This page contains poetry excerpts as well as quotations, anecdotes
and brief essays on our favorite subjects: poets, poetry and the art of
words. Here you will find the expected (Shakespeare, Frost, Blake) and the
unexpected (poems by Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Ben Franklin, and
quotations about poetry by J. F. Kennedy).
Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.—Samuel
When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.
For July 4th, 2005 we added a page of poetry by, about and admired by
Abraham Lincoln. On this page, you'll find lines penned by Lincoln that are
at times reminiscent of Dickinson, Poe, Clare and Herrick. You'll also find what
might be the raciest poem of the 1860s, also written by Lincoln. This bit of
ribald doggerel was said to have been "more popular than the Bible" in southern
Illinois! Lincoln was a poet and a true admirer and lover of poetry, once
remarking of a particular poem, "I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to
be able to write so fine a piece ..."
We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of
truth.—John F. Kennedy
They hold their hands over their mouths
And stare at the stretch of water.
What can be said has been said before:
Strokes of light like herons' legs in the cattails,
Mud underneath, frogs lying even deeper.
Therefore, the poets may keep quiet.
But the corners of their mouths grin past their hands.
They stick their elbows out into the evening,
Stoop, and begin the ancient croaking.
—David Wagoner "The Poets Agree To Be Quiet By The Swamp"
The poem comes in the form of a blessing, like rapture breaking on the mind.—Stanley Kunitz
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth,
From earth to heaven.
—William Shakespeare "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.—Carl
This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
It beckons and it baffles;
Philosophies don't know
And though a riddle, at the last,
Sagacity must go.
To guess it puzzles scholars;
To gain it, men have shown
Contempt of generations,
And crucifixion known.
Of our conflicts with others we make rhetoric; of our conflicts with ourselves we make
poetry.—William Butler Yeats
Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odors, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley "Music, When Soft Voices Die"
A poet is a man who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck
by lightning five or six times.—Randall Jarrell
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor.
—Paul Simon "I Am a Rock"
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.—Plato
I know as well as thee that I am no poet born
It is a trade, I never learnt nor indeed could learn
If I make verses—'tis in spite
Of nature and my stars I write.
A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a
homesickness, a lovesickness.—Robert Frost
Our troubles break and drench us.
Like spray on the cleaving prow
Of some trim Gloucester schooner.
As it dips in a graceful bow ...
But why does sorrow drench us
When our fellow passes on?
He's just exchanged life's dreary dirge
For an eternal life of song.
—From "Life" by Ronald Reagan, age 17
It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies
When power leads man toward arrogance,
poetry reminds him of his limitations.
When power narrows the areas of man's concern,
poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence.
When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.
—John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Anyone who breathes is in the rhythm business.—William Stafford
Be not too tame neither, but
Let your own discretion be your tutor.
Suit the action to the word,
The word to the action.
—William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"
Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds. —Barnett
But Fear and the Muse in turn guard the place
Where the banished poet has gone
And the night that comes with quickened pace
Is ignorant of dawn.
Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom.—Robert Frost
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
Works of art are of an infinite solitariness, and nothing is less likely to bring us near
to them than criticism.—Ranier Maria Rilke
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.
Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the
delicate, tough skin of words.—Paul Engle
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 so desolate;
And all that once was so beautiful is dead.
—Conrad Aiken "Bread and Music"
Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his
friends can only read the title.—Virginia Woolf
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
—Edward Fitzgerald "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"
... give up verse, my boy,
there's nothing in it.
—Ezra Pound "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly (Part I)"
There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.—Robert
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.
—Abraham Lincoln, "My Childhood Home I See Again"
Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
Abraham Lincoln memorized the poem "Mortality" (by William Knox, although he
didn't know the author's
identity at the time). Lincoln "became so identified with the poem that
some people thought he had written it." He once remarked, "I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to
be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is." Lawrence Weldon, who traveled the law circuit with Lincoln, recalled
Lincoln reciting the poem in 1860. He said, "The weird and melancholy
association of eloquence and poetry had a strong fascination for Mr.
Lincoln's mind. Tasteful composition, either of prose or poetry, which
faithfully contrasted the realities of eternity with the unstable and
fickle fortunes of time, made a strong impression on his mind." At
Lincoln's request, Andrew Johnston published portions of Lincoln's own poetry
anonymously in the Quincy, Illinois Whig on May 5, 1847.
