Mother to Son is a short poem, a monologue and extended metaphor. Life is a series of steps, stairs, you have to keep climbing and never stop. This advice for life is given to her son by the mother. Her life has not been a crystal stair; it's been a broken and dangerous one, yet still she perseveres
William Blake's "The Tyger" is a metaphorical poem from his book "Songs of Innocence and Experience," also illustrated with his own inventive etchings. A rhyming poem full of symbolism and vivid imagery, it is a counterpart to his poem "The Lamb."
Wole Soyinka's Telephone Conversation has as its main theme: racism. An African man speaks to a white landlady about renting a room or apartment. Before he goes to view the property, to save himself a wasted journey, he states, 'I am African.' She replies, HOW DARK? With humour, irony and mischief.
Billy Collins' "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" is a controversial poem. It splits opinion, disgusting some, puzzling others and entertaining the rest. A free verse poem and an extended metaphor, it explores the idea of getting to know the deceased poet's work on an intimate level.
Edgar Allan Poe's Bridal Ballad is a darkly romantic poem that focuses on a bride's inner feelings with regards to her new marriage and her dead former lover, killed in battle. Is she really 'happy now' as each stanza repeats? Or is she still heart broken? Her dream state seems to be confusing.
The Layers is a poem about change and being positive in life, despite the losses and setbacks. it is full of imagery and metaphor. The speaker in Stanley Kunitz's poem sets a meditative tone, reflecting on the past, learning on the way through life, open to change yet keeping a 'principle of being'.
"Bright Star" is a sonnet written by Keats expressing his wish to remain as constant and 'stedfast' as the north star whilst also being in the company of Fanny Brawne, the love of his short life. The main themes are ideal love and remaining fixed yet in sweet unrest living forever with a lover.
Shakespeare's Sonnet 3 focuses on the young man's beauty and the need for him to procreate, have a child in his own image. Using a mirror as metaphor for new offspring, thus continuing beauty within the family line. The image is all important because it reflects life. No offspring means death.
"My Grandmother's House" is a short poem that focuses on love lost and drastic change in circumstances. The first-person speaker tells of days past when she was loved in a different time and house, but now she is a beggar when it comes to love. It is a free verse poem with simile and internal rhyme.
Emily Dickinson's "Further In Summer Than the Birds" focuses on nature—birds and insects specifically—and relates the latter to religious singing and ritual. She often does this to the natural world, finding a heaven on earth. Using tetrameter and trimeter, her words form a highly symbolic world.
One of Harrison's Bosnian War poems, 'The Bright Lights of Sarajevo' highlights a pair of young lovers in that city under Serb attack. Written from the front line as sniper bullets and bombs killed and maimed. Rhyming couplets, masterful rhythms and poignant themes of love and peace in wartime.
'Sleeping Standing Up' is one of Elizabeth Bishop's dream poems, where the line between reality and the subconscious is blurred. Using metaphor, strong imagery and regular rhyme the poet fuses the here and now with fairy tale, showing us the darker side of human nature, loss and future paths ahead.
Lowell's "Night Sweat" is a double sonnet with full rhyme and pentameter. A man faces angst and near anguish as he tries to come to grips with his inner child and get to the bottom of the creeping damp which rises over his white pajamas. Relief comes from his wife and child, love and a tidy room.
Wallace Stevens meditates on the blackbird with a 13-part poem that invites the reader to look at the bird in different situations and altered mind-states. Is the world the same if the bird is doing different things? Stevens's imagination works its magic. It's nature poetry, but not as we know it.
"I felt a Funeral, in my Brain" is one of Emily Dickinson's most popular poems. It is full of vivid, sometimes-surreal imagery and takes the reader into dark and strange places. This is no ordinary funeral but a process of psychic transformation. Is this based on grief, guilt and sacrifice?
"Lover's Infiniteness" explores in three stanzas the idea that as humans we are capable of giving all our love to another. Is it possible to completely love someone else, to give and receive all, to sacrifice all for love's sake? Donne's arguments bring reason, emotion and the spiritual into play.
Michael Drayton's Sonnet 61 from 'Idea's Mirror,' 'Since There's No Help,' focuses on the idea that a relationship can be ended with a clean unemotional break, a shake of the hands and a kiss and hey presto, no more pain and heartbreak.
Stevie Smith's best-known poem, "Not Waving But Drowning," focuses on society's conventions and the individual's isolation. The drowning man's body language is misunderstood by those watching. He dies of a broken heart perhaps because others didn't care for his joking.
"To The Desert" is a short free verse poem using metaphor and allusion to highlight the spiritual quest undertaken by the speaker. Symbolically, the desert is where demons are fought; you go there to be tested by the truth.
As I Walked Out One Evening is Auden's rhyming ballad about time, love and mortality. With allusions from nursery rhyme, song and fairy tale this poem also has vivid and sometimes surreal imagery. It highlights the power of the hour, the hope of love, the denial of reality as the river flows on.
Emily Bronte's Love and Friendship uses metaphor and simile to compare and contrast romantic love, the rose, and steady friendship, the holly. Love is something passionate and exciting but can fade, whereas friendship is more stable and evergreen, able to withstand seasonal changes.
Ode On Melancholy is the shortest of the five odes Keats wrote. In it the speaker warns of the dangers of melancholy and advises against going to Lethe (giving in to death or even suicide) but to accept that joy, pleasure and sadness are an integral part of a profound and deep-seated beauty.
Wordsworth's Ode Intimations of Immortality focuses on an ideal childhood in which freshness and celestial light gave all things a blissful quality. The speaker, older, now philosophic, explores the changes since those halcyon days, how the glory and the dream have gone but truths that wake remain.
