The HyperTexts

The Best Villanelles of All Time

Who wrote the best villanelles in the English language? But first, thinking of Socrates, how do we define the term "villanelle"? The villanelle is an Italian and French poetic form which became popular in English due to virtuoso performances like "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas, "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop and "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke. The villanelle relies on refrains (the repetition of entire lines), so on this page I have included poems with refrains, such as "Tom O'Bedlam" and "The Highwayman." The 1993 New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics states that the villanelle "first had as its only distinguishing features a pastoral subject and use of refrain; in other respects it was without rule." The same entry also assigns primary responsibility for the fixed-form villanelle with nineteen lines to the English, not the French. The French word villanelle derives from the Italian villanella and the Latin villanus (meaning "rustic"). The original villanella was a ballad-like song with a refrain, which did not adhere to a universal form, nor did it have a predetermined length. The "standard" form of the English villanelle was popularized by William Empson in the 1930s; it was then adopted by his friends Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden, and later by other notable poets such as Louise Bogan, Ernest Dowson, Seamus Heaney, Donald Justice, Sylvia Plath and Edward Arlington Robinson. James Joyce included a villanelle "written" by his protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, in his 1914 novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. More recently, villanelles have been penned by Expansive and New Formalist poets who include Jared Carter, Annie Finch, Max Gutmann, R. S. (Sam) Gwynn, Anthony Hecht, Rose Kelleher, A. E. Stallings, Lewis Turco and Richard Wilbur.

compiled by Michael R. Burch

The Top Ten Villanelles in the English Language, Including Poems with Refrains (each poem listed below appears on this page)

(#10) Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath
         Recuerdo by Edna St. Vincent Millay
(#9) The House on the Hill by Edward Arlington Robinson
        If I Could Tell You by W. H. Auden
(#8) The Waking by Theodore Roethke
(#7) One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
(#6) La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl) by T. S. Eliot
(#5) Tom O' Bedlam's Song by Anonymous, circa 1620
        The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
        Merciless Beauty by Geoffrey Chaucer (perhaps the first villanelle in the English language)
(#4) Acquainted With The Night by Robert Frost
(#3) Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson
(#2) Song For The Last Act by Louise Bogan
(#1) Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

Honorable Mention: "Roses" by Harvey Stanbrough, "Villanelle of the Poets' Road" by Ernest Dowson, "After the Rain" by Jared Carter, "It Is the Pain" by William Empson, "Theocritus" by Oscar Wilde, "Improvisation" by Jared Carter, "Lissadell" by Wendy Cope, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce, "Prospects" by Anthony Hecht, "Villanelle at Sundown" by Donald Justice, "The Difference Between Lack and Absence" by Annie Diamond, "I Have a Crush on the Devil" by Rose Kelleher, "After a Greek Proverb" by A. E. Stallings, "Video Blues" by Mary Jo Salter, "Looking in at Night" by Mary Kinzie, "Wulf and Eadwacer" by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon scop, "Villanelle for D.G.B." by Marilyn Hacker, "Lament" by Sylvia Plath, "Denouement Villanelle" by Sylvia Plath

Related pages: Best Sestinas, Best Sonnets, Best Lyric Poetry, Best Free Verse, Best Haiku, Best Love Poetry, Best Romantic Poetry, Best Sad/Dark Poetry, Best Poem of All Time, Best Poets, The Most Beautiful Poems in the English Language, Famous Ballads

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.

Dylan Thomas's elegy to his dying father is the best villanelle in the English language, in my opinion, and one of the most powerful and haunting poems ever written in any language. According to poets.org, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is the most popular poem in the English language and "One Art" (below) is number ten ... not bad for a form that only recently entered the English language ...

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.

Elizabeth Bishop wrote a small handful of truly great poems such as "One Art," "The Fish" and "The Armadillo," and can probably be considered a major poet for those poems alone. "One Art" bends a few rules here and there, with good results, and manages to be both clever and moving at the same time: a considerable accomplishment.

