The HyperTexts

The Best Couplets of All Time
Couplet Definition and Examples


Couplet Definition: Two lines of poetic verse, usually but not always in the same meter and joined by rhyme, that form a unit (i.e., that go together and stand alone).

Rhymed Couplet Example

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night ...
William Blake

Unrhymed Couplet Example

... you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you ...
e. e. cummings

Free Verse Couplet Example

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume ...
Walt Whitman

Heroic Couplet Definition: A stanza consisting of two rhyming lines in iambic pentameter, especially one forming a rhetorical unit and written in an elevated style, as in the poems of Geoffrey Chaucer and Alexander Pope. Entire longer poems have been written in heroic couplets, such as Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and Pope's "The Rape of the Lock," "Essay on Man" and "Essay on Criticism."

Heroic Couplet Example

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
―Alexander Pope
 
Masters of the English poetry couplet include William Blake, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Ernest Dowson, John Dryden, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Robert Hayden, Robert Herrick, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Ben Jonson, John Keats, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Milton, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander Pope, Ezra Pound, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edmund Spenser, Wallace Stevens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, Thomas Wyatt, Elinor Wylie and William Butler Yeats. 

compiled by Michael R. Burch



Complete Poem Rhymed Couplets


Forgive, O Lord

by Robert Frost

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive the great big one on me.

Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness
by Alexander Pope

I am his highness's dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

Alexander Pope, a poet famous for his satires such as The Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock, wrote this epigram in the 1730s and had it engraved on the collar of one of his puppies, which he gave to Frederick, Prince of Wales.



Unrhymed Free Verse Couplets


In A Station Of The Metro
by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

***

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
Pablo Neruda

***

Love calls, everywhere and always.
We're sky bound. Are you coming?
Rumi



Haiku and Haiku-Like Poems Recast as Couplets

Lightning shatters the darkness:
the night heron's shriek.
―Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

An ancient pond, the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water.
Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

In a misty rain a butterfly is riding
the tail of a cow.
Richard Wright

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains, uprooting oaks.
Sappho of Lesbos, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sappho is the first great lyric that poet that we know by name today. The term "lyric" derives from the lyre, a harp-like musical instrument. Sappho is thus the original singer-songwriter, and the artistic mother not only of lyric poets like Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, but also of singer-songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Sam Cooke and Carole King. Basho is one of the world's greatest poets, in my opinion. Richard Wright was one of the better Western poets to write haiku.



Villanelles

The Villanelle is a unique form in which two lines repeat, either in whole or in part, until they combine to form a closing couplet. To make the repetition easier to see, the repeating lines have been italicized below.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.



Traditional Sonnets

The traditional English sonnet typically ends with a rhymed couplet that "wraps things up." The most common English forms of the sonnet are the Spenserian sonnet (rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee), the Shakespearean sonnet (rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg) and the Petrarchan sonnet (rhyme scheme abba abba cdecde), although there are other variations.

Shakespearean Sonnets (rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg)

Sonnet 147: My Love is as a Fever
by William Shakespeare

My love is as a fever, longing still [a]
For that which longer nurseth the disease, [b]
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, [a]
The uncertain sickly appetite to please. [b]
My reason, the physician to my love, [c]
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, [d]
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve [c]
Desire is death, which physic did except. [d]
Past cure I am, now reason is past care, [e]
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest. [f]
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are, [e]
At random from the truth vainly expressed, [f]
   For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright, [g]
   Who art as black as Hell, as dark as night. [g]

Sonnet 73: That Time of Year
by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold [a]
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang [b]
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, [a]
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. [b]
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day [c]
As after sunset fadeth in the west; [d]
Which by and by black night doth take away, [c]
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. [d]
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire, [e]
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, [f]
As the deathbed whereon it must expire, [e]
Consumed with that which it was nourished by. [f]
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, [g]
To love that well which thou must leave ere long. [g]