Hone Tuwhare's Friend is a free verse poem that details a memory of a shared friendship between two children. They would play close to a symbolic tree on wild land. But the speaker, an adult, isn't so sure that those times were idyllic. The tree is now dead but may come back - there is still hope.
Cheng's The Planners focuses on urban development and planning models. The rapid increase in building has erased history and turned landscape into a grid. Nature is on the run because of the anonymous decisions of the planners. Metaphor, personification and irony add to the unease of the speaker.
Larkin's short poem Wants is a sort of personal manifesto reflecting the poet's shyness and need to escape from the social scene, physical and sexual intimacy and life itself. There is existential angst in the parallelism as the poet explores individual exclusion versus social inclusion.
Heaney's Bogland focuses on Irish identity, history and the metaphorical - the peat bog as depository and preserver of the past, including the Giant Irish Elk and butter. With layered tension and textured language, Heaney takes the reader in and down into the quiet, dangerous heart of his country.
One of Emily Dickinson's many poems about death that takes the reader into the mind of someone dying or already dead yet able to communicate, somehow. Unusual syntax, short breathless phrasing, dashes galore and that suspension of reality Dickinson is so good at evoking. Ambiguous, rhyming, lyrical.
Browning's Meeting At Night is a short, compact mysterious love poem, a sensual mini-drama full of rhyme and rhythm reflecting the waves of the sea and the relationship between lovers. Contrasts are strong, imagery highly visual, the movement within sensual - autobiographical or dream fiction?
Donne's Death Be Not Proud is a Holy Sonnet written to denounce the power of Death. When we die we live eternally so defeating the idea of Death which is according to the speaker powerless, subject to fate, chance and kings. Death's put-down sonnet.
Yousef Komunyakaa's Camouflaging The Chimera focuses on the Vietnam War, the poet drawing on his own experiences as a reporter. With powerful imagery, short stanzas and gripping language this poem is about how soldiers blend in with nature as they get set to spring an ambush on the Viet Cong.
Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 31 employs pathetic fallacy, personification, the moon likened to a sick lover, with sad steps and pale face. Using figurative language and rhetorical questioning Sidney reveals the frustrated inner world of Astrophil, yearning for Stella's love.
Moniza Alvi's An Unknown Girl focuses on identity. A girl in an Indian bazaar draws a henna peacock on the hand of the speaker. For a few rupees the speaker can gain new brown veins, as if she had a fresh identity, a new way of being. But soon the design fades and with it her identity. Who is she?
Gabriel Okara's Once Upon A Time focuses on culture clash, namely how Western culture changed the old African culture, for the worse. A father tells his son how people once were genuine and honest and how he wants to relearn how to laugh, like his son, still innocent. Nostalgic, heartfelt.
Jane Hirshfield's My Skeleton is an ode to the skeleton, that bony structure us humans cannot do with out. A short poem, with metaphor and metaphysics wrapped up in simple language. The speaker addresses her bones and likens them to a mother holding a baby.
Robert Frost's Home Burial is a dramatic poem focusing on the reaction of a mother and father to the death of their young son. The subsequent burial carried out by the father causes friction between the parents and they cannot come to terms with the grief. Based on Frost's real life loss of a son.
Robert Frost's Mowing, a sonnet, focuses on the simple act of mowing grass with a scythe and how working the land naturally is reward enough. Imagery, metaphor and full rhyme combine to produce a classic Frost poem, full of plain language yet with hidden meaning and his own brand of folk wisdom.
Sylvia Plath's Morning Song is from her book Ariel and focuses on female reaction to motherhood. Using simile, metaphor and vivid imagery Plath takes the reader through the highs and lows of what it means to have responsibility for a baby. Unsettling, powerful, complex -the reluctant mother Plath.
Ruth Pitter's Time's Fool is an eloquent rhyming poem that focuses on time, making the most and sense of place. The speaker compares the natural world with the domestic, the material with the spiritual, concluding that happiness is not reliant on excess but shared sense of home and reasonable need.
Shakespeare's sonnet 154, the final sonnet in the sequence, repeats the theme of sonnet 153 and explores the erotic intensity set up between the Dark Lady, the fair youth and the poet. An expanded epigram, 154 uses latinised mythological Cupid and Diana in a classical scene. Love, lust and disease.
James K. Baxter's Farmhand is a portrayal of an awkward young farm worker, who lacks social skills yet cannot suppress his instincts. He's only at home when working on the farm, with familiar landscape and machinery. Is he emotionally damaged? Baxter explores individuality, what it is to be human.
Robert Lowell's confessional poem about his time spent in McLean Hospital being treated for manic attacks. Dark humor, observational detail and cultural commentary in a conversational style. The tone is edgy and tense as Lowell's speaker searches for meaning in the house for the mentally ill.
Pike is one of Ted Hughes's best known animal poems. Brilliant imagery and keen insightful language make this a powerful tribute to what is according to some, the freshwater shark. Fishing was crucial for Hughes, he re-connected deep to nature when out with rod and line. Summary and full analysis.
Judith Wright's "Hunting Snake" is a poem that focuses on a snake pursuing its prey and the reaction of the witnesses, two people out walking. With poetic devices, sibilance and enjambment among them, this poem celebrates nature and innocence lost.
A summary and full analysis line by line of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, one of the most influential modern poems. Inspired by the Grail legend it is full of religion, occult symbolism and mythology. Multiple voices, shifts in time and space, street dialogue and foreign languages combine in new form
Norman Dubie's Of Politics And Art focuses on a childhood schoolroom scene from the past, a dying teacher and Herman Melville's book Moby Dick. Dubie creates a dynamic atmosphere with a tragic story, vivid imagery giving the reader much food for thought. Politics, art, shifts in time, perspective.
