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Celebrating English Poets & Poetry

While we celebrate the tradition of American poetry—Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes 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

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
William Wordsworth
1807
poem

Spellbound

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.
Emily Brontë
1837
poem

How Beastly the Bourgeois Is

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--

Presentable, eminently presentable--
shall I make you a present of him?

Isn't he handsome?  Isn't he healthy?  Isn't he a fine specimen?
Doesn't he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn't it God's own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn't you like to be like that, well off, and quite the
   thing

Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
   man's need,
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
  face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
   demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--

Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable--
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life
   than his own.

And even so, he's stale, he's been there too long.
Touch him, and you'll find he's all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty--
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp
   England
what a pity they can't all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.
D. H. Lawrence
1964
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
poem

The Unknown Citizen

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
   saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content 
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace:  when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
   generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
   education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
W. H. Auden
1940
poem

Ode to a Nightingale

1.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains  
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,  
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains  
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:  
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
  But being too happy in thine happiness,—  
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,  
          In some melodious plot  
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,  
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
  
2.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been  
  Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,  
Tasting of Flora and the country green,  
  Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!  
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,  
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,  
          And purple-stained mouth;  
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,  
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
  
3.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget  
  What thou among the leaves hast never known,  
The weariness, the fever, and the fret  
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;  
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;  
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow  
          And leaden-eyed despairs,  
  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,  
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
  
4.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,  
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,  
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,  
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:  
Already with thee! tender is the night,
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,  
    Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;  
          But here there is no light,  
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown  
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
  
5.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,  
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,  
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet  
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows  
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;  
    Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;  
          And mid-May's eldest child,  
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,  
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
  
6.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time  
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,  
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,  
  To take into the air my quiet breath;  
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,  
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad  
          In such an ecstasy!  
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—  
    To thy high requiem become a sod.
  
7.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!  
  No hungry generations tread thee down;  
The voice I hear this passing night was heard  
  In ancient days by emperor and clown:  
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,  
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;  
          The same that oft-times hath  
  Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam  
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.   
  
8.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell  
  To toil me back from thee to my sole self!  
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well  
  As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.  
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,  
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep  
          In the next valley-glades:  
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?  
    Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
John Keats
1820
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

Love in Fantastique Triumph satt

Love in Fantastique Triumph satt	
Whilst Bleeding Hearts a round him flow'd,	
For whom fresh paines he did Create,	
And strange Tyranick power he show'd; 
From thy Bright Eyes he took his fire,
Which round about, in sport he hurl'd;	
But 'twas from mine he took desire,	
Enough to undo the Amorous World.	
 
From me he took his sighs and tears,	
From thee his Pride and Crueltie;
From me his Languishments and Feares,	
And every Killing Dart from thee;
Thus thou and I, the God have arm'd,	
And sett him up a Deity;	
But my poor heart alone is harm'd,
Whilst thine the Victor is, and free.
Aphra Behn
1677