Tally ho, readers and poets!
C.M. asked me the other day about what sort of poetry I like to read, and while typing out my comment in reply, I realized that I could write quite a long blog post about it. So I did.
Since we’re all (still) stuck at home, I think this post will be helpful; almost all of the poetry I’m going to mention is available for free online (on websites and blogs).
The title of this post is my attempt at parodying Douglas Wilson’s Writers to Read: Nine Names that Belong on Your Bookshelf (which is itself a book that ought to be on your bookshelf).
Without further introduction, allow me to recommend to you several poets whose work deserves your attention.
Disclaimer: though I quote from several poets in this post, I do not own the rights to any of their poetry. I have not quoted any poem in its entirety unless it is in the public domain; otherwise, I have quoted only one or less stanzas and have linked to the source of the poem. (“Wolves” by Nikita Gill was found on Goodreads, as a quote from Wild Embers.)
If you are the author of any of this poetry, and you don’t want me to quote from your poem in my post, please comment or contact me and let me know and I’ll take it down.
poets of the Bible
The Bible is full of wonderful poetry. Even if you’re not a Christian, it’s worth reading for its literary and historical value. Check out this website for an introduction to Hebrew poetry. Here are some of my favorites:
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
// Isaiah 55:12-13 ESV //
King David, book of Psalms
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
// Psalm 22:1-5 ESV //
author of Ecclesiastes
A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
than to hear the song of fools.
// Ecclesiastes 7:1-5 ESV //
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Longfellow is one of my favorite poets. His poetry is lyrical, storytelling, and rhythmic. I love his poem “A Psalm of Life.” Here are some stanzas:
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though strong and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
. . .
Trust no future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’er head!
. . .
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
// Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (public domain) //
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Tennyson’s poetry, while just as beautiful as Longfellow’s, is a bit more contemplative. I love his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade;” it’s not yet in the public domain, but here’s a quote:
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
// Alfred, Lord Tennyson //
Dickinson’s poetry is abstract. It’s full of punctuation marks and capital letters and can be hard to understand. But if you read it carefully, you’ll discover that she has important things to say.
My favorite of her poems is “Because I could not stop for death.” And here’s “There is no frigate like a book” (one of the easier ones to understand):
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry —
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll —
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
// Emily Dickinson (public domain) //
Tolkien is (rightly) famous for his fantasy, but people tend to forget he’s also a poet, and a good one. The Lord of the Rings is full of songs and verses — Bilbo’s “All that is gold does not glitter” being one of the most well-known — but my personal favorite (not from LOTR) is “Mythopoeia.” Tolkien wrote this poem in response to C.S. Lewis’ statement that myths were just “truths breathed through silver.” (Lewis later became a Christian, in part due to Tolkien’s friendship and encouragement.)
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath the ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent.
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.
// J.R.R. Tolkien //
I first heard about Luci Shaw when Andrew Peterson mentioned one of her poems at a concert. Her writing is rooted in Scripture and talks about the beauty and power in common, ordinary things.
Strike our dull matches. Light us today
even if our dark wicks only flicker in a corner.
Translate our lives into Your words.
// Luci Shaw, “God’s Act in Acts” //
I encountered Gioia’s poetry through a book by Gail Carson Levine (Writing Magic) and was immediately captivated by his use of imagery. I especially like his poem “The Country Wife:”
The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.
She cannot see the winds that break
The night reflected on the lake
But knows they motion for her sake.
// Dana Gioia //
Sally is the author of the incredible Jesus Storybook Bible. My parents bought me her book “Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing” when I was 14, and I still love reading it.
The whole world is singing a song. Have you heard it?
The wind is whispering it in the trees. The rain is dancing it on the rooftops. The whole of creation is singing it out together…
It’s the song that’s been sung since the beginning. The song God created everything in this world to sing.
It’s the song without words. It’s the song you were created to sing too.
// Sally Lloyd-Jones, “Sing Your Song!” //
If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know I’m a huge fan of AP’s music and books. He’s not often praised for his poetry, but it’s no surprise to me that someone so good at writing lyrics and fantasy can also create beautiful sonnets.
What would it be like to kneel down and pray
To the God whose grand stories you have heard
Since boyhood, and carry the memory
Of him hanging there, bleeding on the tree?
// Andrew Peterson, “Good Friday” //
Song lyrics also count as poetry, and I couldn’t help sharing these beautiful lyrics from one of his songs:
You turned your tears into a string of pearls
You held your sorrow high to light the world
When I thought I was alone
In every man you saw the boy
The hidden heart the dark could not destroy
Slipped past the dragons with a tale of joy
Thank God for poets I have known
// Andrew Peterson, “To All the Poets” //
Sarah Clarkson (Thoroughly Alive)
You may know of the Clarksons from Whole Heart Ministries. Sarah is the daughter of Clay and Sally and the author of some of the best books I’ve read about books (Caught Up in a Story, Read for the Heart, and Book Girl). I also enjoy her poetry.