Eavan Boland's How We Made A New Art On Old Ground explores the idea that new expressive language (a nature poem) can restore peace to the environment where a historic, violent battle took place. It's a meditation on two histories: human and natural. Art and language can heal and renew.
Thom Gunn's The Man With Night Sweats is a powerful poem about a gay man dying of AIDS, which hit the gay community in a big way in the 1980s. Thom Gunn lost many friends. One of 17 elegies this poem is a sensitive and carefully handled exploration of what it is to face pain and inevitable demise.
A Farewell is Wordsworth's romantic poem about the garden at Dove Cottage, in the English Lake District, the home he shared with his sister Dorothy. He left it in 1802 to pick up his future wife-to-be. Both returned to the same garden. Nature's beauty and inspiration is the main theme.
William Shakespeare's Sonnet 141 focuses on the struggle between head and heart; being a slave to a lover even if they're not that attractive in your eyes. Eight lines describing the mistress's imperfections, six lines explaining why she is the cause of his sin, his agony, his wretched being.
Carol Ann Duffy's War Photographer is a poem that takes you into the mind of a person paid to take images of human suffering, the result of violence. It provokes and in the end questions what it is to witness war and to feel helpless in the process. Yet where would we be without images of war?
Sylvia Plath's poem The Arrival of the Bee Box is one of five bee poems she wrote focusing on identity, creativity and control. Plath searches for her true poetic self and her womanhood using metaphor and powerful imagery. Reality fuses with dream-like narrative.
Pat Mora's Legal Alien explores the tensions that exist for many Mexican Americans legally living in the USA but not American citizens. They are caught between the two cultures but are also judged bilaterally. Speaking and writing both English and Spanish their true identity is in question.
Ulysses, a blank verse dramatic monologue, is Tennyson's poem of hope, positivity and inspiration. After losing his best friend Arthur Hallam, who died suddenly whilst travelling, Tennyson wrote Ulysses in an attempt to regain his own life. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I Am Waiting is Ferlinghetti's poem of a hopeful 'rebirth of wonder' for the USA and the world. The speaker, repeatedly in limbo, waits for a different kind of outcome with respect to war, peace, religion, God and a Grecian Urn. A jazzy, comical list, a cry for help, a call to those in power.
Nothing's Changed is a poem that burns with frustration and anger. A man goes back to District 6 in Cape Town, South Africa, and concludes that the blacks are still oppressed and poor, despite the end of apartheid, a brutal system segregating white and black.
Frances Cornford's short poem Childhood focuses on the thoughts of an adult looking back to an event which changed things for them as a child. With full rhyme and mostly iambic pentameter, it neatly sums up what it is to learn a life lesson about the old and being young.
Climbing My Grandfather is an extended metaphor focusing on a young boy who 'climbs' his grandfather, a mountain of a man. Autobiographical, full of detail and climbing language, this poem, a single stanza, reflects the awe and wonder and risk a boy takes getting to know his grandfather.
Ruins of a Great House is Walcott's poem on colonialism, power and decay. History, Slavery and the English language combine to reveal a complex, ambivalent relationship between the speaker and the system that brought both cruelty and culture into the lives of once free people of the Caribbean.
Spring And All is a poem William Carlos Williams wrote to back up his radical theory of poetics - basically the poem as a field of action - in which the here and now of things is portrayed through the imagination, written in the American grain. Life experience refreshed, impressions being the form.
Death of a Naturalist is a blank verse poem that looks back on childhood, contrasting a boy's innocence with that of disillusionment in the perception of nature. The death is metaphorical: the boy loses his love of nature when fear invades his mind because of the menacing frogs 'cocked on sods'.
Sailing To Byzantium, in ottava rima form, is a symbolic spiritual search for Yeats, who was obsessed with Byzantium art and culture in later age. A mix of the personal and the mythical, this poem with its famous opening line, That is no country for old men...ends with the song of a golden bird.
Grace Nichol's Praise Song For My Mother is a traditional African poem, usually spoken, to celebrate the lives of family members and elders. Full of symbolism and vivid imagery, it is a fitting tribute to an impressive mother.
Imtiaz Dharker's Tissue poem focuses on the fragile life we humans lead, how our lives are stories written down on paper, lived within buildings made of paper - ultimately we live in our skin which is nothing but tissue. With religious allusion, metaphor and ambiguity Tissue alters things?
Robert Browning's Fra Lippo Lippi is a dramatic monologue in blank verse that focuses on the question of art - should it be realistic or ideal? Of the flesh or of the soul? A dilemma for Florentine painter and monk 'poor brother Lippo' whose down to earth voice brings 15th century Florence to life.
Sunday Morning, a poem in blank verse, focuses on the idea that traditional religious faith in the old gods has gone and needs to be replaced by a fresh new natural paganism. Stevens explores human belief in his own inimitable way. Vivid imagery, exotic language. Where do truth and beauty reside?
Emily Dickinson's The Soul selects Her Own Society is a short poem that focuses on selective inner needs and spiritual isolation. One of several poems featuring the soul - the poet's search for understanding and identity. With short lines, dashes, slant rhyme and mixed metaphor.
Shakespeare's Sonnet 27 focuses on the mental anguish of the speaker who wants to sleep but cannot stop thinking of his lover. This sonnet concentrates on restlessness and obsession, the passions that emerge despite physical fatigue. The speaker's eyes are closed yet the mental journey continues.