Is this the first villanelle in the English language, by its first major poet? Chaucer's poem has also been called the first third of a triple roundel ...

Merciles Beaute ("Merciless Beauty")
by Geoffrey Chaucer, circa 1380
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Unless your words heal me hastily,
my heart's wound will remain green;
for your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain.

By all truth, I tell you faithfully
that you are my life and my death, my queen ...
for at my death this truth shall be seen:
Your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Wulf and Eadwacer (Anonymous Ballad, circa 960-990 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Wild 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, surrounded 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 controlled me.
It felt good, to a point, but the end was loathsome.
We are so different.

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 Note: "Wulf and Eadwacer" is one of the truly great poems in the English language: a bittersweet saga of love and perhaps rape and betrayal. This ancient poem has been characterized as an elegy, a wild lament, a lover's lament, a passion play, a riddle, and as a song or early ballad with a refrain. However, most modern scholars choose to place it, along with The Wife's Lament, 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, although the poet and his/her sex remain unknown. But it seems likely that the poet was a woman because we don't usually think of ancient warriors and scops pretending to be women. "Wulf and Eadwacer" is perhaps the first Old English poem to contain sexual intrigue not adulterated by Christian monks. It may also be called the first English feminist text, as the speaker seems to be challenging and mocking the man who has raped and impregnated 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. The poem is also notable for its rich ambiguity, which leaves much open to reader interpretation. For instance, the "wolf" that has borne the whelp to the woods might be Wulf, the heartsick female speaker, Eadwacer, Eadwacer's jealous wife, or some other member of the clan. We do not know what happened to the child in the woods, but we have the impression of a dark catastrophe: perhaps human sacrifice. "Wulf and Eadwacer" is also one of the first English poems to employ a refrain, a hallmark of the great ballads and villanelles to come. The poem appeared in the Exeter Book, between "Deor's Lament" and the riddles, meaning that it was written no later than around 990 AD. But the poem itself is probably older, perhaps much older. I hope readers enjoy my other translations of this wonderfully powerful, haunting poem that speaks to us from the dawn of time and English poetry.—Michael R. Burch

Recuerdo
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
 
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
 
We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

The Difference Between Lack and Absence
by Annie Diamond

Both mean not having, but one means missing too.
Absence can be welcome, but lack implies desire—
the absence of some noise, a lack of you

might be a good example. And it’s true
that lack makes judgment, means that we require
the thing that’s gone (a constant aching, too)

while absence just reports; we can make do
with smaller things; it doesn’t sound so dire.
Who needs the noise? (But I need you.)

Absence lets us start anew,
while lacking keeps us laced to its dark pyre.
Both are not having, but one is missing too,

and wanting nothing more than to undo
whatever sins caused lacking to transpire.
The noise is done, and so, I guess, are you

with me. In verse I struggle to subdue
my restless heart. (The lacking makes me tired.)
Both mean not having; one means missing too—
the absence of some noise, a lack of you.

Annie Diamond is a student at Barnard College, a private women's liberal arts college affiliated with Columbia University. She has also studied abroad at Mansfield College, one of the constituent colleges of Oxford University in England. She recently completed her sophomore year at Barnard College, where she studies English and creative writing. Her work has been published in Apt, Avatar Review, Clockwise Cat, The Columbia Review and The Lyric. She was awarded first prize in The Lyric's College Poetry Contest for her villanelle "The Difference Between Lack and Absence." The same poem later won the Lyric Memorial Prize and was named the best poem to appear in The Lyric for the year 2013. Her favorite writing spot is the Hungarian Pastry Shop on New York City's 111th Street, and her number one life ambition is to appear on Jeopardy.

