What’s Your Favorite Poem?

What’s Your Favorite Poem? July 10, 2019

I thought it would be fun to take a day off of serious writing and share poems instead. Please share your favorite poems in the comments, along with links for readers who may want to save them. And don’t forget to share why you like them!

When I was a preteen and young teen, I developed an appreciation for poems that were extremely sad, because of the way they made me feel. My favorite poem was “Out, Out—,” by Robert Frost. It’s not particularly long, so I’ll share it in full:

“Out, Out—“
By Robert Frost

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell them ‘Supper.’ At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. ‘Don’t let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!’
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

What can I say? I was 13 or something—it spoke to me. I actually memorized the whole thing and recited it at speech competitions, feeling very much like Anne of Green Gables in her poetry recitation contests.

Another poem I loved was Enoch Arden, by Tennyson. I found it in a tiny book of poetry at my grandparents’ house, which I sat down and perused in a quiet moment when I was around the same age. This poem is more heartwarming than the Frost poem, but equally sad—to this day, I can’t get through the end without crying. It’s also much, much longer.

I’ll give you just a taste of the beginning:

Enoch Arden
By Alfred Tennyson

Long lines of cliff breaking have left a chasm;
And in the chasm are foam and yellow sands;
Beyond, red roofs about a narrow wharf
In cluster; then a moulder’d church; and higher
A long street climbs to one tall-tower’d mill;
And high in heaven behind it a gray down
With Danish barrows; and a hazelwood,
By autumn nutters haunted, flourishes
Green in a cuplike hollow of the down.

  Here on this beach a hundred years ago,
Three children of three houses, Annie Lee,
The prettiest little damsel in the port,
And Philip Ray the miller’s only son,
And Enoch Arden, a rough sailor’s lad
Made orphan by a winter shipwreck, play’d
Among the waste and lumber of the shore,
Hard coils of cordage, swarthy fishing-nets,
Anchors of rusty fluke, and boats updrawn,
And built their castles of dissolving sand
To watch them overflow’d, or following up
And flying the white breaker, daily left
The little footprint daily wash’d away.

  A narrow cave ran in beneath the cliff:
In this the children play’d at keeping house.
Enoch was host one day, Philip the next,
While Annie still was mistress; but at times
Enoch would hold possession for a week:
`This is my house and this my little wife.’
`Mine too’ said Philip `turn and turn about:’
When, if they quarrell’d, Enoch stronger-made
Was master: then would Philip, his blue eyes
All flooded with the helpless wrath of tears,
Shriek out `I hate you, Enoch,’ and at this
The little wife would weep for company,
And pray them not to quarrel for her sake,
And say she would be little wife to both.

Seriously though, read the whole thing sometime when you have a moment. There’s something deeply moving about it, in a sad, tragic way—a reflection of love, service, and devotion, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Or maybe I just like this poem because I read it for the first time when I was 14, who knows.

While I never tried to memorize Enoch Arden—it was way too long—I did set in memorizing another set of poems. You know, the ones in the Lord of the Rings. This one was my absolute favorite, because it felt downright magical:

Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold,
and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came
and in the branches blew.

Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon,
the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin
there grew a golden Tree.

Beneath the stars of Ever-eve
in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls
of Elven Tirion.

There long the golden leaves have grown
upon the branching years,
While here beyond the Sundering Seas
now fall the Elven-tears.

O Lórien! The Winter comes,
the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream,
the River flows away.

O Lórien! Too long I have
dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown
have twined the golden elanor.

But if of ships I now should sing,
what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever
back across so wide a Sea?

As I sit here thinking about poems, I’m suddenly realizing that as much as I love poetry—and I do—the poems that impressed themselves on me during my teen years are still my favorite. Perhaps there’s something about that developmental age that made me especially impressionable, or eager to grasp on to pieces that made me feel things.

What about the rest of you? What poems do you enjoy? What poets do you recommend? What makes some poems speak too you—and others not?

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