Yeats as a 60 year old official Irish senator in a schoolroom full of children has to redefine his outlook on love, labour and life. How to reconcile past and present, love and pain, body and soul. Greek myth, Platonic theory help Yeats in his quest for spiritual unity. Ottava rima form.
the shoelace is Bukowski's real life take on what can drive a man into the madhouse. Forget God, death, suicide and love, a mere shoelace snapping can do it. Tongue-in-cheek, packed with trivia, sharp, comic and crude observation, this poem is a rant, a riot, weird homage to small tragedies.
Wilbur's poem The Writer is an extended metaphor neatly combining a trapped bird and a boat to figuratively create the writer's journey. The writer happens to be his daughter who is busily tapping away on a typewriter as he listens knowingly. The struggle to create can be a life or death situation.
Heaney's Punishment poem explores the violent nature of human tribal revenge, comparing a young, Iron Age body found in peat bog with that of the 'betraying sisters' of the modern era in Northern Ireland. Heaney uses history and the methods of punishment; his rich language is sharp and personal
Donne's love poem, an aubade, contains a metaphysical conceit, an argument, a figure of speech involving imaginative use of unusual metaphor. The Good-Morrow is about the unity of love, two hemispheres forming one globe, the speaker waking up wondering what the lovers did 'till we loved?'
Lady Lazarus, Plath's regeneration poem, is an intense dramatic monologue that creates a myth out of suicide, the need to die in order to be reborn. Beyond confessional, it is self-parody, art exhibition, a naked tease. Here is art posing as a revengeful woman. Provocative and painful.
Wilfred Owen's poem Exposure explores the trauma and suffering soldiers experience on a WW1 battlefield within 24 hours. Using personification, metaphor and pararhyme within a cyclic, repetitive structure, Owen creates a powerful atmosphere that challenges war propaganda and civilian ignorance.
To A Skylark is a poem praising the song and spirit of the lark as it rises from the ground and soars heavenward. The poet aspires to sing like the bird, and be taught by it, a symbol of the Ideal, full of joy and flood of rapture. Fine romantic lyrics explore the gap between human and nature.
Valentine is an alternative love poem that explores the idea of love through metaphor and structure. No sugar coated valentine's gift from this speaker; an onion is preferred. An onion repels but is like the moon and has many layers. It also makes you cry. A poem of truth and pain.
A short sharp poem that likens thistles to warriors rooted in the soil where old Vikings lie. In free verse, Hughes' poem uses personification, simile and figurative language to portray thistles as weapons fighting on the battleground that is nature. Blood, violence, regeneration—typical Hughes.
One of Keats' five odes, Ode On A Grecian Urn explores the idea of beauty as truth through Keats' own 'negative capability' and the strength of the imagination. Pictures on an ancient urn inspire the speaker to question the transient nature of human happiness and love. Art endures but also teases.
Variations On The Word Love is Margaret Atwood's two stanza poem contrasting impersonal and personal expressions of love. Love has been exploited for commercial gain by the media and business; it has become a mere commodity. Love is wonder and pain. And falling in love still happens. Or does it?
Gary Soto's Mexicans Begin Jogging is an ironic poem that highlights the plight of Mexicans trying to make a living in the United States of America. When the border police raid a factory the Hispanics have to run to save their skins. With metaphor, simile and image. This poem is full of action too.
Storm Fear is a short poem using metaphor and strong imagery to explore mental isolation and the energy of a natural storm. But Frost's ambiguity means that the storm could represent something else: divine power? The human struggle against depression, fate, inner turmoil. Who is in control?
Seamus Heaney's Storm On The Island is a monologue poem in blank verse. The speaker describes how life is shaped by the storm, how the architecture withstands such forces. With powerful language and imagery.Some think the poem a metaphor for the historical troubles on the island of Ireland.
With a title taken from Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Frost's poem Out, Out is about life and death on a rural farm. In an idyllic setting a young boy is working a buzz saw but a fateful accident brings about his sad demise. Is his death insignificant? Who is responsible? Blank verse, deep imagery.
Wallace Stevens's The Snow Man is a short poem that delights and puzzles, and 'resists the intelligence'. The setting is a bleak landscape of snow and evergreens; it's January, the speaker is thinking about the way ice and snow form on trees. He himself is nothing, that is, he's the mind of winter
Shakespeare's radical sonnet 20 explores the sexuality of the fair youth, real or imagined, who has strong feminine characteristics but was made for women's pleasure. A unique sonnet, 14 lines of feminine endings. Here is the master mistress, a woman in a man's body, a transgender?
Carol Rumens' "The Emigree" is a thoughtful poem about displacement and being forced to leave the country that is home for foreign shores because of conflict. The first-person speaker looks back with fond memories of her country despite the reality of tyrants and war.
Allen Ginsberg's Howl is an evocative poem in three parts. A counter-cultural work full of emotional, sexual, religious and social themes. Explicit language and image create a raw, surreal world, drug fueled, full of pain and glory. Howl inspired Dylan, broke the rules, began the 'Beat' revolution.
Blessing is Imtiaz Dharker's short poem on the theme of water and poverty. It is a snapshot of life in the city slum, where children gather round a burst pipe as if it's a god. Simile, metaphor, personification and vivid imagery combine to produce a sensual poem highlighting how crucial water is.
Eliot's Journey of the Magi is a reflective, dramatic monologue, that utilizes allusions, symbols and metaphors to produce a poem about birth, death, spiritual and cultural renewal.