"It was my honor and pleasure to judge The Lyric's yearly and quarterly awards. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite poem for the year 2013 was written by a college student, Annie Diamond. I believe she has a very bright future."—Michael R. Burch

I Have a Crush on the Devil
by Rose Kelleher

I have a crush on the devil, teehee!
It’s wrong, but those horns just do something to me,
that little mustache, the seductive goatee.

I’ve got a crush on Beelzebub, dash it!
That arrow-tipped tail of his has such panache; it
would make a nice whip. I like watching him thrash it.

I’ve got a longing for Lucifer, darn it!
There’s something about all that Evil Incarnate,
his naked red skin like a shimmering garnet.

I’ve got a school-girlish thing for Hell’s King,
infernal, eternally barbecuing!
The respectable angels just haven’t his zing.

This is one of the best humorous villanelles (or near villanelles) written by a contemporary poet.

Acquainted With The Night
by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost's "Acquainted With The Night" is more of a sonnet than a villanelle, but it is a marvelous poem with a killer opening line that doubles as a killer closing line.

The House on the Hill
by Edward Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away,
    The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
    The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
    To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
    Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
    For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
    In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

"The House on the Hill" by Edward Arlington Robinson, is one of the spookier villanelles; it reminds me of "The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare.

If I Could Tell You
by W. H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Auden's lovely villanelle "If I Could Tell You" might have been written to a friend, a lover, or a child. In the poem's penultimate line, Time is capitalized, like the name of a God, and I am reminded of the God of the book of Job, who refuses to explain the reasons for human suffering, and so comes off as insufferable.

The Waking
by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke's villanelle "The Waking" has some wonderful lines, such as "We think by feeling. What is there to know?" and "The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair." It seems to be a poem about life-in-death, and perhaps love-in-the-act-of-dying. Whether the reader finds the poem terrifying, or calming, or both, probably depends on the reader.

The Divide
by Michael R. Burch

The sea was not salt the first tide ...
was man born to sorrow that first day
with the moon—a pale beacon across the Divide,
the brighter for longing, an object denied—
the tug at his heart's pink, bourgeoning clay?

The sea was not salt the first tide ...
but grew bitter, bitter—man's torrents supplied.
The bride of their longing—forever astray,
her shield a cold beacon across the Divide,
flashing pale signals: Decide. Decide.
Choose me, or His Brightness, I will not stay.

The sea was not salt the first tide ...
imploring her, ebbing: Abide, abide.

The silver fish flash there, the manatees gray.

The moon, a pale beacon across the Divide,
has taught us to seek Love's concealed side:
the dark face of longing, the poets say.

The sea was not salt the first tide ...
the moon a pale beacon across the Divide.

"The Divide" is essentially a formal villanelle despite the non-formal line breaks.

It Is the Pain
by William Empson

It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
What kindness now could the old salve renew?
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

The infection slept (custom or change inures);
And when pain's secondary phase was due,
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

How safe I felt, whom memory assures —
Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

William Epsom's villanelle is not as well-known as others on this page, but perhaps it should be. I read the poem as an extended metaphysical conceit, with a lover being compared metaphorically to both toxin and cure (albeit an ineffective cure). The "patient's" problems came in two stages: the first when he fell in love with a beautiful woman, the second when his heart could not forget her and so kept pumping the "poison draught" of her memory.

Mad Girl's Love Song
by Sylvia Plath

"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

Sylvia Plath is best known today for three things: (1) her poem "Daddy" in which she compared her father to a Nazi, the Devil, Dracula and Dr. Frankestein; (2) being the subject of her autobiographical novel about clinical depression, The Bell Jar; and (3) committing suicide by sticking her head in the oven and turning on the gas. While her life was brief and tortured, she was a talented poet whose work deserves to be read on its own merits.

Ordinary Love
by Michael R. Burch

Indescribable—our love—and still we say
with eyes averted, turning out the light,
"I love you," in the ordinary way

and tug the coverlet where once we lay,
all suntanned limbs entangled
, shivering, white ...
indescribably in love. Or so we say.

