So I've noticed a theme among "best poems in the English language" or "[insert random number here] of the most beautiful poems" posts: They contain a lot of Shakespeare, a good bit of Frost, hoards of the Romantic canon, and that one e.e. cummings poem that goes, "i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)" (which is lovely, if a little overdone).
One BuzzFeed article kinda did the genre justice, filtering some offbeat writers into the pre-loaded shopping cart you're handed when you Google "prettiest lines of poetry." Regardless, there's way too much poetry out there for one list only. I don't think we'll run the well dry anytime soon.
(Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho)
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
(Lewis Carroll, "A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky")
Our peace betrayed us; we betrayed our peace.
Look at it well. This was the good town once.
(Edwin Muir, "The Good Town")
I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.
(Maggie Nelson, "Bluets")
("The Fray," from the movie "The Grey")
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
(T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton")
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
(Frank O'Hara, "Having A Coke With You")
You looked at me long enough to see something mysterioso under all the gruff and bluster. Thanks. Sometimes you get so close to someone you end up on the other side of them.
(Richard Siken, "The Long and Short of It")
(e.e. cummings, "maggie and milly and molly and may")
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
(Edgar Allen Poe, "Annabel Lee")
Any minute now, something will happen.
(Raymond Carver, "Drinking While Driving")
As I spoke to you,
I loved you
as simply as that.
(Robert Creeley, "The First Time")
(Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay")
He climbs up the steps and realizes that while he was in the subway, the whole world changed.
(Colson Whitehead, "The Colossus of New York")
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
(Emily Dickinson, "If you were coming in the fall")
My car is limping, Dolores Haze,
And the last long lap is the hardest,
And I shall be dumped where the weed decays,
And the rest is rust and stardust.
(Vladimir Nabokov, "Lolita")
I know I don’t make sense, Dad. This is the problem. I’m a sick girl, a crazy wishbone. I have razors under my tongue. I’m sorry I cut you, Dad, I’m so—so sorry. I gave you a card for Father’s Day once, it said you were my hero. You are. Your laugh is a thunderclap, you love like surgery. I think they broke me, Dad.
(Jeanann Verlee, "Communion")
Will this hurt?
Yes, every day of my life.
(Sarah Kay, "Questions and Answers, In No Particular Order")
Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.
(Anne Sexton, "The Truth the Dead Know")
(Sylvia Plath, "Mad Girl's Love Song")
When you return to something you love,
it’s already beyond repair.
You wear it broken.
(James L. White, "Lying in Sadness")
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
(Benjamin Alire Sánez, "To the Desert")
It's what we can't do for each other.
What are we to each other?
What does a life mean?
Why are we here if not for each other?
(Claudia Rankine, "Don't Let Me Be Lonely")
(Pablo Neruda, "Tonight I Can Write")
Listen, writers are the ones that drip fishhooks down their throats to coax out their hearts. Writers are the ones who fling those heart-hooks into the sea even if they have a message but not a bottle. Listen, sometimes fish swallow them. Some of those fish sink to the bottom of the ocean with the weight of the world in those hearts — those Plath hearts, those Hemingway hearts — and some of them grow feathers.
(Sora-Seraph, "Whale Songs of the Pacific")
For every day they die
among us, those who were doing us some good,
who knew it was never enough but
hoped to improve a little by living.
(W.H. Auden, "In Memory of Sigmund Freud")
It was a mistake to keep this single knife in my heart
so long, but it is my knife, and my heart, too,
with its four distinct chambers.
(Richard Jackson, "Basic Algebra")
(Charles Bukowski, "16 Jap machine gun bullets")
I'm going to be honest, I had to leave out some lines that I really, really wanted to include because I know they show up on every list of poetic genius. Not that I think that means you can't like them, I just don't want to be redundant, you know?
W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" is only one of the many frequently-cited poems I happen to love despite its popularity. After all, those poems are popular for a reason, right? And not just because people like to name-drop Shakespeare outside of literary cliques.
Whether you love the classics or not, it's good to be exposed to new works regularly, if only so there is a shared audience. Read your Auden and Frost and cummings, but don't forget your Creeley and Verlee and Carson, okay? There's plenty of poetry to go around so that you don't have to keep regurgitating the same (however beautiful) lines, I promise.