And this grey spirit yearning in desire,
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

I am become a name; For always roaming with a hungry heart.
Much have I seen and known,--
cities of men, And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,"

- "Ulysses", Tennyson
"Poetry is the safety valve of my passions, but I wish to act what I write."
        - Benjamin Disraeli, future English Prime Minister

"I gave up on new poetry myself thirty years ago, when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens on a hostile world."
        - Russell Baker

There is a schoolteacher in my town and he looks like Bugs Bunny,
He's a mass murderer and I'm not being funny.
        - Paul Durcan

My soul, there is a country far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry all skilful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles
If thou canst get but thither, there grows the flow'r of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither, thy fortress and thy ease.
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
        - "Peace", Henry Vaughan (1622-1695)

"If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.
There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware."
        - Rupert Brooke, "The Soldier"

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; —on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
        - Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the overcrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all this for evermore.
        - Charles Sorley, "When You See Millions Of The Mouthless Dead" (1915)

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand ;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets ;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
        - Epitaph on a Tyrant, by WH Auden

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence :
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
        - The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
        - John Masefield, "Sea Fever"

I had seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.
        - John Masefield , "Epilogue", on the surprises of life

She dwelt among the untrodden ways beside the springs of Dove,
A maid whom there were none to praise and very few to love.
A violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye;
Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky.

- Wordsworth, "She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways" Will no one tell me what she sings?
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow for old ,unhappy, far off Things, and Battles long ago. - Wordsworth, "The Solitary Reaper" And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'Tis that I may not weep.

        - Byron

Give me a look, give me a face, that makes simplicity a grace;
Robes loosely flowing, hair as free,-- Such sweet neglect more taketh me
Than all the adulteries of art: They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

- Benjamin Johnson, "Epicæne; Or, the Silent Woman" Her blue eyes sought the west afar, for lovers love the western star. - Walter Scott, "Lay of the Last Minstrel" Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord :
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored ;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword :
His truth is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me :
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

-"Battle Hymn Of The Republic", Julia Ward Howe :This is a Union army marching song, from the American Civil War "Now the news. Night raids on
Five cities. Fires started.
Pressure applied by pincer movement
In threatening thrust. Third Division
Enlarges beachhead. Lucky charm
Saves sniper. Sabotage hinted
In steel-mill stoppage. Strong point held
By fanatical Nazis. Canal crossed..."

        - WH Auden, "The Age of Anxiety", 1947.


Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate :
"To every man upon this earth, Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better, than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temple of his Gods!"

- Horatius on the Bridge, from "Lays Of Ancient Rome", by Lord Macaulay Thus she spoke, and I longed to embrace my dead mother's ghost.
Thrice I tried to clasp her image, and thrice it slipped through my hands,
Like a shadow, like a dream. #

Certainly there are lots of things that money won't buy, but it's very funny - Have you ever tried to buy them without money ?

- The Terrible People, by Ogden Nash In Breughel's 'The Fall Of Icarus' : how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. - WH Auden, extract of "Musee des Beaux Arts" For centuries I slumbered in the stone. Millennia.
Outside and ice-age rose and fell, a forest soared, and then the uproar of axes.
None of which was my concern. I waited in the darkness of the earth,
Until he found me — the Florentine who made me what I am,
I remember his dusty, cluttered workshop: and how he laboured the first kiss of sunlight on my shoulders, my pale reflection swimming in his eyes…

        - Liam Aungier, "Ganymede in Marble"

Great wits are sure to Madness near allied
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
David for him his tuneful harp had strung,
And Heav'n had wanted one Immortal Song,
But wild Ambition loves to slide, not stand,
And Fortunes Ice prefers to Vertues Land.