Bright Star
by John Keats

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art [a]
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night, [b]
And watching, with eternal lids apart, [a]
Like nature's patient sleepless eremite, [b]
The moving waters at their priestlike task [c]
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores, [d]
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask [c]
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors; [d]
No yet still steadfast, still unchangeable, [e]
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast, [f]
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell, [e]
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, [f]
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, [g]
And so live ever or else swoon to death. [g]

Spenserian Sonnet (rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee)

Sonnet LXXV
by Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand, [a]
But came the waves and washed it away; [b]
Again I wrote it with a second hand, [a]
But came the tide and made my pains his prey. [b]
“Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain assay [b]
A mortal thing so to immortalize, [c]
For I myself shall like to this decay, [b]
And eke my name be wiped out likewise [c]
“Not so.” quod I, “Let baser thing devise [c]
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame; [d]
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize [c]
And in the heavens write your glorious name, [d]
Where, when as death shall all the world subdue, [e]
Our love shall live, and later life renew.” [e]

Petrarchan Sonnets (rhyme scheme abba abba cdecde/cdcdcd/cddcdd)

Credo
by Edward Arlington Robinson

I cannot find my way: there is no star [a]
In all the shrouded heavens anywhere; [b]
And there is not a whisper in the air [b]
Of any living voice but one so far [a]
That I can hear it only as a bar [a]
Of lost, imperial music, played when fair [b]
And angel fingers wove, and unaware, [b]
Dead leaves to garlands where no roses are. [a]

No, there is not a glimmer, nor a call, [c]
For one that welcomes, welcomes when he fears, [d]
The black and awful chaos of the night; [e]
For through it all—above, beyond it all— [c]
I know the far sent message of the years, [d]
I feel the coming glory of the light. [e]

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, [a]
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain [b]
Under my head till morning; but the rain [b]
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh [a]
Upon the glass and listen for reply, [a]
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain [b]
For unremembered lads that not again [b]
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. [a]
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, [c]
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, [d]
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: [e]
I cannot say what loves have come and gone, [d]
I only know that summer sang in me [c]
A little while, that in me sings no more. [e]

A Last Word
by Ernest Dowson

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand; [a]
The day is overworn, the birds all flown; [b]
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown; [b]
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land, [a]
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand [a]
Laughter or tears, for we have only known [b]
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone [b]
Have driven our perverse and aimless band. [a]
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold, [c]
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust [d]
Find end of labour, where's rest for the old, [c]
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust. [d]
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold [c]
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust. [d]

Whoso List to Hunt
by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, [a]
But as for me, alas!, I may no more. [b]
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore, [b]
I am of them that farthest cometh behind. [a]
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind [a]
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore [b]
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore, [b]
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind. [a]
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt, [c]
As well as I may spend his time in vain. [d]
And graven with diamonds in letters plain [d]
There is written, her fair neck round about: [c]
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am, [d]
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame. [d]

Noli me tangere means "Touch me not." According to the Bible, this is what Jesus said to Mary Magdalene when she tried to embrace him after the resurrection. In May 1536, Wyatt was imprisoned in the Tower of London for allegedly committing adultery with Anne Boleyn. He was released from the Tower later that year, thanks to his friendship and his father's friendship with Thomas Cromwell. But during his stay in the Tower, Wyatt may have witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn from his cell window, and the executions of the five other men with whom she was accused of committing adultery. A common interpretation of this poem is that the deer (dear) is Anne Boleyn, and that Caesar is King Henry VIII, who had her and her lovers beheaded.

