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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

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;	
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells	
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's	
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;	
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:	        
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;	
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,	
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.	
 
Í say móre: the just man justices;	
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;	        
Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is—	
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,	
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his	
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
1880
poem

Evening Solace

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

Charlotte Brontë
2016
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

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   
   
In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
   
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
   
It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
1888
poem

Ode to the West Wind

I
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!
 
II
Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!
 
III
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!
 
IV
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
 
V
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Percy Bysshe Shelley
1820
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