The Death of Allegory is a thoughtful free verse poem in which the speaker wonders about Renaissance allegory in the arts. Where has Truth, Chastity, Death gone? Allegory is symbolism sustained in a text or image. Billy Collins uses irony and modern objects and ideas to relate past and present.
Langston Hughes's short poem I, Too gives a voice to the African American people, for so long treated as second class citizens in their own country. Using metaphor within free verse, Hughes focuses on the individual rights of a first person speaker, denied a seat at the table. From book Weary Blues
Emily Dickinson's As Imperceptibly As Grief is a subtle and melancholic study of summer passing, as metaphor for life fading away. With varied meter, personification, full rhyme and slant rhyme the language reflects the day ending. Seasons pass, life transitions. Sad but beautiful.
Robert Frost's Dust of Snow focuses on the most trivial event - a crow in a tree sending snow particles down onto an unhappy speaker. What is special is the way the bird does it, completely changing the mood. Frost uses ambiguous stressed keywords, rhyme, enjambment and symbolism. Nature helping man
Full analysis of Byzantium, Yeats's great mystical poem. This poem's theme is that of the creative human soul and the spiritual struggle for purification. Eternity lies in perfecting Art. Based in Yeats's dream city Byzantium, where divine art, golden imagery and symbols create a unity of being.
Robert Pinsky's "Poem About People" uses allusion and cultural shifts to focus on the self and what it means to be human. It begins simply with people watching, then moves on to societal issues and the idea of love and hate. All of this filtered through the speaker's roaming mind.
Rita Dove's "Testimonial" is a free verse poem about learning, innocence, discovery and responsibility. "The world called, and I answered" is a famous line that suggests there is a need for a positive response by all of us. By becoming conscious of the world around, the speaker becomes self-aware.
"So This Is Nebraska" is a finely tuned drive through a familiar home state on a warm summer's day. With keen description, personification and metaphor, the poem takes the reader into desolate farmland where a pickup truck reads clouds, mice and chickens rule, and time stands still.
John Donne's "The Flea" is an erotic metaphysical poem employing a conceit, or extended argument. The male speaker wants to make love to a woman, who resists. The lead role is the humble flea, which sucks the speaker first then the woman. Their blood is mingled in the flea, a symbol of sexual union.
The little sparrows is a short poem set on a local American street. Sparrows, an old man, dog dirt, a minister and a pulpit are all compared. It's a thought provoking study that deals with the tensions between real life and ideal thoughts. Short lines rule.
Fleur Adcock's Immigrant poem is a short, subtle exploration of how it feels to have a double identity. With measured lines of free verse she uses birds and place as symbols to allow the reader access into her adopted world. The speaker is learning to live like a native, to be accepted.
Thom Gunn's Considering the Snail is a close-up study of a determined snail as it moves through wet grass. The form of the poem mirrors the movement of the snail; enjambment and fluid rhythms take the reader along at a slow, sensual pace. A short exploration of willpower and progress.
Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem is a simple yet profound plea to a young female for a kiss, for physical union. To persuade her the speaker turns to Nature, where things mix and mingle naturally. Using personification, metaphor and pulsing rhythm, Shelley puts forward his dubious argument
Walt Whitman's Patrolling Barnegat uses long, driven lines to conjure up the spirit of a storm on the beach at Barnegat. A poem full of repeated, disturbing energy, the dynamic language takes the reader along headfirst into the elements. Someone else is out there; a patrol? Whitman's complex past?
Denise Levertov's protest poem is in two parts. The first stanza asks six questions, the second stanza answers them. The theme is war and the loss of a people and culture. When the USA became involved in the Vietnam war many challenged the tactics and the loss of life. A poem to prick the conscience
Robert Browning's dramatic monologue is all about power and the psychology of possession. The curiously disturbing Duke of Ferrara, who is telling lies, or truths, to an emissary of the next family he will marry into, comments on his last duchess, now a painting on the wall. A satire on the elite?
Island Man is a poem about cultural identity and explores the mind of a Caribbean man waking up in London but still dreaming of his life on the island of his birth. Grace Nichols uses metaphor, enjambment and other poetic devices to juxtapose dull city life with ideal island life.
Wendell Berry's short poem "The Peace of Wild Things" sums up the human need for time spent in nature, away from stress, headline news and anxieties about the future. The main theme, that of human nature versus nature, is explored through allusion and simple language relating to stillness and calm.
Robert Frost's Gathering Leaves is more than just an innocent poem about fallen autumn leaves. It questions the cycle of life and our role within it. Short quatrains with rhyme add up to an intriguing poem.
Seamus Heaney's Blackberry-Picking is all about childhood ideals versus adult realities and the passage of time. The first stanza outlines the joy of picking, that lust for the juicy fruit, whilst the second stanza contrasts the fate of the berries, their inevitable decay and loss of goodness.
W.S. Merwin's break up poem combines vivid imagery, metaphor and unusual simile. The speaker seems caught between confusion and mental anguish and is attempting to work out just what went wrong. The repeated line It isn't as simple as that reflects the complex workings of the heart.
She Walks In Beauty is a lyric poem by the archetypal romantic, Lord Byron. With full rhyme, alliteration and simile, written in iambic tetrameter, it explores the feelings of a speaker inspired by female beauty. Is beauty based on inner purity and goodness alone, or a mix of light and dark?
Sonnet 130 is an anomaly. Shakespeare breaks with convention and creates a parody of tired Petrarchan ideals. His lover has wires for hairs, her lips are not red as coral, her breasts are dingy brown not white and her breath reeks. Praise beauty? Not in sonnet 130. Yet his love for her runs deeper?