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

by William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair: [a]
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by [b]
A sight so touching in its majesty: [b]
This City now doth, like a garment, wear [a]
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, [a]
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie [b]
Open unto the fields, and to the sky; [b]
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. [a]
Never did sun more beautifully steep [c]
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; [d]
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! [c]
The river glideth at his own sweet will: [d]
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; [c]
And all that mighty heart is lying still! [d]

The Unreturning
by Wilfred Owen

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled [a]
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled. [b]
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled [b]
When far-gone dead return upon the world. [a]

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke. [c]
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called. [a]
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled, [a]
And never one fared back to me or spoke. [c]

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn [d]
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds, [e]
The weak-limned hour when sick men's sighs are drained. [f]
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn, [d]
Gagged by the smothering Wing which none unbinds, [e]
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained. [f]

Methought I Saw
by John Milton

Methought I saw my late espousèd saint [a]
   Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave, [b]
   Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave, [b]
   Rescued from Death by force, though pale and faint. [a]
Mine, as whom washed from spot of childbed taint [a]
   Purification in the Old Law did save, [b]
   And such, as yet once more I trust to have [b]
   Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, [a]
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind. [c]
   Her face was veiled; yet to my fancied sight [d]
   Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined [c]
So clear as in no face with more delight. [d]
   But O, as to embrace me she inclined, [c]
   I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night. [d]

The Fountain Of Blood

by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Rachel Hadas

A fountain's pulsing sobs—like this my blood [a]
Measures its flowing, so it sometimes seems. [b]
I hear a gentle murmur as it streams; [b]
Where the wound lies I've never understood. [a]

Like water meadows, boulevards are flooded. [c]
Cobblestones, crisscrossed by scarlet rills, [d]
Are islands; creatures come and drink their fill. [d]
Nothing in nature now remains unblooded. [c]

I used to hope that wine could bring me ease, [e]
Could lull asleep my deeply gnawing mind. [f]
I was a fool: the senses clear with wine. [f]

I looked to Love to cure my old disease. [e]
Love led me to a thicket of IVs [e]
Where bristling needles thirsted for each vein. [f]

Spring and Fall, to a Young Child
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving [a]
Over Goldengrove unleaving? [a]
Leaves, like the things of man, you [b]
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? [b]
Ah! as the heart grows older [c]
It will come to such sights colder [c]
By and by, nor spare a sigh [d]
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; [d]
And yet you will weep and know why. [d]
Now no matter, child, the name: [e]
Sorrow's springs are the same. [e]
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed [f]
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed: [f]
It is the blight man was born for, [g]
It is Margaret you mourn for. [g]

Leda and the Swan

by William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still [a]
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed [b]
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, [a]
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. [b]

How can those terrified vague fingers push [c]
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? [d]
And how can body, laid in that white rush, [c]
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? [d]

A shudder in the loins engenders there [e]
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower [f]
And Agamemnon dead.
                                    Being so caught up, [g]
So mastered by the brute blood of the air, [e]
Did she put on his knowledge with his power [f]
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop? [g]



Blank Verse Sonnets and Free Verse Sonnets

A blank verse sonnet abandons rhyme but maintains iambic meter (ta TUM ta TUM ta TUM etc.) perhaps with some degree of metrical variation, while a free verse sonnet does not employ regular meter.

Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?



Longer Poems with Strong Closing Couplets

A couplet can be used to end a longer poem that may, or may not, be written in couplets.

Barren Woman
by Sylvia Plath

Empty, I echo to the least footfall,
Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas.
In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself,
Nun-hearted and blind to the world. Marble lilies
Exhale their pallor like scent.

I imagine myself with a great public,
Mother of a white Nike and several bald-eyed Apollos.
Instead, the dead injure me with attentions, and nothing can happen.
The moon lays a hand on my forehead,
Blank-faced and mum as a nurse.

Requiescat
by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life's buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

"Requiescat" is the first word in the Latin prayer "Requiescat in pace" (meaning "Rest in peace"). Oscar Wilde wrote the poem for his beloved sister Isola, who died at age nine. I believe Wilde's poem may have been influenced by an elder poet, Robert Herrick ...

Another: Upon a Child
by Robert Herrick

Here a pretty baby lies
Sung asleep with lullabies:
Pray be silent, and not stir
Th' easy earth that covers her.