Your hair's blonde thicket now is tangle-gray;
you turn your back; you murmur to the night,
"I love you," in the ordinary way.

Beneath the sheets our hands and feet would stray
to warm ourselves.
 We do not touch despite
a love so indescribable. We say

we're older now, that "love" has had its day.
But that which Love once countenanced, delight,
still makes you indescribable. I say,
"I love you," in the ordinary way.

"Ordinary Love" was the winner of the 2001 Algernon Charles Swinburne poetry contest. It was originally published by Romantics Quarterly and nominated by the journal for the Pushcart Prize.

Theocritis
by Oscar Wilde

O singer of Persephone!
In the dim meadows desolate
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still through the ivy flits the bee
Where Amaryllis lies in state;
O Singer of Persephone!

Simaetha calls on Hecate
And hears the wild dogs at the gate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still by the light and laughing sea
Poor Polypheme bemoans his fate;
O Singer of Persephone!

And still in boyish rivalry
Young Daphnis challenges his mate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Slim Lacon keeps a goat for thee,
For thee the jocund shepherds wait;
O Singer of Persephone!
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Oscar Wilde also wrote a double villanelle titled "Pan," about the "goat-foot God of Arcady."

Villanelle for an Anniversary
by Seamus Heaney

A spirit moved. John Harvard walked the yard,
The atom lay unsplit, the west unwon,
The books stood open and the gates unbarred.

The maps dreamt on like moondust. Nothing stirred.
The future was a verb in hibernation.
A spirit moved, John Harvard walked the yard.

Before the classic style, before the clapboard,
All through the small hours of an origin,
The books stood open and the gate unbarred.

Night passage of a migratory bird.
Wingflap. Gownflap. Like a homing pigeon
A spirit moved, John Harvard walked the yard.

Was that his soul (look) sped to its reward
By grace or works? A shooting star? An omen?
The books stood open and the gate unbarred.

Begin again where frosts and tests were hard.
Find yourself or founder. Here, imagine
A spirit moves, John Harvard walks the yard,
The books stand open and the gates unbarred.

Seamus Heaney wrote the poem above for the 350th anniversary of the founding of Harvard College.

Denouement Villanelle
by Sylvia Plath

The telegram says you have gone away
And left our bankrupt circus on its own;
There is nothing more for me to say.

The maestro gives the singing birds their pay
And they buy tickets for the tropic zone;
The telegram says you have gone away.

The clever woolly dogs have had their day
They shoot the dice for one remaining bone;
There is nothing more for me to say.

The lion and the tigers turn to clay
And Jumbo sadly trumpets into stone;
The telegram says you have gone away.

The morbid cobra's wits have run astray;
He rents his poisons out by telephone;
There is nothing more for me to say.

The colored tents all topple in the bay;
The magic saw dust writes: address unknown.
The telegram says you have gone away;
There is nothing more for me to say.

Lament 
by Sylvia Plath

The sting of bees took away my father
who walked in a swarming shroud of wings
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

Lightning licked in a yellow lather
but missed the mark with snaking fangs:
the sting of bees too away my father.

Trouncing the sea like a ragin bather,
he rode the flood in a pride of prongs
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

A scowl of sun struck down my mother,
tolling her grave with golden gongs,
but the sting of bees took away my father.

He counted the guns of god a bother,
laughed at the ambush of angels’ tongues,
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

O ransack the four winds and find another
man who can mangle the grin of kings:
the sting of bees took away my father
who scorned the tick of the falling weather.

Villanelle for D.G.B.
by Marilyn Hacker 

Every day our bodies separate,
exploded torn and dazed.
Not understanding what we celebrate

we grope through languages and hesitate 
and touch each other, speechless and amazed;
and every day our bodies separate

us farther from our planned, deliberate
ironic lives. I am afraid, disphased,
not understanding what we celebrate

when our fused limbs and lips communicate
the unlettered power we have raised.
Every day our bodies' separate

routines are harder to perpetuate.
In wordless darkness we learn wordless praise,
not understanding what we celebrate;

wake to ourselves, exhausted, in the late
morning as the wind tears off the haze,
not understanding how we celebrate
our bodies. Every day we separate.

