Some Favorite Lines of Poetry
How do you say what it is you like about a poem? One way is to pick out lines that, for one reason or another, speak to you. This is a sample of poems I like, or whose bits I have enjoyed.
From Stephen Dunn, On the Death of a Colleague
I was on stage and I heard myself
wishing to be impressive.
Sharon Olds, The Space Heater
. . . And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me.
Mary Cornish, Numbers
Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
Martha Collins, Lines
But a line of thought is rarely
Miller Williams, Listen
She looked at me and said as clearly in silence
as if she had spoken,
Richard Brautigan, It’s Raining in Love
it’s raining somewhere, programming flowers
and keeping snails happy.
That’s all taken care of.
Aaron Fogel, The Printer’s Error
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.
David Berman, Snow
When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.
Tom Andrews, Six One-Line Film Scripts
God, Guilt, and Death
This will not work on film.
David Lehman, June 11
. . . unlike France
where they put one measly ice cube
in your expensive coke . . .
David Clewell, Vegetarian Physics
I’d rather not be part of the precariously metaphorical
wedding of modern physics and the ancient Eastern
Wesley McNair, Goodbye to the Old Life
determined in spite of the evidence
to learn the electric guitar.
Stephen Dobyns, Loud Music
and uses her voice as a porpoise uses
its sonar: to find herself in all this space.
. . . .
Loud music does this, it wipes out the ego,
Steve Kowit, The Grammar Lesson
A noun’s a thing. A verb’s the thing it does.
Gary Soto, Saturday at the Canal
And feeling awful because San Francisco was a postcard
On a bedroom wall. . . .
. . . .
And be with people who knew more than three chords
On a guitar. . . .
David Ray, Doing Without (whole poem)
or on his mountain does not overrate
what he does not or cannot have.
Billy Collins, You, Reader
I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you,
that it was I who got up early
to sit in the kitchen
and mention with a pen
Billy Collins, Monday
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse is to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.
Billy Collins, In the Moment ( see the whole poem)
I could feel the day offering itself to me,
and I wanted nothing more
than to be in the moment—but which moment?
Not that one, or that one, or that one.
or any of those that were scuttling by
seemed perfectly right for me.
. . . .
And so the priceless moments of the day
were squandered one by one—
or more likely a thousand at a time—
with quandary and pointless interrogation.
Billy Collins, The Drive
thrown together by a light toss of circumstance.
Billy Collins, The Centrifuge
These were not new questions,
but we asked them earnestly and repeatedly.
Billy Collins, The Introduction
And you’re all familiar with helminthology?
It’s the science of worms.
Billy Collins, The Revenant
I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you—not one bit.
Billy Collins, Drawing Class
the intelligent little trinity
of my fingers gripping the neck of the pencil
. . . .
The thin hexagonal pencil
is mightier than the pen,
for it can modulate from firm to faint
and shift from thin to broad
whenever it leans more acutely over the page—
the bright yellow pencil,
which is also mightier than the sword
for there is no erasing what the sword can do.
Billy Collins, Fool Me Good
I am also stroking the dog’s head
and writing down these words,
which means that I am calmly flying
in the face of the Buddhist advice
to do only one thing at a time.
Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
. . . .
But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.
Billy Collins, Silence
And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night
Billy Collins, Night Letter to the Reader
and at that one point, the moon,
looking like the top of Shakespeare’s
Billy Collins, “More Than a Woman”
in my head—a tape looping
over the spools of the brain,
Billy Collins, Royal Aristocrat
I was a single monkey
trying to type the opening lines of my Hamlet,
Billy Collins, Love
he seemed a little awkward
in his happiness to see her,
Billy Collins, Langour
I have come back to the couch—
hands behind my head,
legs crossed at the ankles—
to resume my lifelong study
of the ceiling and its river-like crack,
Billy Collins, Obituaries
who has fallen in the night,
who has left a shape of air walking in their place.
Billy Collins, As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse
and I begin a canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow
so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
Billy Collins, Trompe L’Oeil
a higher note in the opera of Art and Life—
. . . .
I felt like David Hume or William James
contemplating the nature of asparagus,
its troublesome epistemology—
Billy Collins, Tipping Point
It would have been so subtle—
like the sensation you might feel
as you passed through the moment
at the exact center of your life
or as you crossed the equator at night in a boat.
Billy Collins, Albany
Had I not stopped enough times along the way
to stare diligently
into the eye of a roadside flower?
Billy Collins, The Literary Life
Light in the shape of windows
hung on walls next to the paintings
. . . .
How many things have I looked up
in a lifetime of looking things up?
Billy Collins, The Great Walter Pater
but when the dogs of trouble
have me running down a dark winding alley,
Billy Collins, By a Swimming Pool Outside Siracusa
at this special time of day, or as we say in America, now.
Billy Collins, Ignorance
And I am inside my own head
like a tiny homunculus,
a creature so excited over his naked existence
that he scurries all day
from one eye socket to the other
just to see what scenes are unfolding before me,
what street, what pastures.
Billy Collins, Death in New Orleans, a Romance
Long into the night my pencil
hurried across the page,
a young messenger boy
running his nervous little errands,
the world is like this, the moon like that.
Billy Collins, Air Piano
Now that all the twilight has seeped
out of the room
Billy Collins, To My Patron
All I need is a pen,
a little blank notebook,
and a lamp with a seventy-five-watt bulb.