-From "Absalom and Achitophel" , by John Dryden Happy the Man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own;
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have liv'd today. - John Dryden Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today #

No ! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be ;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince ; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous ;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse ;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous - Almost, at times, the Fool.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

- "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock", by TS Eliot We shall never cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time. - TS Eliot Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future conatined in time past #

Out of Ireland have we come,
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.
I carry from my mother's womb
A fanatic heart.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. - WB Yeats, "The Second Coming", on Fascism Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

- WB Yeats, "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;

To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
        - WB Yeats, "The Stolen Child"

I think it better that in times like these
A poet's mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter's night.
        - William Butler Yeats, "On being asked for a War Poem"

O the mind has mountains; cliffs of fall, frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.
Hold them cheap may who ne'er hung there.
     - GM Hopkins, "No Worst There Is None"


"Tis better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven."

"Those whom reason hath equaled, force hath made supreme..."

"The mind is it's own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven."

"Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe."

"Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe."

"A grateful mind by owing owes not, but still pays, at once indebted and discharg'd. "

"Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers."

"Some say no evil thing that walks by night, in fog or fire, by lake or moorish fen, blue meagre hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost that breaks his magic chains at curfew time, no goblin, or swart fairy of the mine, hath hurtful power o'er true virginity."

"The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it, but in another country, as he said, bore a bright golden flow'r, but not in this soil; Unknown, and like esteem'd, and the dull swain treads on it daily with his clouted shoon."

"Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise to scorn delights, and live laborious days;"

"Such sights as youthful poets dream on summer eves by haunted stream."

- John Milton, lines from "Paradise Lost" When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer. - John Milton (attributed) I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. - John Milton, "Areopagitica" Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: Altar, sword and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up , return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!

        - William Wordsworth, writing in 1802 long after Milton's death


For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these,
"It might have been!"

- John Greenleaf Whittier "Broken things are powerful. Things about to break are stronger still. The last shot from the brittle bow is truest."
        - Eugene McCarthy, "Courage After Sixty"

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

- John Donne, Meditation XVII I runne to death and death meets me as fast, and all my pleasures are like yesterday.

        - John Donne

Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.

- Longfellow, A Psalm of Life Into each life some rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary. - Longfellow, The Rainy Day All things come round to him who will but wait. - Longfellow, "Tales of a Wayside Inn" We grant, although he had much wit, he was very shy of using it - Samuel Butler , "Hudibras, 1.1" "Am I remembered in Erin? I charge you speak me true. Has my name a sound, a meaning in the scenes my boyhood knew?"

        - Thomas Darcy McGee, Irish emigrant to Canada


There sinks the nebulous star we call the sun.

- Tennyson, "The Princess" 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all. - Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, For I dipped into the Future, far as human eye could see; saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be. - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1842 But what am I? An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light, and with no language but a cry. - Tennyson, "In Memorium" There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds. - Tennyson, "In Memorium" He seems so near, and yet so far. - Tennyson, "In Memorium" All in the valley of death rode the six hundred...
Some one had blunder'd / Theirs not to make reply / Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die ...
Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them / Cannon in front of them...
Into the jaws of death / Into the mouth of hell / Rode the six hundred. - The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson #

Say first, of God above or man below, what can we reason but from what we know?

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:

In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies; All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies. Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes: Men would be angels, angels would be gods. Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell, Aspiring to be angels, men rebel.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.

For forms of government let fools contest; Whate'er is best administer'd is best. For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;

Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honour lies.

She who never answers till a husband cools;
Or if she rules him, never shows she rules.

Who shall decide when doctors disagree,
and soundest casuists doubt, like you and me?

- Alexander Pope, "Essay On Man" #

 One science only will one genius fit: So vast is art, so narrow human wit.

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.

All seems infected that th' infected spy,
as all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.

To err is human, to forgive divine

For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Not hate, but glory, made these chiefs contend;
And each brave foe was in his soul a friend.

It is not strength, but art, obtains the prize,
and to be swift is less than to be wise.
'T is more by art than force of num'rous strokes.

The long historian of my country's woes.