Snow carved boughs
Like coins of countless treasure,
And the fields
New-filled with lilies claim as,
Lord, the God of Hosts.
// Sarah Clarkson, “Isaiah Spring” //
Levi the Poet
LTP is a spoken word artist. He’s planning to release his first book later this year, but until then, you can listen to his work on several albums. My favorite is Correspondence: A Fiction.
In a perfect world, we’ll have albums labeled Seasons, with chapter headings, and we’ll staple them to the cork-board that hangs at the foot of the bed. There’s longevity in a memory spilt out in pen, and if a picture is worth a thousand words then I’ve written down every one of them.
I work hard, scarred, toil through that soil for the youth I see in my friends, but these journals are moments in time, snapshots of our lives, and in retrospect, age is an overexposed photo that the memories can’t mend.
// Levi the Poet, “Chapter Three: The Great American Game” //
C.D. Anders (The Unnecessary Blog)
C.D. writes gorgeous and insightful poetry and conveys truths in just a few short lines.
The words of poetry are
but a mask,
pages, screens, books being
assets of anonymity
// C.D. Anders, “Beauty and the Beast” //
Cindy’s a writer for Story Embers (and she formerly worked for Kingdom Pen — both sites have good advice for writers, and SE accepts submissions of poetry and stories). The first poem of hers I read was “The Sound of Redemption,” and I immediately wanted to read everything she’s written — she’s that good.
A monster wields your weakness like a rhythmic, scheming blade,
then wags a finger in your face for every slip you’ve ever made.
Why should heaven want the broken, the defeated, and the flawed?
Why should those with sins and scars be called before the face of God?
// Cindy Green, “Monster” //
Rebekah Noelle Rosamilia (amid these embers)
I discovered Rebekah through her Spotify playlists (long story). Her poetry is achingly beautiful.
when you stumble,
lost and weary, i know
(i know, i know, i have walked this same road)
how the truth looks more like midnight
than brilliant day.
but dear one,
that these words in your hands
are shards of light
// Rebekah Noelle Rosamilia, Echoes of Light //
Essie Writes Poetry
Essie’s poetry talks about the hardest, darkest things, but never lets me forget the light.
You don’t cover them up like most girls would.
Melodies of broken things that no one else could.
// Essie, “Not An Angel, But She Has Wings” //
Havilah Gael (In Essence)
I keep coming back to Havilah’s poetry because it never fails to ring true in my soul.
The reflection of a Masterpiece
In shards of broken mirror.
Each thought a letter
Each life a word
Each time a verse that we hold dearer.
// Havilah Gael, “Poetry: A Poet’s Definition” //
Acacia (Thoughts from a Tree)
I had the amazing experience of beta reading for Acacia (another YWW friend) and now I want to share her poetry with the world!
I am loved by one who can stop up the sea
What else can I do but fall to my knees
And worship the one holding all
// Acacia, “strength to strength” //
other poets and places to read poetry
I follow a lot of other bloggers who post great poetry:
Lemon Duck (World of Chronicles) // NaPoWriMo 2020
Ellery S. (The Gadfly)
Susan Grace (Haven Wings)
Sarah (Light and Shadows)
Clara (midnight mind)
I don’t recommend all of her work, but I love the poem “Wolves” by Nikita Gill (from her book Wild Embers):
The thing I admire most
is no matter how hard,
or how much the world
has tried to
and throw you to the wolves
you are still here,
turning all your pain
all your suffering
and earning the respect
of that same pack of wolves
that were meant to rip you
limb from limb.
// Nikita Gill, “Wolves” //
It has been my experience that, while it’s necessary to sift through contemporary poets and their work to find the good ones, most poets from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early- to mid-twentieth centuries wrote good poetry. (Not all, of course, but a significant amount.) Therefore, I recommend picking up any collection of British or American poetry from the last few centuries and reading a few poems. You may discover your new favorite poet!
One of my favorite collections of poetry is The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura M. Berquist.
I’ll leave you with the last stanza of one of my favorite poems, “The World is Whispering” by Andrew Peterson:
The winter is whispering, “green and gold,”
And the heart is whispering, too —
It’s a story the Maker has always told
And the story, my child, is true.
// Andrew Peterson, The Warden and the Wolf King //
Until next time, my friends, go read some poetry!
P.S. Who are your favorite poets? Which of the poets I recommended interests you the most?