds that you’ll make
    With your hands

    Dreams of seeds
    Watered with the now tears.

    • Ashley says...

      I can’t thank you enough for posting this. You have no idea how close this hit, and to read this today was so unbelievable. THANK YOU for sharing.

  64. Alana says...

    ‘Blackberry picking’ by the great Seamus Heaney

    • Liljmp says...

      Love him so very much!

  65. Katie says...

    Unending Love by Rabindranath Tagore — makes me want to weep.

    I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
    In life after life, in age after age, forever.
    My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
    That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
    In life after life, in age after age, forever.

    Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
    Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
    As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
    Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
    You become an image of what is remembered forever.

    You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
    At the heart of time, love of one for another.
    We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
    Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
    Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

    Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
    The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
    Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
    The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
    And the songs of every poet past and forever.

    • MM says...

      I LOVE this one. It’s so perfect. Also fits many women from NJ

  66. Carrie says...

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for a poetry post. I am the nut who pleaded in the comments of the most recent book post for more love to be shown to poetry, and look what you all have gone and done. This pleases me deeply. Poetry is a balm. Community is a balm. Put the two together and the world seems slightly more survivable than it did the day before.

    Three current favorites (all available via google search):

    “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. “…and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” These lines just keep ringing in my ears this week.

    “Datura Parable” by Cecily Parks, because motherhood can be difficult, and this poem gets that (and the language is just sooo beautiful).

    “When at a Certain Party in NYC” by Erin Belieu, because no one does whipsmart humor better than EB, and because I, too, always feel like a big Midwestern clump when I’m visiting the sleek cities of the coasts.

    • Kelsey says...

      Yes, yes, yes to “The Second Coming.” My husband’s 93 year-old grandma read it to me right after the presidential election and I think of it often these days.

  67. Amy Sedestrom says...

    By Billy Collins

    Each one is a gift, no doubt,
    mysteriously placed in your waking hand
    or set upon your forehead
    moments before you open your eyes.

    Today begins cold and bright,
    the ground heavy with snow
    and the thick masonry of ice,
    the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

    Through the calm eye of the window
    everything is in its place
    but so precariously
    this day might be resting somehow

    on the one before it,
    all the days of the past stacked high
    like the impossible tower of dishes
    entertainers used to build on stage.

    No wonder you find yourself
    perched on the top of a tall ladder
    hoping to add one more.
    Just another Wednesday

    you whisper,
    then holding your breath,
    place this cup on yesterday’s saucer
    without the slightest clink.

  68. Hayley says...

    Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

    as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
    that is not mine, but is a made place,

    that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
    an eternal pasture folded in all thought
    so that there is a hall therein

    that is a made place, created by light
    wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

    Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
    I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
    whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

    She it is Queen Under The Hill
    whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
    that is a field folded.

    It is only a dream of the grass blowing
    east against the source of the sun
    in an hour before the sun’s going down

    whose secret we see in a children’s game
    of ring a round of roses told.

    Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
    as if it were a given property of the mind
    that certain bounds hold against chaos,

    that is a place of first permission,
    everlasting omen of what is.

  69. Lauren says...

    I cannot recommend Nayyirah Waheed enough – she shares her poetry on Instagram and it speaks to me so deeply.

    some current favorites:

    she asked
    ‘you are in love
    what does love look like’
    to which i replied
    ‘like everything I’ve ever lost
    come back to me’
    my first country.
    the first place i ever lived.
    Also, this one which is too long to type here:

  70. Nigerian Girl says...

    A powerful poem for the troubled times we’re living in: “Home” by Warsan Shire.

    no one leaves home unless
    home is the mouth of a shark
    you only run for the border
    when you see the whole city running as well

    your neighbors running faster than you
    breath bloody in their throats
    the boy you went to school with
    who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
    is holding a gun bigger than his body
    you only leave home
    when home won’t let you stay.

    no one leaves home unless home chases you
    fire under feet
    hot blood in your belly
    it’s not something you ever thought of doing
    until the blade burnt threats into
    your neck
    and even then you carried the anthem under
    your breath
    only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
    sobbing as each mouthful of paper
    made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

    you have to understand,
    that no one puts their children in a boat
    unless the water is safer than the land
    no one burns their palms
    under trains
    beneath carriages
    no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
    feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
    means something more than journey.
    no one crawls under fences
    no one wants to be beaten

    no one chooses refugee camps
    or strip searches where your
    body is left aching
    or prison,
    because prison is safer
    than a city of fire
    and one prison guard
    in the night
    is better than a truckload
    of men who look like your father
    no one could take it
    no one could stomach it
    no one skin would be tough enough

    go home blacks
    dirty immigrants
    asylum seekers
    sucking our country dry
    niggers with their hands out
    they smell strange
    messed up their country and now they want
    to mess ours up
    how do the words
    the dirty looks
    roll off your backs
    maybe because the blow is softer
    than a limb torn off

    or the words are more tender
    than fourteen men between
    your legs
    or the insults are easier
    to swallow
    than rubble
    than bone
    than your child body
    in pieces.
    i want to go home,
    but home is the mouth of a shark
    home is the barrel of the gun
    and no one would leave home
    unless home chased you to the shore
    unless home told you
    to quicken your legs
    leave your clothes behind
    crawl through the desert
    wade through the oceans
    be hunger
    forget pride
    your survival is more important

    no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
    run away from me now
    i dont know what i’ve become
    but i know that anywhere
    is safer than here

    • Kristin says...