- Alexander Pope, "Epistle III" #

"There is always the delicate question of how common common sense should be... I am not suggesting that modern English poetry must be concerned with psychoanalysis or with the concentration camps or with the hydrogen bomb... I am not suggesting, in fact, that it must be anything... I am, however, suggesting that it drop the pretence that life, give or take a few social distinctions, is the same as ever, that gentility, decency and all the other social totems will eventually muddle through."
        - Al Alvarez

All the parts of the universe I have an interest in: the earth serves me to walk upon; the sun to light me; the stars have their influence upon me.
        - Montaigne, "Apology for Raimond Sebond"

There's plenty of pain here - but it don't kill. There's plenty of suffering here, but it don't last. You see, happiness ain't a thing in itself - it's only a contrast with something that ain't pleasant.
        - Mark Twain ,"Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven".

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
and many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
that deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne,
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
when a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
he stared at the Pacific, and all his men
look'd at each other with a wild surmise,
silent, upon a peak in Darien.

- John Keats, "On first looking into Chapman's Homer"
"Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships, and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss! "

"When all the world dissolves, and every creature shall be purified,
all places shall be hell that are not heaven."

- Christopher Marlowe, "Faustus" The one man who should never attempt an explanation on poetry is its author. If the poem can be improved by its author's explanations it never should have been published. ~ Archibald MacLeish In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite. - Paul Dirac And there's a lust in man no charm can tame
Of loudly publishing our neighbour's shame;
On eagles' wings immortal scandals fly,
While virtuous actions are but born and die. The wars will end and lovers will kiss, stars will shine and we will know nothing but bliss. Our hearts will break, our phones will ring and we’ll walk down the street holding hands with our best friends. We’ll drink our pain away while bombs explode and people die, and we’ll say our graces and pray and cry for everyone we lost. Day will end and night will come, and summer will turn to winter and we’ll wear our mittens and roast the chestnuts and decorate for whatever celebration is next. We’ll fall asleep and have our dreams and run from nightmares that are much like the horror movie from whatever night we watched with whatever person we had whatever feelings about. We’ll dance and sing and play our tambourines while we theorize existence and question moralities while breaking the laws of ethics ourselves. We’ll inhale and exhale and write about it, discover and restyle and know. We’ll touch, and share and take away and become everything we wanted or didn’t want to be. And after all is said and done, all will turn to dust.
        - Jen, on her wordpress blog


XXXIV by WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


The wombat lives across the seas, among the far Antipodes.
He may exist on nuts and berries, or then again, on missionaries;
His distant habitat precludes conclusive knowledge of his moods.
But I would not engage the wombat in any form of mortal combat.

- Ogden Nash, "The Wombat" #


What am I doing, daughter mine?
A-haying while the sun doth shine; Gathering rosebuds while I may,
Reveling in the brief sensation of basking in your admiration.
Oh, now, when you are almost five, I am the lordliest man alive;
Your gaze is blind to any flaw, and brimming with respect and awe.
Though adults oft my charm disparage,
three times you've sought my hand in marriage.
You think me handsome, strong and brave.
You came at morn to watch me shave.

The neighbors' insults lose their sting when you encourage me to sing,
And like a fashion plate I pose while you compliment my clothes.
Who wishes his self-esteem to thrive should belong to a girl of almost five, But almost five can't last forever. And wide-eyed girls grow tall and clever. Few creatures others less admire than a lass of seventeen her sire.

What humiliation must you weather when we are seen in public together!
Perchance I'll munch a stick of gum, or in the theater brazenly hum;
My hat, belike, will flout the law laid down for hats at Old Nassau;
My anecdotes you'll strive to stanch, and at my table manner blanch;
My every word and every deed will agony and embarrassment breed;
Your goal of goals, the end of your ends, to hide me forever from your friends.
Therefore, I now chant roundelays, and rollick in your pride and praise;
Too soon the nymph that you will be will shudder when she looks at me.


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