Of course, an oak desk would be nice,
maybe a chair of ergonomic design,
and a collie lying on an oval rug,
always ready to follow me anywhere
of just sniff my empty palm.
Billy Collins, Writing in the Afterlife
jumping all day through the hoop of myself.
Billy Collins, Balsa
A while the boys are sailing their boats,
running along the water’s edge with their long sticks,
oblivious to the cries of their guardians,
I will stand off to the side—
that small vessel of wonder and cruelty—
being blown by sudden unexpected gusts.
Billy Collins, Christmas Sparrow
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of glass into the spacious light.
Billy Collins, Surprise
He [Vivaldi] would be 325 years old today,
quite bent over, I would imagine,
Billy Collins, Books
I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book,
a man in two worlds . . . .
Billy Collins, Schoolsville
Once in a while a student knocks on the door
with a term paper fifteen years late
or a question about Yeats or double-spacing.
And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane,
to watch me lecturing the wallpaper,
quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air.
Billy Collins, Questions about Angels
If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?
Billy Collins, On Turning Ten
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
. . . .
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. . . .
John Updike, Perfection Wasted
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market—
. . . .
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one,
Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Erica Jong, Parable of the Four-Poster
They marry each other—
a four-way mistake.
Gerald Locklin, where we are
I envy those
who live in two places
. . . .
there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. . . .
. . . .
. . . i am talking about hope.
Joyce Sutphen, Living in the Body
Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
Charles Bukowski, the last song
like getting hit by a freight
makes us realize that all our
moaning about long lost girls
in gingham dresses
is not so important
Jimmie Cox, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.
Louis Jenkins, A Place for Everything
. . . This thing’s use has been forgotten but it looks so important that no one is willing to throw in in the trash. It survives by bluff . . . .
Howard Nemerov, Walking the Dog
Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.
. . . he mooches along . . .
Getting a secret knowledge through the nose
. . . .
Whereon we both with dignity walk home
And just to show who’s master I write the poem.
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—
David Wagoner, Lost
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
Stephen Dunn, A Secret Life
It’s why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who’ll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.
Anne Sexton, Courage
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
C. G. Hanzlicek, Egg
A woman who loves me in a way
I’ve come to think I deserve
. . . .
The love of a woman
That both is and isn’t confounding,
Marge Piercy, To Be of Use
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Raymon Carver, Happiness
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. . . .
Howard Moss, Shorelines
The dreariness of things gone wrong for good.
Stephen Dunn, After the Argument
Whoever spoke first would lose something,
that was the stupid
Hal Sirowitz, Lending Out Books
You’re always giving, my therapist said.
You have to learn how to take. . . .
. . . .
. . . You end up losing
a lot of books. You should borrow hers.
Dana Gioia, Summer Storm
There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.
And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.
Henry Taylor, After a Movie
A cab pulls up. You stoop into the dark
and settle toward a version of yourself.
D. H. Lawrence, Piano
. . . The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
Jim Schley, Cradle Song
As far as we know, we’ll know.
Billy Collins, Nightclub
You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of men and women alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don’t hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear. Guaranteed.
Lisel Mueller, Late Hours
What luxury, to be so happy
that we can grieve
over imaginary lives.
Tom Hennen, The Life of a Day
. . . We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t the one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well-adjusted . . . .
Arthur Guiterman, Routine
No matter what we are and who
Some duties everyone must do:
Kenneth Rexroth, Another Spring
The air is drugged with azalea blossoms;
. . . .
And moments that should each last forever
Slide unconsciously by us like water.
Anonymous, Home on the Range
How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light of the glittering stars,
Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.
Pablo Neruda, Tonight I Can Write
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
. . . .
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
. . . .
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
George Herbert, Death
Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
W. H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Binsey Polars
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Not to Be Spattered by His Blood
Not to be spatterd by his blood—this, while I kill him,
Must be my mind’s precise concern.
. . . .
For it is fitter that a beast be monstrous than that I should be.
Gail Mazur, In Houston
I’d dislocated my life, so I went to the zoo. [first line]
Lloyd Schwartz, Proverbs from Pergatory
I know this town like the back of my head.
A bird in the hand makes waste.
Life isn’t all it’s crapped up to be.
Two heads are better than none.
A rolling stone deserves another.
A friend in needs deserves another.
He smokes like a fish.
A friend in need opens a can of worms.
A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
DO NOT READ THIS SIGN.
There’s no fool like a friend in need.
We’ve passed a lot of water since then.
All’s well that ends.
Czeslaw Milosz, Incantation
Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
James Tate, Dream On
Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
. . . .
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
. . . .
You’re a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life . . . .
. . . .
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Adrienne Rich, Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
. . . .
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.
Donald Wagoner, Making Up for a Soul
There are snap-on souls like luminous neckties
Denise Levertov, Illustrious Ancestors
mysterious as the silence when the tailor
would pause with his needle in the air.
Cid Corman, The Desk
it is hard to be anywhere once
and twice is a dream
Yvor Winters, To the Holy Spirit
Yet when I go from sense
And trace thee down in thought,
I meet thee, then, intense,
And know thee as I ought.
* * *
- Hayden Carruth, The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
- Billy Collins, Nine Horses
- Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room
- Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry
- Billy Collins, ed., Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry
- Garrison Keillor, Good Poems
- Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz, Poems to Read