For years, poetry has struck me in a way that I’ve found difficult to explain. While skillfully written prose can undoubtedly be beautiful, poems, both devastating and delightful, touch the soul in an entirely different way. At least, I’ve always thought so. Just a few artfully placed lines can have more power and pull than the greatest tale of fiction – if they are the right words.
I was first exposed to the late, great American poet Robert Frost at 14: “Poetry begins with a lump in the throat,” and so began my descent into obsession. Heaney, Yeats, Bishop, and Plath all followed and to this day, I remain in awe of their ability to draw on my emotions; their concise words saying what I was unable to utter, or even write myself in the early days.
If you are new to the world of poets, Seamus Heaney has written what is frequently referred to as Ireland’s favourite poem – it’s as good a place to start as any.
To mark World Poetry Day, enjoy some of the most beautiful words ever written, sure to stay with you long after you’ve read them.
“Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.”
Digging, Seamus Heaney
“He was my North, my South, my East and West. / My working week and my Sunday rest. / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song. / I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
Stop All The Clocks, WH Auden
I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world
“At twenty, I tried to die/ And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do. / But they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue.”
Daddy, Sylvia Plath
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference.”
The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
“When you are old and grey and full of sleep, / And nodding by the fire, take down this book / And slowly read, and dream of the soft look / Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.”
When You are Old, W. B. Yeats
“Happiness. It comes on / unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really, / any early morning talk about it.”
Happiness, Raymond Carver
“Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words, / And never stops at all,”
Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, Emily Dickinson
“And when wind and winter harden / All the loveless land, / It will whisper of the garden, / You will understand.”
To My Wife, Oscar Wilde
“I stand amid the roar / Of a surf-tormented shore, / And I hold within my hand / Grains of the golden sand– / How few! yet how they creep / Through my fingers to the deep, / While I weep – while I weep!”
A Dream Within A Dream, Edgar Allan Poe
The span of my hips, / The stride of my step, / The curl of my lips. / I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me.”
Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, Robert Frost
“One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral in my Victorian nightgown. / Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. / The window square whitens and wallows its dull stars. / And now you try your handful of notes; / The clear vowels rise like balloons.”
Morning Song, Sylvia Plath