The HyperTexts

The Best Lines from Songs and Poems

This page contains some of the best lines of all time from popular songs and poems. Songwriters include Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Carole King, Prince, Paul Simon, Bernie Taupin and Roger Waters. Poets include William Blake, Louise Bogan, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Hart Crane, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, A. E. Housman, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, John Keats, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Sir Thomas Wyatt and William Butler Yeats. 

compiled by Michael R. Burch

How many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Blowin' In The Wind by Bob Dylan

It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
'Cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky.
It's been a long, a long time coming,
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

(Sam Cooke wrote his bluesy, incredibly soulful "A Change Is Gonna Come" after hearing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." If you haven't heard Cooke sing his song, you really should mosey on over to YouTube or your favorite music venue to check it out. Cooke's rendition may be the best vocal performance in the history of American music. If not, it's certainly a contender.)

Imagine there's no heaven;
It's easy if you try:
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.
Imagine by John Lennon

Goodbye, Norma Jean,
Though I never knew you at all...
Candle in the Wind, lyrics by Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John

(The lyrics above were written originally as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, the former Norma Jeane Baker. The original "Candle in the Wind" was the b-side of "Bennie and the Jets" and thus did not chart on its own. The lyrics were later adapted into a tribute to Princess Diana called "Goodbye England's Rose" which was performed by Elton John at her funeral. The tribute to Princess Diana was then released as "Candle in the Wind 1997" and it became the second-best-selling single of all time, after Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Thus it's the best-selling rock single of all time. It also went to number one in every nation where it charted.)

One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.
Wulf and Eadwacer, anonymous Anglo-Saxon lyric, circa 960 AD, translation by Michael R. Burch

(I fell in love with the ancient Anglo-Saxon lyric poem "Wulf and Eadwacer" and ended up translating it myself over a period of many years. It may be the first poem in the English language written by a female poet. She was apparently the victim of rape, so she may be the first #metoo poet. You can read the poem and my translation notes by clicking the hyperlinked title.)

You will lose if you choose to refuse to put her first:
She will and she can find a man who knows her worth.
A Woman's Worth by Alicia Keys

This is what it sounds like
When doves cry.
When Doves Cry by Prince

We're just two lost souls
Swimmin' in a fish bowl
Year after year...
Wish You Were Here, lyrics by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

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

To be, or not to be? That is the question...
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

She walks in beauty, like the night...
She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron

A thing of beauty is a joy forever...
Endymion by John Keats

The art of losing's not too hard to master...
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
Bright Star by John Keats

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
Of Mere Being by Wallace Stevens

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love...
The Broken Tower by Hart Crane

All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.
All You Need Is Love by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, performed by the Beatles

All we are sayin'
Is, "Give peace a chance."
Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon

If you can't be with the one you love,
Love the one you're with.
Love the One You're With by Stephen Stills

("Love the one you're with" was an adage or tagline coined by Billy Preston; it was used with his permission in the song. Stephen Stills released the song as a solo artist, but it was later performed by the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. A live version appears on their album 4 Way Street.)

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I have forgot much, Cynara!, gone with the wind...
Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson

(Ernest Dowson's "gone with the wind" inspired the title of Margaret Mitchell's famous novel and the blockbuster movie starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. Although Dowson is a neglected poet today, his best poems are wonderfully good and deserve to be read.)

They are not long, the days of wine and roses...
Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare longam by Ernest Dowson

("The days of wine and roses" is another Ernest Dowson coinage that has stood the test of time. It became the title of a Blake Edwards movie and a Henry Mancini song. Please don't be thrown off by Dowson's imposing Greek titles: his poems are simple and bittersweet.)

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
by William Shakespeare

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

(In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" what the bard means by "So long lives this, and this gives life to thee" is that his poem will immortalize his subject. Long after his lover is gone, people will still be reading the poem he wrote. And guess what, he was right!)

I will keep your secrets,
Just think of me as the pages in your diary.
Diary by Alicia Keys

I can't complain,
but sometime I still do.
Life's Been Good to Me (So Far) by Joe Walsh

Drink to me, only, with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine...
To Celia by Ben Jonson

(Ben Jonson's lovely poem was set to music and became a lovely song that is still being sung today, centuries later.)