      Thank you for sharing this.

    • Karin says...

      What a beautiful, powerful poem. Thank you.

    • Audrey J says...

      Holy moly. That gave me chills.

  71. Althea says...

    There are two poems I come back to time, and time again. The first is “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin which can be read in several ways. The other is “Poem about My Rights” by June Jordan which continues to be so, so relevant.

  72. Mary Margaret says...

    I would buy the COJ poetry compendium…where is the merch page with the collection?

    A million poems nooked and crannied in my brain, and I would normally toss out a Neruda or cummings, but this one by Jane Hirshfield (Rebus) most recently has all the space in my heart:

    You work with what you are given,
    the red clay of grief,
    the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
    Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
    clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

    Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
    each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
    There are honeys so bitter
    no one would willingly choose to take them.
    The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
    honey of cruelty, fear.

    This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
    bottom of river, my own consumed life—
    when will I learn to read it
    plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
    Not to understand it, only to see.

    As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
    we become our choices.
    Each yes, each no continues,
    this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

    The ladder leans into its darkness.
    The anvil leans into its silence.
    The cup sits empty.

    How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

    • Love your poem contribution from Hirshfield. I’d like the book, too. Challenging getting all the permissions. TSC

  73. Bekkah says...

    I had a new years resolution a couple years ago to memorize a new poem a week. My first (and still one of my favorites) was “Hope” is a thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers –
    That perches in the soul –
    And sings the tune without the words –
    And never stops – at all –

    And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
    And sore must be the storm –
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm –

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
    And on the strangest Sea –
    Yet – never – in Extremity,
    It asked a crumb – of me.

  74. Claire says...

    I think my life may have just changed, because I’ve been away from poetry and reading all of this, starting with Stella’s story, and through all of these poems, is like being in a waterfall and also a symphony. I may be getting a little drunk on the words. I read poetry to my son throughout his young life (I am a great believer in poetry for children), and poetry has been in my life in many other ways as well. So thank you.
    Here is a poem that really drew me in when I was a girl, one of those that I shared with my son too.

    The Listeners, by Walter De La Mare

    ‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
    Knocking on the moonlit door;
    And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
    Of the forest’s ferny floor:
    And a bird flew up out of the turret,
    Above the Traveller’s head:
    And he smote upon the door again a second time;
    ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
    But no one descended to the Traveller;
    No head from the leaf-fringed sill
    Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
    Where he stood perplexed and still.
    But only a host of phantom listeners
    That dwelt in the lone house then
    Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
    To that voice from the world of men:
    Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
    That goes down to the empty hall,
    Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
    By the lonely Traveller’s call.
    And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
    Their stillness answering his cry,
    While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
    ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
    For he suddenly smote on the door, even
    Louder, and lifted his head:—
    ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
    That I kept my word,’ he said.
    Never the least stir made the listeners,
    Though every word he spake
    Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
    From the one man left awake:
    Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
    And the sound of iron on stone,
    And how the silence surged softly backward,
    When the plunging hoofs were gone.

  75. Kristin says...

    Oh my gosh. I reread books. I know some people think that’s a waste of time, but some of them are old friends. I love what Charlotte said, “It’s never the same poem, because you are never the same person you were when you first read it”.

  76. Ellie says...

    Wendell Berry’s “The Country of Marriage” is so beautiful.

    Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” speaks to me of why we need poems so much — to have “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.”

    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 that there is 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
    unintelligible, 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 twinkling his skin like a horse
    that feels a flea, the base-
    ball fan, the statistician—case after case
    could be cited did
    one wish it; 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 autocrats 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, then you are interested in poetry.

  77. Lynea says...

    (love song, with two goldfish) by Grace Chua was my first loved poem. I found it, by chance, on a practice exam in high school. As a teenager in the throws of her first relationship, (one with a clear college impending expiration date) I so related to the little fish trying to balance expectations and desires turned disappointments; the flip side of love that I hadn’t known until then. I’m still so charmed by this sentiment, and the imagery and cleverness of this poem. I remember pleading my case to the exam proctor who wouldn’t let me write down the author’s name to take with- I memorized it and wrote it down outside of the exam room dramatically…ah to be a teenager.

    If you’re curious:

    • Michelle says...

      I love that story! It reminds me of so many excerpts from exams that I was supposed to speed read and quickly answer analytical questions about. Instead, I would get caught up in the prose itself. I love that you memorized it and wrote it down in the hall!