A poem about cultural identity and the confused feelings of a teenage girl who receives presents from her relatives in Pakistan. Moniza Alvi's poem is full of colour and detail and is a personal exploration of her feelings at that time. Metaphor, simile and contrasting language enliven this poem.
The Infidel Next Door focuses on the lives of two main protagonists - Aditya, a young Hindu priest and Anwar, son of a Muslim imam. Both hold strong beliefs, both are embroiled in family affairs. There is violence and corruption, love and hope. A sensitively written, insightful book.
Line breaks are a fundamental aspect of poetry and can play a part in meaning, sound, rhythm and syntax. Knowing where and why a line has to be short or long can help both reader and poet. This guide to lineation gives many examples and explains the basics of enjambment, caesura and end stops.
When I have fears that I may cease to be is a sonnet by romantic John Keats. The speaker is fearful of the nothingness that awaits him before he's had time to fulfil his potential as a poet and lover and gain fame. Iambic pentameter dominates. Full end rhyme, metaphor and other literary devices.
Saint Animal is a poem inspired by Chase Twichell's study of Zen Buddhism. Through her poetry she seeks to understand the inner workings of the natural world and her own place within the greater scheme of things. The poem is a shared experience, a stripped down honest meditation in the moment.
A poem about Monet the French impressionist painter who refused to have surgery on his cataracts when he was older. He argued for imaginative perception as opposed to scientific correction. Lisel Mueller captures the essence of the artist's vision in a free verse single stanza. Powerful imagery.
Cozy Apologia is Rita Dove's ironic take on a romantic relationship with husband Fred. The speaker waits for a hurricane to hit and starts to daydream about her love and past acquaintances. Lyrical, fun and touching, this poem is a monologue on intimacy and time well spent.
The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica focuses on latino/latina American immigrants and the issue of homesickness. Using metaphor and other literary devices Judith Ortiz Cofer explores the nature of cultural assimilation through the eyes of a shopkeeper. The emphasis is on food and poetical lists of items.
Sylvia Plath's free verse poem Stings is one of five in her Bee Sequence, written during her break up with fellow poet Ted Hughes. Using powerful imagery focused on the hive, a metaphor for society, the poet explores her own identity in relation to the fated Queen Bee.
Elizabeth Bishop's poem begins with a critical outburst of disgust at the dirty little filling station but ends in relief and love, a sort of redemption being reached. With day to day language, keen observation and an eye for detail the speaker absorbs the working scene, declares a sense of wonder
At The Bomb Testing Site is an anti-war poem that has no mention of war or politics. Instead it focuses on a lizard and builds a quiet suspense as this cold blooded creature prepares for what could be an atomic blast. Stafford's poem, a symbolic waiting game, leaves the reader wondering what's next
Sonnet 15 is one of the procreation sonnets written for the fair youth. Shakespeare uses metaphor alongside personification to create the theme of time versus decay, declaring that time will take youthful looks away but the sonnet will renew it. Mostly iambic pentameter but with trochee and spondee
Ferlinghetti's Two Scavengers in a Truck is an immediate snapshot of a scene in San Francisco, where garbage men look down on a wealthy couple in their Mercedes at a red stoplight. Free verse rules, irony underpins and the speaker questions the democratic system and the social divide.
maggie and milly and molly and may is a short poem from e.e.cummings that is greater than the sum of its parts. Full of varied rhythm and rhyme, it tells the story of four girls who go down to the beach, each one relating to an object or creature they discover. Experimental and entertaining.
Elinor Wylie's Wild Peaches is a series of four traditional rhyming sonnets that convey the dreamy mind of the speaker as she contemplates escaping an upside down world with her male companion. But is she convinced that a good life can be had out in the wilds? Musical lines carry subtle imagery.
Isobel Dixon's Plenty is a poem that contrasts childhood past and adult present; relative poverty with that of comfort and plenty. Central to the theme is the mother, struggling to cope. Simile, hyperbole, assonance and other devices all help make this a moving poem about family memories and love.
Pretty is Stevie Smith's ironic poem on the use of the word pretty. Nature may be pretty to some but what does this really mean? Is nature always pretty? Pretty much. Using strong imagery, unusual syntax and repeated language the poem questions what it means for humans who think nature pretty.
Frost's Fire and Ice could have been inspired by Dante's Inferno, Canto 32, where in a fiery hell sinners are up to their necks in a lake of ice. Conversely, a chat with astronomer Harlow Shapley about the end of the world may have spurred Frost to write this compact rhyming classic. Desire or hate?
The Trees by Adrienne Rich has a basic theme of freedom - for the trees as they leave their indoor life and move out into the forest, and for the speaker who is witness to this exodus. Using metaphor, simile, personification and imagery, Rich creates double worlds, exploring the nature of change.
The Song of the Old Mother is a short, lyrical poem by Yeats, written during his Celtic Twilight years and is based on his love for Irish culture. With full rhyme and steady beat it is also full of symbolism, the old mother a metaphor for Ireland. Musical and romantic.
Seamus Heaney's Mossbawn: Sunlight is a dedicatory poem to his aunt Mary who lived with the family on their farm. It evokes Heaney's childhood past and the idyllic relationship he forged with Mary but also highlights the present. Using metaphor, assonance and rich language the poem oozes love.
This Room is an extended metaphor in free verse and also contains personification, onomatopeia and alliteration. The basic theme is of personal growth within change, reaching for the light and the positives when life may be dark and unpredictable.
Forgetfulness, from Billy Collins, focuses on the gradual loss of memory all humans experience from time to time but especially in old age. Using personification and metaphor amongst other figurative devices, this poem builds up examples of forgetfulness with wit and charm and a comic element.