Refugee
by Emily Dickinson

These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me―
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee―

This poem by one of the first great female American poets still speaks eloquently, passionately and powerfully to the modern world.

Shine, Perishing Republic
by Robinson Jeffers

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he walked on earth.

Minstrel Man

by Langston Hughes

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You did not think
I suffer after
I've held my pain
So long.

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
You do not hear
My inner cry:
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
I die.

Langston Hughes was one of the first American poets to create a "fusion" between the blues, jazz and modern poetry.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.

This consoling elegy had a mysterious genesis, as it was written by Mary Elizabeth Frye, a Baltimore housewife who lacked a formal education, having been orphaned at age three. Frye, who had never written a poem before, composed the poem on a ripped-off piece of a brown grocery bag, in a burst of compassion for a Jewish girl who had fled the Holocaust only to receive news that her mother had died in Germany. The girl was weeping inconsolably because she couldn't even visit her mother's grave. When the poem was named Britain's most popular poem in a 1996 Bookworm poll, with more than 30,000 call-in votes despite not having been one of the critics' nominations, an unlettered orphan girl had seemingly surpassed all England's many cultured and degreed ivory towerists in the public's estimation. Although the poem's origin was disputed for some time (it had been attributed to Native American and other sources), Frye's authorship was confirmed in 1998 after investigative research by Abigail Van Buren, the newspaper columnist better known as "Dear Abby." The poem has also been called "I Am" due to its rather biblical repetitions of the phrase. Frye never formally published or copyrighted the poem, so we believe it is in the public domain and can be shared, although we recommend that it not be used for commercial purposes, since Frye never tried to profit from it herself.

The Eagle
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

This was one of the first poems that really "grabbed" me when I started reading poetry―voluntarily at first, soon avidly―as a high school student. Pretty soon, I was "hooked" and started writing poems of my own. I included Tennyson's "The Eagle" in my first "serious" notebook of poems.―Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts

The Sick Rose
by William Blake

O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

William Blake may have been the most influential poet/artist of all time. If you're interested to know why, you can click here: William Blake the World's Most Influential Poet/Artist. Blake was a mystic who said that he communicated with angels and saints on a daily basis. In addition to being one of England's greatest poets, he may have been its greatest painter and engraver as well.

If Bees Are Few
by Emily Dickinson

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Wulf and Eadwacer (anonymous Anglo-Saxon ballad, circa 990 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My clan's curs pursue him like crippled game.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
We are so different.

Wulf's on one island; I'm on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.
Here bloodthirsty men howl for sacrifice.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
We are so different.

My thoughts pursued Wulf like panting hounds.
Whenever it rained and I sobbed, disconsolate,
huge, battle-strong arms grabbed and engulfed me.
Good feelings for him, but for me loathsome!
Wulf, oh, my Wulf! My desire for you
has made me sick; your seldom-comings
have left me famished, deprived of real meat.
Do you hear, Heaven-Watcher? A wolf has borne
our wretched whelp to the woods.
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.

Translator's Notes: This ancient poem has been characterized as an elegy, a wild lament, a lover's lament, a passion play, a riddle, a song, or an early ballad (it may be the earliest English poem with a refrain). However, most scholars place it within the genre of the frauenlied, or woman's song. It may be the first extant poem authored by a woman in the fledgling English language; it seems likely that the poet was a woman because we don't usually think of ancient scops pretending to be women. "Wulf and Eadwacer" might also be called the first English feminist text, as the speaker seems to be challenging and mocking the man who has been raping and impregnating her. And the poem's closing metaphor of a loveless relationship being like a song in which two voices never harmonized remains one of the strongest in the English language, or any language.—Michael R. Burch

Music When Soft Voices Die (To )
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

Lost
by W. H. Auden

Lost on a fogbound spit of sand
in shoes that pinch me, close at hand
I hear the splash of Charon's oar
that ferries no one to a happy shore.