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
In A Station Of The Metro by Ezra Pound

(Ezra Pound was influenced by Oriental poetry and this poem is haiku-like.)

Different strokes for different folks...
Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone

Meet the new boss,
Same as the old boss.
Won’t Get Fooled Again, lyrics by Peter Townshend, performed by The Who

All lies and jest,
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest...
The Boxer, lyrics by Paul Simon, performed by Simon and Garfunkel

Act your age, mama,
Not your shoe size.
Kiss by Prince

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.
Afton Water by Robert Burns

But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anguish or shame's to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I'll be there.
Excerpts from "More Poems," XXX, by A. E. Housman

(I find it interesting that the title of this poem, XXX, happens to be a common symbol for kisses!)

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

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes.
Upon Julia's Clothes by Robert Herrick

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

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there...
You've got a friend.
You've Got a Friend by Carole King

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
Jerusalem by William Blake

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas!, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Whoso List to Hunt by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats

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.
Bread and Music by Conrad Aiken

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...
The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

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.
Song For The Last Act by Louise Bogan

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.
Acquainted With The Night by Robert Frost

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.
A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman

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?
Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Who made the world I cannot tell;
'Tis made, and here I am in hell.
My hand, though now my knuckles bleed,
I never soiled with such a deed.
Excerpts from "More Poems," XIX, by A. E. Housman

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.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm:
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.
Lullaby by W. H. Auden

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
This Living Hand by John Keats

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.
They Flee from Me by Thomas Wyatt

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.
My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold by William Wordsworth

Farewell to all belongings
I won or bought or stole;
Farewell, my lusty carcase,
Farewell, my aery soul.
Excerpts from "More Poems," XXI, by A. E. Housman

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer by Walt Whitman

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.
Song by Christina Rossetti

God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
Luke Havergal by Edward Arlington Robinson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and asked, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry,
For whose sake, henceforth, all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much."
On My First Son by Ben Jonson

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

I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as Hell, as dark as night.
Sonnet 147 by William Shakespeare

O thou that from thy mansion
Through time and place to roam,
Dost send abroad thy children,
And then dost call them home,
That men and tribes and nations
And all thy hand hath made
May shelter them from sunshine
In thine eternal shade:
We now to peace and darkness
And earth and thee restore
Thy creature that thou madest
And wilt cast forth no more.
Excerpts from "More Poems," XLVII, "For My Funeral," by A. E. Housman

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!
A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth

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.
Advice to a Girl by Sara Teasdale

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.
But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.
Excerpts from "More Poems," I, "Easter Hymn" by A. E. Housman

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.
On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday by Walter Savage Landor

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!
First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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

Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings a tune without words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest, in the gale, is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That keeps so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity
It ask a crumb of me.
Hope Is A Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls by e. e. cummings

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

("Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is from Horace's Odes and means: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.")

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink...
Love Is Not All by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Tears, Idle Tears by Lord Alfred Tennyson

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
She Walks In Beauty by Lord Bryon

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day? by William Shakespeare

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones...
I Knew A Woman by Theodore Roethke

Farewell, Love, and all thy laws for ever:
Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more.
Farewell, Love by Thomas Wyatt

This page contains primarily shorter lyric poems. To continue reading The Best Long Poems in the English Language, please click the hyperlinked title. Some of the longer poems included are "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, "Directive" by Robert Frost, "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath, "True Love" by Robert Penn Warren, the Archpoet's magnificent "Confession" and the great anonymous ballad "Tom O'Bedlam."

Related pages: Best Singers of All Time, Best Singer-Songwriters, Best Female Singer/Songwriters, Best Songs of All Time, Best Sad Songs, Best Protest Songs and Poems, Rock Jukebox: the Poetry of Rock Lyrics, Best Female Poets, Best Sappho Translations, Best Metaphors and Similes, The Worst Song Lyrics of All Time, Best Lines from Songs and Poems

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