Hawk Roosting is a powerful poem that focuses on a hawk as it sits overlooking its domain. Ted Hughes gives the hawk a human mind, personifies it, and explores the raptor's reason for existence. Contains raw and savage language. Some think the theme is political dominance, the hawk being a fascist.
Derek Walcott's Love After Love focuses on loving the inner self, healing oneself following relationship breakdown. With metaphor, strong imagery and religious allusion the poem's speaker instructs the reader in the art of self-love. What change there can be when we accept the stranger needs love.
Louise Erdrich's poem is based on the experiences of many Indian children who were taken from their tribal homes and 'educated' in boarding schools. They were not allowed to speak their native language, grow long hair or make contact with family. A poem about identity, roots and state oppression.
Erotic fantasy or religious experience? Emily Dickinson was known as the virgin recluse but Wild Nights suggests that her passions ran deep and her yearnings for release were genuine enough. A poem about a liaison with God or a relationship with someone she knew? Ambiguous and metaphorical.
Prayer Before Birth is a poem Louis MacNeice wrote during World War Two. He was living in London and German rocket bombs were landing. The speaker in the poem is an unborn child, destined to be born into a violent, disturbed world. A powerful monologue addressed to God and humanity.
A short, poignant poem from Jane Kenyon, The Blue Bowl is about the burial of a cat and the emotional reaction to the world following the loss of a beloved pet. A poem to meditate on in the quiet, away from the bustling restlessness of modern life.
A poem written to flatter a loved one, a list of 'you are' lines that stretches to metaphorical overload. Litany is tongue in cheek work from Billy Collins, an exercise in and parody of, anaphora.
Sylvia Plath's satirical and sharp take on the social conventions that condition people to the 'market' that is marriage. Women are viewed as a product, objectified by men in stiff black suits.
Margaret Atwood's ironic take on the classic Greek myth of the sirens and their irresistible song. A feminist poem with a subtle twist, Siren Song lures the reader into a false sense of understanding.
Seamus Heaney's Follower is a poem about his father, a man who worked the land. With full and slant rhyme, assonance and alliteration, it works its magic on the reader as the horses plough the furrow.
The felling of the banyan tree is both autobiographical and symbolic. Dilip Chitre's poem is all about roots and the struggle between masculine and feminine forces in life. Sacred tree? Mere object?
A poem full of drama, powerful language and poetic device, Wind is typical Ted Hughes in that here is described a struggle with nature, a battle with the elements. Six stanzas of tense physicality.
Li-Young Lee's poem takes the reader into the process of grief as seen through the eyes of a son on his way to the grave with flowers. Visions and Interpretations is dreamlike, a transition of a soul.
Anne Sexton's poem Ringing of Bells is based on her personal experience of being a mental institution patient. It's a kind of monologue in which the poet tries to make sense of a useless therapy?
An elegy to the jazz singer Billie Holiday, The Day Lady Died is full of New York buzz, time schedules and cultural associations. Life in the here and now, until a headline sparks a memory.
William Shakespeare's Sonnet #2 has a procreation theme, the speaker urging the mysterious 'fair youth' to have children, thus sustaining his beauty, before he gets too old and tattered.
Mary Oliver's poem Mindful has inspired many readers to pay more attention to the everyday delights of nature. The natural world is her life classroom where profound lessons can be learned.
Hart Crane's last poem, The Broken Tower, written in Mexico, is full of symbolism, metaphor and vivid imagery in a musical lyric. The poet imagines the struggle between inner turmoil and creativity.
Spring Storm is full of figurative language which is why it is popular as a common core study poem. In it, an angry young man bursts out of the house; there's a storm brewing but who knows why?
In the poem The Lovers of the Poor, well meaning ladies from the Betterment League can't stand the poor people they give money to. Hypocrites? Brooks uses sarcasm and caricature to show them up.
When Elizabeth Jennings suffered from mental illness she still managed to write poems about her experiences. This poem takes the reader into the mind of a speaker, fraught with tensions and doubts.
A Vietnam veteran, Yusef Komunyakaa faces his past whilst visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. With strong images and figurative language this poem explores reality versus memory in a powerful and memorable way.
Binsey Poplars is a protest poem Hopkins wrote when he discovered a row of aspen trees had been felled. Full of sprung rhythm which Hopkins considered closer to common speech patterns, and inscape.
James Wright's popular poem is both real experience and found love. Two men stop to visit two ponies just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota. For the speaker this simple meeting is transcendent.
William Carlos Williams worked out of the American idiom, choosing local subjects, looking for new and fresh ways to use language. To A Poor Old Woman is about solace and a bag of tasty plums.
This short poem from Naomi Shihab Nye relies on personification to carry the main message. Written in free verse, it is a clever take on loneliness and how different people relate to being alone.
Maya Angelou's poem is full of imagery and figurative language, aimed at children and adults alike. Life Doesn't Frighten Me is about bravado and having a strategy to overcome fear.
W.H. Auden's The Unknown Citizen is an ironic take on the Unknown Soldier, whose monument represents all those anonymous victims of war. It praises and mocks a model citizen. Who is free and happy?
Composed upon Westminster Bridge is Wordsworth's Petrarchan sonnet to the pre-industrial city of smokeless London, seen at dawn. Romantic and painterly, Wordsworth captures the mood and his feelings.
John Keats, romantic poet, wrote this ballad in 1819. It is mysterious, with hints of personal anxieties and sexual desperation hidden within the experience of a man, now alone, having loved a beauty.
Ted Kooser has the knack of making the commonplace seem anything but ordinary, an everyday object something to wonder at. A Spiral Notebook is a short poem full of strong imagery and fresh insights.