Villanelle of the Temptress
by James Joyce

Are you not weary of ardent ways,
Lure of the fallen seraphim?
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Your eyes have set man’s heart ablaze
And you have had your will of him.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?

Above the flame the smoke of praise
Goes up from ocean rim to rim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Our broken cries and mournful lays
Rise in one eucharistic hymn.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?

While sacrificing hands upraise
The chalice flowing to the brim,
Tell no more of enchanted days.

And still you hold our longing gaze
With languorous look and lavish limb!
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Stephen Daedalus’s “Villanelle of the Temptress” appears in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and was of course written by his alter ego, James Joyce.

The following poems are not villanelles, per se, but employ refrains/line repetition to wonderful effect ...

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae
by Ernest Dowson

"I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cynara"—Horace

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to you, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long;
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

Villanelle of the Poet's Road
by Ernest Dowson

Wine and woman and song,
     Three things garnish our way:
Yet is day over long.

Lest we do our youth wrong,
     Gather them while we may:
Wine and woman and song.

Three things render us strong,
     Vine leaves, kisses and bay;
Yet is day over long.

Unto us they belong,
     Us the bitter and gay,
Wine and woman and song.

We, as we pass along,
     Are sad that they will not stay;
Yet is day over long.

Fruits and flowers among,
     What is better than they:
Wine and woman and song?
     Yet is day over long.

Ernest Dowson's influence on T. S. Eliot is obvious, and anyone who reads his best poems can easily understand the attraction. Other writers unabashedly "borrowed" phrases from Dowson: "gone with the wind," "the days of wine and roses," "hollow lands," etc. The best poets write memorable lines, and Dowson's best poems are full of memorable lines. Several of his poems can be found on the Masters page of The HyperTexts.


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.

Along with Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot helped create modern English free verse. This poem demonstrates his his remarkable talents. While Eliot was a sophisticated, urbane poet, one of his main themes was human love, and he often comes across as a somewhat "nerdy" romantic.

The Light of Other Days
by Tom Moore

Oft, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me:
    The smiles, the tears
    Of boyhood's years,
  The words of love then spoken;
    The eyes that shone,
    Now dimm'd and gone,
  The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

When I remember all
  The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
  Like leaves in wintry weather,
    I feel like one
    Who treads alone
  Some banquet-hall deserted,
    Whose lights are fled,
    Whose garlands dead,
  And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
  Ere slumber's chain has bound me.
Sad Memory brings the light
  Of other days around me.

Tom Moore was an Irish tenor, songwriter and poet; this wonderfully haunting poem demonstrates his virtuosity as a poet.

Song For The Last Act

by Louise Bogan

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Louise Bogan is one of my favorite poets. Along with the poem above, "After the Persian" is one of the best poems in the English language.

in Just-
by E. E. Cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles      far      and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far      and      wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it's
spring
and

      the
               goat-footed

 baloonMan      whistles
far
and
wee

E. E. Cummings (or e. e. cummings) has long been one of my favorite poets. I love his musicality, his whimsy, and his defiance of convention. In his darker poems like "I sing of Olaf, glad and big," I love his fierce wrath against injustice. In my opinion he is one of the major poets of the modern era. Several of his poems can be found on the Masters page of The HyperTexts.

Luke Havergal

by Edward Arlington Robinson

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
And in the twilight wait for what will come.
The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
But go, and if you listen, she will call.
Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;
But there, where western glooms are gathering
The dark will end the dark, if anything:
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—
In eastern skies.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
That flames upon your forehead with a glow
That blinds you to the way that you must go.
Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
Out of a grave I come to tell you this—
To tell you this.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There are the crimson leaves upon the wall,
Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—
Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
But go, and if you trust her she will call.
There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

"Luke Havergal" by E. A. Robinson is one of the eeriest, most haunting poems in the English language. Robinson wrote a number of other very strong poems and remains one of America's best early modern poets. Several of his poems can be found on the Masters page of The HyperTexts.

