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12 Essential Works of Poetry

I need your help.

I enjoy poetry, but my experience with it is rather scattershot. I tend to browse the stacks of my library, pull a collection, read, contemplate, then find myself either moved, amused, or befuddled.

This year I resolve to focus my efforts on 12 essential works of poetry. One work per month.

Here’s what I need from you … 12 essential works of poetry.

Can you help?

  1. Copperfield

    Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton. 

  2. Casey
    Copperfield: Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton.  · 5 minutes ago

    Thanks, and why might it be essential?

  3. WeighWant

     The Pied Piper of Hamelin  – Robert Browning.  Sure, the story is known, but the reading is pure pleasure.

    Self-Dependence  – Matthew Arnold.

    Goblin Market – Christina Rossetti.   Enjoy and interpret it yourself, before getting bogged down in capitalist, feminist, or society-driven critques.

  4. Copperfield
    Casey

    Copperfield: Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton.  · 5 minutes ago

    Thanks, and why might it be essential? · 7 minutes ago

    Good question, and I’m no expert, but I’ll give it a shot.  It was one of the pivotal battles of Christendom (like The Battle of Tours) and is told powerfully and eloquently by Chesterton.  It grabs the reader and, I’ll wager, tends to stick over time. 

  5. TaleenaS

    An Elizabethan poet on par with the Swan of Avon, John Donne’s religious poetry is as full bodied and engaging as his love poems.  This is no ethereal, only on Sundays devotion.  

    Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14:

    Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurp’d town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but O, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betroth’d unto your enemy: Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
  6. Schrodinger

    Virgil’s Aeneid

    or

    Ovid’s Metamorphoses

    or

    Dante’s Divine Comedy

  7. Casey
    Schrodinger’s Cat: Virgil’sAeneid

    or

    Ovid’sMetamorphoses

    or

    Dante’s Divine Comedy· 0 minutes ago

    I read #1 in 2012 and #3 is the best thing I’ve ever read.

  8. Jerry Broaddus

    Essential and poetry are mutually exclusive terms.

    In school I was exposed to required poetry. I think I’d have done just as well if I’d been able to avoid it.

  9. Casey
    Taleena Sinclair: An Elizabethan poet on par with the Swan of Avon, John Donne’s religious poetry is as full bodied and engaging as his love poems.  This is no ethereal, only on Sundays devotion.  

    Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14:

    Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurp’d town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but O, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betroth’d unto your enemy: Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. · 3 minutes ago

    That is wonderful.

  10. TaleenaS
    Casey

    Schrodinger’s Cat: Virgil’sAeneid

    or

    Ovid’sMetamorphoses

    or

    Dante’s Divine Comedy· 0 minutes ago

    I read #1 in 2012 and #3 is the best thing I’ve ever read. · 1 minute ago

    Sayer’s translation of #3 was great.

  11. genferei

    Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, because it is the Great Russian Poem.

    T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land (although The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is probably more enjoyable).

    The Iliad, The Aeneid, The Inferno, Paradise Lost, something by Shakespeare, something by Pope, something by Wordsworth, something by Keats, something by Kipling, something by Donne.

    Swap in something by Verlaine if you’re sick of English. You can also do Byron instead of Kipling if you like.

  12. Mama Toad

    I don’t have the 12 essential poems for you. Instead, I wish to make a different recommendation. The monthly journal First Things has poetry interspersed throughout — all new stuff. 

    The poetry is behind the paywall but I am cheating and copying some from the current issue in the hopes it will get people interested:

    Cowboys in WinterBurt Myer

    The Sons of Katie Elder make such noise! Dad’s fast asleep, despite his three grandsons waving their toy pistols, kiddy cowboys shouting to be heard above John Wayne’s guns. Mom sits out in the kitchen, where the din is slightly less ear-splitting, with her boys. We try to talk, but can’t seem to begin; glad for the kids and their disruptive toys. The doctors say it’s spreading quickly now. It still seems like there must be some mistake. Mom does what women do, fights through somehow to give him what he needs when he’s awake; still throws the curtains wide each day at dawn to what remains of winter’s weakening sun.
  13. Casey
    Mama Toad: Cowboys in WinterBurt Myer

    Now Mama, you’ve gone and made me cry…

  14. Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Hollow Men

    e.e. cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled…”

    Pablo Neruda, Enigmas

  15. flownover

    Have to go with Taleena, John Donne, but I like his earlier stuff, very sexy indeed. The Flea is a good start.

    Then TS Eliot, Cornelius picked one of the biggies, Prufrock, ragged claws and dare to eat a peach….oh what is better ?

    Well, Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger isn’t, but it sure is cool. 

    Sort of like Seven at the Golden Shovel,  Gwendolyn Brooks. check that one.

    Rimbaud and Baudelaire linger.

  16. La Dernière Lettre

    Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Penn Warren, Sylvia Plath.

    Pick one.  Pick all of them.  You won’t regret it.

  17. Group Captain Mandrake

    Here are twelve for your consideration:

    Long poems:

    Alfred Tennyson – Idylls of the King

    Alfred Tennyson – In Memoriam A.H.H.

    John Milton – Paradise Lost

     

    Shorter poems:

    John Milton – Lycidas

    Christopher Smart – Jubilate Agno (Smart was believed to be insane)

     

    Short poems:

    Dylan Thomas - Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

    Dylan Thomas - And Death Shall Have No Dominion

    Thomas Hardy – Afterwards

    Matthew Arnold – Dover Beach 

    Alfred Tennyson – Crossing the Bar

    Wilfred Owen – Dulce Et Decorum Est 

    To be able to hear Dylan Thomas’ superlative delivery made all the difference to me.  He almost sings the second poem.

  18. La Dernière Lettre

    Also, I love Li-Young Lee.  “My Father, in Heaven, is Reading Out Loud” is one of my favorites.

  19. Valiuth

    I like the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam the original translation is the most poetic though not the most accurate. It is the musings of a Persian mathematician of one thousand years ago. Well worth exploring. 

    You can also get Tolkien’s Translation of Sir. Gawain and the Green Knight. It is one of the better translations out there, but the poem is quite good either way. A fine work of English Medieval poetry. 

    I also suggest the Poetic Edda. I just love the Nordic style. It is so stark and simple and yet very moving. 

    “Cattle die, men die,

    one day you too shall die,

    but fair fame lives forever.”

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