Do you read poetry a lot? Because I don’t. I know I should read poetry more—not only does it comprise some of the best literature, but it will help me when I write. However, despite all my resolutions to read a poem a day, and despite all my exhortations to others to do the same, I find myself failing in this area again and again. I’m still trying to figure out how to make reading poetry a bigger part of my life, but I have found that when I revisit poems that I love, it inspires me to search for more. So today, I present five of my favorite poems—may they inspire all of us to delve deeper into the vast, rich world of verse.
- The Hound of Heaven ~ Francis Thompson
This one is definitely the hardest to understand of these five, with its archaic words and spellings. However, if you can go slowly, make good use of a dictionary, and be patient through the harder-to-understand parts, you will find it was well worth the effort.
I absolutely love the message of this poem and the image it sets forth of the Hound, ever following, ever pursuing. The rhyme scheme and rhythm all add to the feeling of being chased and becoming increasingly desperate. Though it tells the story of someone else, it is really my story and the story of anyone who has surrendered to the Hound.
This first stanza is a wonderful example of one of my favorite aspects of the poem—how it portrays the Hound, both powerful and yet tender, chasing and yet always loving.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Down Titanic glooms of chased fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhuyrring chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrays Me.’
Also, if you can’t make it through the whole poem (though I strongly urge you to do so), at least read the last stanza.
2. The World ~ Henry Vaughan
I just recently discovered this poem, but it’s already one of my favorites. The first two lines made me literally gasp out loud (some of you may remember that Madeleine L’Engle wrote a book with the second line as a title), and the way the concluding stanza referred to them was thrilling.
Here’s a bit of the first stanza—don’t you have to read more?
I saw eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.
3. If— ~ Rudyard Kipling
I had to memorize this poem, and it’s one of my favorites to say—the repetition, rhyming, and rhythm make it fabulous to say out loud. In an age when noble men of integrity seem scarce, and people who value godly attributes feel even scarcer, this poem was a refreshing look at what it means to be a man (though most of it could certainly apply to women too).
Doesn’t this just inspire you to persevere?
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
4. Annabel Lee ~ Edgar Allen Poe
I can still remember analyzing “Annabel Lee” in a Creative Writing class, and I believe it was the first time I ever realized how powerful rhythm and rhyme are. I could almost hear the waves of “the kingdom by the sea” pounding through those two elements. Besides, the story it tells is reminiscent of a great epic, with the two young lovers, the jealous, more powerful beings who interfere, and the tragic yet defiant ending.
Here is the first stanza, where the stage is set:
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
5. God’s Grandeur ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
This is one of the first poems that truly stirred me and made me love poetry. It was hard to understand—and still is, at parts—but nevertheless I caught a glimpse of beauty and deep insight into the world I had never before experienced. The alliteration and rhyming add to its richness.
I won’t spoil the ending for you; you’ll have to look that up on your own. But here are the first few, wonderful lines:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite poems? And do you have any tips for making poetry-reading a daily practice?