This is a Good Poem February 2nd

It’s the month of the dead.  Let’s think about love.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43, 1845

One of the reasons I love this poem, aside from the fact that’s it’s an amazing declaration of love from a wonderful real life love story, is because I taught this in a high school English class once, and a boy told me, “I would kill to have a girl say that to me.”   When you get high school boys loving poetry, you’ve written a good poem.

But my favorite Barrett poem is still Sonnet 14:

“If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only.
Do not say, “I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”

Or as some dude once put it, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds . . . ” (Sonnet 116.)



33 thoughts on “This is a Good Poem February 2nd

  1. These are two of my favorite poems, too. (Great minds think alike or what?)
    We own an antique beauty case that we bought in England, complete with little glass bottles and stuff and made out of wood with brass embellishments. On top it has a brass plaque that is engraved with “E.B.M.Barrett”. I’ll never be able to prove it, by I like to think that it was hers before she got married to Robert Browning.

  2. I have always loved this one more:


    I cannot woo thee as the lion his mate,
    With proud parade and fierce prestige of presence;
    Nor thy fleet fancy may I captivate
    With pastoral attitudes in flowery pleasance;
    Nor will I kneeling court thee with sedate
    And comfortable plans of husbandhood;
    Nor file before thee as a candidate….
    I cannot woo thee as a lover would.

    To wrest thy hand from rivals, iron-gloved,
    Or cheat them by a craft, I am not clever.
    But I do love thee even as Shakespeare loved,
    Most gently wild, and desperately for ever,
    Full-hearted, grave, and manfully in vain,
    With thought, high pain, and ever vaster pain.

    1. I love Wilfred Owen, but I can’t teach him without weeping. What a terrible, stupid, bloody waste of a great poet and a good man.
      His war poetry is just devastating. All the WWI poetry is devastating. I loved it, but I had a hell of a time during that lecture. How can you not weep for them?

      I hadn’t seen this one, so thank you. It’s beautiful.

      1. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
        Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
        At the going down of the sun and in the morning
        We will remember them.

        I lose it, every time, at those lines.
        From “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon

        1. Or Rupert Brooke. “If I should die, think only this of me:
          That there’s some corner of a foreign field
          That is forever England.”
          Or “In Flanders Fields.”

          1. Aw, guys! I’m at work here! There should be a “NSFW: WWI poetry ahead”!

            (Lol, through slightly watery eyes. I’m kidding. A few tears in the morning just mean the rest of the day is going to be tearless, right?)

      2. Oh. We had to do a presentation on Owen or Sassoon back in grade 11, if I’m remembering correctly. It changed my stance on governments. I had thought that if they made a decision, it was based on knowledge I didn’t have and it was on the side of right.

        Owen, Sassoon and Blake’s ‘London’ made me think differently.

      3. We did love and war poetry as a module in our final year at school. Wilfred Owen featured heavily, his poetry is unforgettable.

        They make a nice counterpoint, things that rouse emotion at either end of the scale. I’d like to say also that love is the greatest motivator for war – love for people, country, and this may be the case for young soldiers signing up, but for the causes of war, I doubt it.

  3. I almost never read poetry. These make me feel I should.

    Didn’t this woman also write a poem about eternity being made up of now, or something similar?

  4. Twenty-One Love Poems [Poem II]
    Adrienne Rich, 1929 – 2012

    I love the intimacy of this, image, language, sound, line echoes/strengthen the theme.

    I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
    Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
    you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
    our friend the poet comes into my room
    where I’ve been writing for days,
    drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
    and I want to show her one poem
    which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
    and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
    to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
    I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
    and I laugh and fall dreaming again
    of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
    to move openly together
    in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
    which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

  5. Blaise Pascal – I always liked the more poetic translation from “A Wrinkle In Time”

    The heart has reasons, whereof reason knows nothing.

    There’s apparently more to the quote, but for me this stands as a perfect one line poem.

  6. I used to love watching Beauty and the Beast TV series with Ron Perlman. I loved his voice and the sound of it. He made a CD where he did nothing but read poems and one of the poems he read was Sonnet 116. I hate to say it, but I had never heard it before. Also it didn’t hurt that they played music from the show in the background. I would decompress on my long drive home every night listening to his beautiful, mellow voice. Wow.

