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

straight

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

mysteries.

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

*

famous forehead,

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,

making lines,

making comparisons—

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

train.

makes us realize that all our

moaning about long lost girls

in gingham dresses

is not so important

after

all.

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.

Emily Dickinson

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

Later,

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

unspoken rule.

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.

* * *

Sources:

3 Responses to Some Favorite Lines of Poetry

  1. Ray Kelley says:

    Robert Penn Warren, excerpt from “True Love,” ~

    There is nothing like

    Beauty. It stops your heart. It

    Thickens your blood. It stops your breath.

    Like

  2. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi, Nancy. Wow! It’s great to hear from you after so many years.

    My first suggestion for you would be to have a look at the various booklets published by InterVarsity Press, about 3″ x 4″ each (or about the size of a standard tract, but with more pages). They have them on lots of different topics. They may have something evangelistic for women, even.

    Let me know if this helps. If not, I’ll see what else I can come up with.

    I hope to hear more from you!

    -Doug

    Hi to Ryan!

    Like

  3. Nancy Takenaga says:

    Hi Dr. Geivett!
    It’s been a long time.
    I just found your blog and am enjoying catching up on your thoughts and writings.
    A quick question –
    I’m speaking at my Mops group in April and will be weaving my testimony with some apologetics for a message to believers as well as non believers. The group would like to have a tract available for the ladies to take and read at the end. Can you recommend any good tracts that have basic apologetics for non-believers or young believers? Thought you might have had some experience with this. I believe most of the moms are theists, though, maybe some are not Christians.

    Thanks!
    Nancy

    Like

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