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat
To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.
Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.
—Abraham Lincoln, "The Suicide’s Soliloquy"
Eyes are vocal, tears have tongues,
And there are words not made with lungs.
Value your words. Each one may be the last.—Stanislaw J. Lec
Readers and listeners praise my books;
You swear they're worse than a beginner's.
Who cares? I always plan my dinners
To please the diners, not the cooks.
—Martial, translated by R. L. Barth
Poetic power is great, strong as a primitive instinct; it has its own unyielding rhythms
in itself and breaks out as out of mountains.—Ranier Maria Rilke
You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
Pluck the roses ere they rot.
—Abraham Lincoln, "To Rosa"
Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
The true philosopher and the true poet are one, and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth,
which is beauty, is the aim of both.—Ralph Waldo Emerson
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like Arabs,
And silently steal away.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.—William Blake
The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read
Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb,
And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.
—Lord Byron "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"
Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who
is fixed to a star does not change his mind.—Leonardo da Vinci
Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your
capacity to love anything at all.—Wallace Stevens
Watch the stars, and from them learn.
To the Master's honor all must turn,
each in its track, without a sound,
forever tracing Newton's ground.
A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good
poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to
extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.—Dylan Thomas
I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol,
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.
—Oscar Wilde "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"
Paradoxically though it may seem, it is none the less true that life imitates art far more
than art imitates life.—Oscar Wilde
For we have thought the longer thoughts
And gone the shorter way.
And we have danced to devil's tunes
Shivering home to pray;
To serve one master in the night,
Another in the day.
—Ernest Hemingway "Chapter Heading"
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without improvement
are the roads of Genius.—William Blake
I know where Wells grow—
I think a little Well—
Dearer to understand—
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making
of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.—Wolfgang Amadeus
Swans sing before they die— 'twere no bad thing
should certain people die before they sing!
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The poet is the priest of the invisible.—Wallace Stevens
There is divine beauty in learning, just as there is
human beauty in tolerance.
To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth.
Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.
The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons,
mothers and daughters,
teachers and disciples.
I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests.
And so are you.
While it is true that commercial art is always in danger of ending up as a
prostitute, it is equally true that noncommercial art is always in danger of
ending up as an old maid.—Erwin Panovsky
The sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his
thoughts.—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is
the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.—Francisco Goya
I know poetry's indispensable, but to what I couldn't say.—Jean
With me poetry has not been a purpose, but a passion.—Edgar Allan Poe
We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it— and
stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit
down on a hot stove-lid again— and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a
cold one anymore.—Mark Twain
"Don't teach my boy poetry," an English mother recently wrote
the Provost of Harrow. "Don't teach my boy poetry; he is going to stand for
Parliament." Well, perhaps she was right—but if more politicians knew poetry,
and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place to
live.—John Fitzgerald Kennedy
The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar
things new.—Samuel Johnson
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the
world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.—George
Viewed from the summit of reason, all life looks like a malignant disease and the world
like a madhouse.—Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe
Poetry is not a profession, it is a destiny.—Mikhail Dudan
It is absurd to think the only way to tell if a poem is
lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell
the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound—that
he will never get over it. That is to say, permanence in poetry as in love is
perceived instantly. It hasn't to await the test of time.—Robert Frost
At a literary luncheon at which he was being lionized, Robert Browning was asked
about the meaning of one of his more obscure poems. He answered,
"Madam, when I wrote that poem, only God and I knew what it meant. Now, I'm chagrined to say, only God knows!"
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human
race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are
noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love,
these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! ... of
the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless—of
cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes
on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may
contribute a verse ... What will your verse be?—Tom Schulman "The
Dead Poets Society"
The Internet is the great democratic vehicle transporting readers back to Poetry.— MRB (Let me explain. There has been great angst over poetry's
supposed loss of audience. The facts, however, do not support the general
malaise, or at least not on the Internet. For example, "poetry" was the number eight search
term on Lycos for 1999, ahead of "Jennifer Lopez," "Pamela Anderson,"
"wrestling," "golf" and "football." There are at
least two poetry sites with over 500,000 visitors a year, one with over 400,000 visitors a
month. Yahoo recently announced that an on-line poetry bash had to be canceled due
to overwhelming demand, and Yahoo has impressive broadcast capabilities. The fact is that most poetry books and journals are narrowly
read. Interest in poetry, however, is at an all-time high.)