Naming of Parts
by Henry Reed

"Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine glori"


Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
   And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
   Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
   Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
   They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
   For today we have naming of parts.

Henry Reed is likely to be remembered by this one poem, but fortunately for him (and for us) it should make him immortal.

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!

Robert Burns was one of the early romantics (perhaps a forerunner of both Shelley and Clare), and one of my early favorites along with Blake and Housman. He still reads well today, I think. He is, of course, most famous for his nostalgic drinking song "Auld Lang Syne." Several of his poems can be found on the Masters page of The HyperTexts.

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.

Christina Rossetti wrote a handful of immortal poems, and that makes her an immortal poet. Two of her poems can be found on the Masters page of The HyperTexts.

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.

This is a wonderfully haunting poem that should make its author immortal.

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.

Tichborne's elegy to himself remains one of the best and most powerful in the English language.

Bagpipe Music
by Louis MacNeice

It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."

It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.

Louis MacNeice is an undervalued poet, and "Bagpipe Music" is a tour-de-force.

Tom O' Bedlam's Song
Anonymous ballad, circa 1620

From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye,
The spirit that stands by the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye.
That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from your selves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon,
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

Of thirty bare years have I
Twice twenty been enragèd,
And of forty been three times fifteen
In durance soundly cagèd.
On the lordly lofts of Bedlam
With stubble soft and dainty,
Brave bracelets strong, sweet whips, ding-dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty,
    And now I sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

With a thought I took for Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall, sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never wakèd,
Till the roguish boy of love where I lay
Me found and stript me nakèd.
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

When I short have shorn my sow's face
And swigged my horny barrel,
In an oaken inn, I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel;
The moon's my constant mistress,
And the lovely owl my marrow;
The flaming drake and the night crow make
Me music to my sorrow.
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

The palsy plagues my pulses
When I prig your pigs or pullen
Your culvers take, or matchless make
Your Chanticleer or Sullen.
When I want provant, with Humphry
I sup, and when benighted,
I repose in Paul's with waking souls,
Yet never am affrighted.
    But I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping.
The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the Queen of Love her warrior,
While the first doth horn the star of morn,
And the next the heavenly Farrier.
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

The Gypsies, Snap and Pedro,
Are none of Tom's comradoes,
The punk I scorn, and the cutpurse sworn
And the roaring boy's bravadoes.
The meek, the white, the gentle,
Me handle not nor spare not;
But those that cross Tom Rynosseross
Do what the panther dare not.
    Although I sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end:
Methinks it is no journey.
    Yet I will sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

Anyone who hasn't read "Tom O'Bedlam" hasn't really lived. Reading the final stanza is like reading (and getting) the gist of Don Quixote in burst of magnificent language.

The Highwayman
by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

I
THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
                      Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II
He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
                      His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V
"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
                      Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

VI
He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
                      (Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I
He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
                      Marching—marching—
King George's men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
                      And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now, keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
                      She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
                      Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
                      Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V
The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
                      Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.

VI
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
                      Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
                      Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII
He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
                      Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
                      Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


XI
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


Alfred Noyes died the same year that I was born (1958). "The Highwayman" was my favorite poem as a young boy, and remains one of my favorite poems to this day.

Mariana
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

‘Mariana in the moated grange.’—Measure for Measure

With blackest moss the flower-plots
   Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
   That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
   Unlifted was the clinking latch;
   Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
     She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
       He cometh not,’ she said;
     She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       I would that I were dead!’