This Be The Verse
by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Servitude
by Anne Reeve Aldrich

The church was dim at vespers.
My eyes were on the Rood.
But yet I felt thee near me,
In every drop of blood.

In helpless, trembling bondage
My soul's weight lies on thee,
O call me not at dead of night,
Lest I should come to thee!

since feeling is first
e. e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Bread and Music
by Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Cradle Song

by William Blake

Sleep, sleep, beauty bright,
Dreaming in the joys of night;
Sleep, sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit and weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles,
Little pretty infant wiles.

As thy softest limbs I feel
Smiles as of the morning steal
O'er thy cheek, and o'er thy breast
Where thy little heart doth rest.

O the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep!
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful night shall break.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

They Flee from Me
by Thomas Wyatt

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
And therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold
by William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Wild Asters
by Sara Teasdale

In the spring I asked the daisies
   If his words were true,
And the clever, clear-eyed daisies
   Always knew.

Now the fields are brown and barren,
   Bitter autumn blows,
And of all the stupid asters
   Not one knows.

Song
by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
   Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
   Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
   With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
   And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
   I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
   Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
   That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
   And haply may forget.

On My First Daughter
by Ben Jonson

Here lies, to each her parents' ruth,
Mary, the daughter of their youth;
Yet all heaven's gifts being heaven's due,
It makes the father less to rue.

At six months' end, she parted hence
With safety of her innocence;
Whose soul heaven's queen, whose name she bears,
In comfort of her mother's tears,
Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:
Where, while that severed doth remain,
This grave partakes the fleshly birth;
Which cover lightly, gentle earth!

Excerpts from "More Poems"
by A. E. Housman

XXXVI

Here dead we lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.


A Red, Red Rose

by Robert Burns

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
Oh my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

Advice to a Girl

by Sara Teasdale

No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.

Afton Water
by Robert Burns

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,
I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.
How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark'd with the courses of clear winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye.
How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev'ning sweeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.
Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides,
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As gathering sweet flowrets she stems thy clear wave.
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday
by Walter Savage Landor

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife;
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

First Fig
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time
by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he's a-getting;
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may for ever tarry.

Beginning My Studies

by Walt Whitman

Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much,
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,
The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.

The Turtle
by Ogden Nash

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

The Cow
by Ogden Nash

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

I Shall Not Care
by Sara Teasdale

When I am dead and over me bright April
   Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Though you shall lean above me broken-hearted,
   I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
   When rain bends down the bough;
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
   Than you are now.

The Tyger
by William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Go, Lovely Rose

by Edmund Waller

     Go, lovely Rose,—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
     That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

     Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
     That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

     Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retir'd:
     Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desir'd,
And not blush so to be admir'd.

     Then die, that she
The common fate of all things rare
     May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share,
That are so wondrous sweet and fair.

So We'll Go No More A-Roving

by George Gordon, Lord Byron

So we'll go no more a-roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
   And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
   And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
   By the light of the moon.

La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
by T. S. Eliot

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair —
Lean on a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose.

On the Eve of His Execution
by Chidiock Tichborne

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

Buffalo Bill's defunct
e. e. cummings

Buffalo Bill's
        defunct
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
                                        stallion
        and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
                                                         Jesus
        he was a handsome man
                             and what i want to know is
        how do you like your blueeyed boy
        Mister Death

Aplolgia Pro Vita Sua
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The poet in his lone yet genial hour
Gives to his eyes a magnifying power:
Or rather he emancipates his eyes
From the black shapeless accidents of size—
In unctuous cones of kindling coal,
Or smoke upwreathing from the pipe's trim bole,
      His gifted ken can see
      Phantoms of sublimity.

To Helen
by Edgar Allan Poe

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!

Dream Variations
by Langston Hughes

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

Who ever loved
by Christopher Marlowe

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;

And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

We Wear the Mask
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

So there you have them: the best couplets ever, according to me. I'm sure every reader's choices will be different, but if you added a poem or three to yours, having read mine, hopefully you will consider your time here well spent.

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