  7. I love Emily Dickinson, and she did a great death poem:

    Because I could not stop for Death –
    He kindly stopped for me –
    The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove – He knew no haste
    And I had put away
    My labor and my leisure too,
    For His Civility –

    We passed the School, where Children strove
    At Recess – in the Ring –
    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
    We passed the Setting Sun –

    Or rather – He passed us –
    The Dews drew quivering and chill –
    For only Gossamer, my Gown –
    My Tippet – only Tulle –

    We paused before a House that seemed
    A Swelling of the Ground –
    The Roof was scarcely visible –
    The Cornice – in the Ground –

    Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
    Feels shorter than the Day
    I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
    Were toward Eternity –

  8. This is my favorite love poem. I love the imagery. And I’m impressed by the courage Whitman had, to be so open about his relationships at that time.

    When I Heard at the Close of the Day

    By Walt Whitman

    When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that follow’d,
    And else when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d, still I was not happy,
    But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
    When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
    When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
    And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way coming, O then I was happy,
    O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
    And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend,
    And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
    I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me whispering to congratulate me,
    For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
    In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me,
    And his arm lay lightly around my breast – and that night I was happy.

  9. And this poem about death, which James K Baxter wrote on the wall of a friend’s house a few days before dying.

    A Pair of Sandals

    A pair of sandals, old black pants
    And leather coat — I must go, my friends,
    Into the dark, the cold, the first beginning
    Where the ribs of the ancestor are the rafters
    Of a meeting house — windows broken
    And the floor white with bird dung — in there
    The ghosts gather who will instruct me
    And when the river fog rises
    Te ra rite tonu te Atua —
    The sun who is like the Lord
    Will warm my bones, and his arrows
    Will pierce to the centre of the shapeless clay of the mind.

  10. Oh, and Rumi:

    Why cling to one life
    till it is soiled and ragged?

    The sun dies and dies
    squandering a hundred lives
    every instant

    God has decreed life for you
    and He will give
    another and another and another

    This post reminded me how much I love poetry. I’ll stop now, I promise.

  11. On approaching death, Shakespeare sonnet 73

    That time of year thou mayst in me behold
    When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
    Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
    In me thou seest the twilight of such day
    As after sunset fadeth in the west,
    Which by and by black night doth take away,
    Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
    In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
    That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
    As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
    Consumed by that which it was nourished by.
    This thou perceiv’st, which makes my love more strong,
    To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

    1. My favorite in that vein in “Ulysses.” Not crazy about the aged wife part, but this:

      “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
      One equal temper of heroic hearts,
      Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
      To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

  12. It’s black history month.
    Since we talked about the futlity and loss of WWI, here’s a poem by Langston Hughes written decades later.
    Comment on War by Langston Hughes

    Let us kill off youth
    For the sake of Truth.

    We who are old know what truth is—
    Truth is a bundle of vicious lies
    Tied together and sterilized—
    A war-maker’s bait for unwise youth
    To kill off each other
    For the sake of

  13. Jim Harrison
    “Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
    up in the branches of a tree and not peek
    out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
    willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
    a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
    culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
    People forget their spirits easily suffocate
    so they must keep them far up in tree
    branches where they can be summoned any moment.
    It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
    to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
    In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
    of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
    It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
    was too expensive for its taste. In Chicago
    it won’t come in the Drake, though I can see it
    out the window, hovering over the surface
    of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
    else is attracted to humility. If I slept
    in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.”

  14. A delightful love poem by one of my favorite spoken word poets:

    “Worst Poetry” by Sarah Kay:

    Without question,
    you are the worst thing that ever happened
    to my poetry.
    It’s my time of the day, or what used to be
    when I could sit down and write a really
    gritty, angry poem, one just
    seething with angst
    but now I can’t because you make me

    (Sorry I couldn’t find a full transcription of the poem, at least not from behind my work’s firewall…)

  15. I stumbled upon this verse again a week or so ago, and it’s a classic. (Khayyam/Fitzgerald)

    A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
    A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
    Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
    Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

    MIT has the whole book, I think.

    And death stands behind this one:

    The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.


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