Countee Cullen's poem deals with God and the awesome power he wields, over humans and the mole. Still, a black poet can sing. It is a traditional 14 line sonnet in iambic pentameter with full rhyme.
Derek Walcott's A Far Cry from Africa explores the bloody history of colonial Africa, in Kenya, where Mau Mau fighters fought the British in the 1950s. Walcott's mixed race roots divide his loyalties.
Breaking Out is a free verse poem about a girl who longs to escape the abuse from her parents. Serious issues are brought to light in Marge Piercy's poem, freedom and human rights being just two.
A curious, short poem from Charles Simic, "The Partial Explanation" has a simple narrative yet is cleverly structured to capture the inner emptiness of the speaker, waiting for food as day darkens.
One of Emily Dickinson's poems on the subject of human pain, exploring the physical, mental and emotional anguish we experience when grief hits. Full of metaphor and cold imagery.
Shelley, the English Romantic, wrote "Hymn To Intellectual Beauty" in 1816, inspired by his visit to Lake Geneva. It's an attempt to capture the elusive Spirit of Beauty, the unseen mysterious Power.
When Marie Howe's young brother died of AIDS complications, she wrote What the Living Do as a life-affirming poem. Despite the trivial day-to-day things we do, wanting more life, remembrance is vital.
In "Alone", the speaker repeats the message that as humans we need each other if we're to make it through life. Nobody can make it alone. The soul needs to share with and care for others.
John Reed's "Operating Room" is based on his real-life experiences. A poem with atmosphere and strong imagery, it was written in 1917 but still has a modern edge. Contains similes and metaphors.
Where I'm From is a poem all about identity and the places and things of memory that make us what we are. From clothespins to those special moments that create our uniqueness and George Lyon's.
Pat Mora is a leader in the field of Hispanic poetry. Her poem A Voice tells of a mother who was not allowed to speak English at home yet who overcame her fears to find a voice and new freedom.
William Shakespeare's sonnet 144 brings together two loves: a man right fair and a woman coloured ill, making this a sonnet of the triangular love affair. Agony in ecstasy, heaven in hell, doubt.
Kim Addonizio's poem is sharp and provocative and concentrates on a red dress, a metaphor for independence and feminine expression. In simple, direct language What Do Women Want? conveys a hard truth.
Seamus Heaney wrote this poem whilst watching his father digging in the garden. It is his most popular poem, using the metaphors of pen and spade to explore time and family commitments.
Carl Sandburg, inspired by a book of Japanese haiku, wrote this little poem whilst passing near Chicago harbor. Fog is one of his best-known short poems. It captures the silent mystery of the cat.
Mark Doty was out shopping when he came across a fresh fish display and was struck by the elegance of the mackerel. His poem explores individuality, grief and the mystery of the common good.
Let America Be America Again is a plea for freedom and equality for all those who are oppressed. Langston Hughes was poor and on a train ride through Depression hit USA - far from the American Dream.
Sylvia Plath's pregnancy poem "You're" is full of powerful imagery and metaphors. Her sensitive, creative nature comes out in this two stanza poem.
Eve Merriam's neat little poem "How to Eat a Poem" is aimed at children but is wholesome enough for adults too. She encourages the reader to open up and taste the poetic experience.
Annabel Lee is one of Poe's best known poems. The theme is loss of love based on the death of a beautiful maiden, narrated in first person by the speaker. Haunting, dark and gothic.
The Trees is a poem that reflects Larkin's love of spring and his fascination with natural cycles of renewal. Subtle rhythm and rhyme capture the mysterious growth of leaves, mortality, a tree's age.
Andrew Marvell is best known for this seduction poem, or carpe diem poem, To His Coy Mistress. With wit, intellect and conceit the speaker tries to persuade a virgin lady to have sex with him.
A deer is hit by a car driven by a teenage drunk who reacts by taking the severely injured animal back home. Big mistake? An angry father puts an end to the agony of the deer but what about the teen?
Young is Anne Sexton's early look back to her own adolescence, a time when her relationship with parents and the wider world was changing. Between childhood and adulthood; figuratively imagined.
The scorpion sting the mother received on a dark, rainy night attracts many people, all out to heal her pain. Will the superstitious triumph over the rational? A child watches as the story unfolds.
An allegorical poem, "I died for beauty but was scarce" focuses on two people in the afterlife, one who died for beauty and one for truth. Emily Dickinson's fascination with life after death explored.
The Lost Woman is an elegy and focuses on grief, family love and a daughter's loss. But there is also mystery and tension. The death of a mother is never easy to handle. Subtle and powerful poem.
Grammar is a clever poem that uses metaphor and simile to explore the notion of attraction and sexuality. It is about the natural mystery of intimacy and how people react to beauty.
A philosophical poem inspired by the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. To Look At Any Thing promotes the idea of meditation as a way of learning how things are in the natural world. Eyes plus soul.
A short, powerful poem, "a total stranger one black day," is all about trauma, shock and the human condition. We humans may be violent, we may be complex but we can learn to live in harmony and peace.
Romantic poet John Keats wrote this sensuous, pastoral ode knowing he was closer to death than at any time in his young life. To Autumn is bursting with rich natural imagery - full analysis.
Dilip Chitre's most popular poem depicts an uprooted father returning home from work to a family that doesn't understand him. A poem about alienation, lost love and the struggle to find meaning.
The apple harvest is complete, the apple picker exhausted. Will he sleep a natural sleep or remain troubled as he dreams? Frost's metaphorical, strange poem has a complex rhyme scheme, a core mystery.