Her tears fell with the dews at even;
   Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
She could not look on the sweet heaven,
   Either at morn or eventide.
After the flitting of the bats,
   When thickest dark did trance the sky,
   She drew her casement-curtain by,
And glanced athwart the glooming flats.
     She only said, ‘The night is dreary,
       He cometh not,’ she said;
     She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       I would that I were dead!’

Upon the middle of the night,
   Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
The cock sung out an hour ere light:
   From the dark fen the oxen’s low
Came to her: without hope of change,
   In sleep she seem’d to walk forlorn,
   Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
About the lonely moated grange.
     She only said, ‘The day is dreary,
       He cometh not,’ she said;
     She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       I would that I were dead!’

About a stone-cast from the wall
   A sluice with blacken’d waters slept,
And o’er it many, round and small,
   The cluster’d marish-mosses crept.
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
   All silver-green with gnarled bark:
   For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray.
     She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
       He cometh not,’ she said;
     She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       I would that I were dead!’

And ever when the moon was low,
   And the shrill winds were up and away,
In the white curtain, to and fro,
   She saw the gusty shadow sway.
But when the moon was very low,
   And wild winds bound within their cell,
   The shadow of the poplar fell
Upon her bed, across her brow.
     She only said, ‘The night is dreary,
       He cometh not,’ she said;
     She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       I would that I were dead!’

All day within the dreamy house,
   The doors upon their hinges creak’d;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
   Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d,
Or from the crevice peer’d about.
   Old faces glimmer’d thro’ the doors,
   Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without.
     She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
       He cometh not,’ she said;
     She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       I would that I were dead!’

The sparrow’s chirrup on the roof,
   The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof
   The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
   When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
   Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower.
     Then, said she, ‘I am very dreary,
       He will not come,’ she said;
     She wept, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
       Oh God, that I were dead!’

Alfred Tennyson was a gifted poet and a superb craftsman, as the poem above attests.


The Skeleton's Defense of Carnality
by Jack Foley

Truly I have lost weight, I have lost weight,
grown lean in love’s defense,
in love’s defense grown grave.
It was concupiscence that brought me to the state:
all bone and a bit of skin
to keep the bone within.
Flesh is no heavy burden for one possessed of little
and accustomed to its loss.
I lean to love, which leaves me lean, till lean turn into lack.
A wanton bone, I sing my song
and travel where the bone is blown
and extricate true love from lust
as any man of wisdom must.
Then wherefore should I rage
against this pilgrimage
from gravel unto gravel?
Circuitous I travel
from love to lack / and lack to lack,
from lean to lack
and back.

Jack Foley is a contemporary poet, and a damn good one.

After the Rain
by Jared Carter

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different viewthe glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

Jared Carter is another contemporary poet well worth reading: not only now, but also in the future.

The Villanelle's Appeal
by Max Gutmann

The villanelle's appeal is rather fleeting.
It's fun at first. The fun fades quickly, though.
The lines are few that really bear repeating.

The suffocating pattern's self-defeating.
Repetitive, mechanical and slow,
The villanelle's appeal is rather fleeting.

What poets feel their verses gain by beating
A line to death and then some, I don't know.
The lines are few that really bear repeating.

It's like a theater with half the seating
Roped off, reserved for folks who never show.
The villanelle's appeal is rather fleeting:

The end of every stanza's like reheating
The stuff you had for lunch an hour ago.
The lines are few that really bear repeating.

Like grating TV advertisements bleating
About NEW products, nothing's new, and so
The villanelle's appeal is rather fleeting.
The lines are few that really bear repeating.

Max Gutmann's tongue-in-cheek villanelle argues against the form, while proving that it can be fun to read, and entertaining!

So there you have them: the best villanelles and similar poems ever written, 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.

Related pages: Best Sestinas, Best Sonnets, Best Lyric Poetry, Best Free Verse, Best Haiku, Best Love Poetry, Best Romantic Poetry, Best Sad/Dark Poetry, Best Poem of All Time, Best Poets, The Most Beautiful Poems in the English Language, Famous Ballads

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