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Celebrating English Poets & Poetry

While we celebrate the tradition of American poetry—the Walt Whitmans and Emily Dickinsons and Langston Hugheses who helped create a uniquely American voice—we cannot forget how poets from across the pond have a shared history with the beginnings of American poetry, from the poets like Anne Bradstreet, who was credited as one of the first English poets in the colonies, to poets like Shakespeare, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose work has made an indelible mark on our understanding of poetry in America. Find out more about English poets and poetry with this collection of poems, essays, and more from and about poets from England.

poem

England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,— 
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow 
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring,— 
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, 
But leech-like to their fainting country cling, 
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,— 
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,— 
An army, which liberticide and prey 
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield 
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay; 
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed; 
A Senate,—Time's worst statute unrepealed,— 
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may 
Burst, to illumine our tempestous day.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
1839
poem

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

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.
Wilfred Owen
1920
poem

If—

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
   And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
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";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!
Rudyard Kipling
1910
poem

Canon 501

The song was moist, filing away,
   drifting while we drifted, something
in blackface, Al Jolson of birdland,
   not quite right, prophesizing until hoarse
who knows what. The locals say he
   draws poison from you, angatkuk,
shaman, though they don’t believe it.
   Then the incongruous smell of
chrysanthemum crossed us up and
   we remembered the service-station
with someone in handcuffs. Probably
   a mistake, said the attendant, though
they do get violent. The prisoner yawned.
   Our map lumbered from point to point
as if trying to remember something itself,
   anything. We tossed it and got out.
On the long walk back the tundra looked cozier
   by moonlight, everywhere the same,
white as bleached whalebone. But
   things had not been right all day.
In the damp heat everything was wobbly,
   even the bride at the old mission who
seemed to grow clouds like companions,
   drawing them after. I glimpsed a ring
of seal-fur flash on her wrist. Mm-hmm,
   unh-hunh they went. The honeymoon
was spent beyond the rigs. It was enough
   for them it didn’t rain or snow though
the driftwood fire they made beside the boats
   was all smoke. The sea sounded obscure
as if it had no shape and was empty.
   We tried to capture it on Canon 501
and sent it south, but even that seemed staged.

Brian Swann
2006