Maya Angelou 1928- • Angelou has been praised for the rich and insightful prose of her narratives and for offering what many observers feel is an indispensable record of black experience. Author James Baldwin wrote on the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: "This testimony from a Black sister marks the beginning of a new era in the minds and hearts and lives of all Black men and women."
"The Lesson“ - by Maya AngelouI keep on dying again.Veins collapse, opening like theSmall fists of sleepingChildren.Memory of old tombs,Rotting flesh and worms doNot convince me againstThe challenge. The yearsAnd cold defeat live deep inLines along my face.They dull my eyes, yetI keep on dying,Because I love to live.
W. H. Auden 1907-1973 • Auden’s poetry centers on moral issues and evidences strong political, social, and psychological orientations. In his work, Auden applied conceptual and scientific knowledge to traditional verse forms and metrical patterns while assimilating the industrial countryside of his youth. Poet, playwright, and essayist W. H. Auden created in his works an allegorical landscape rife with machinery, abandoned mines, and technological references.
“Epitaph on a Tyrant” by W. H. AudenPerfection, 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.
Elizabeth Bishop 1911-1979 • Bishop's reputation as an accomplished poet rests on a small but significant body of highly crafted poems that have been praised for their precise observations and understated, descriptive quality. With subtle wit and close attention to detail, Bishop explores such themes as isolation, personal loss, and dislocation.
I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of water, with my hook fast in the corner of his mouth. He didn’t fight. He hadn’t fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. Here and there His brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses strained and lost through age. He was speckled with barnacles, fine rosettes of lime, and infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down. Excerpt from “The Fish”- by Elizabeth Bishop
Anne Bradstreet c. 1612-1672 • Anne Bradstreet ranks as the first true American poet. Bradstreet was praised in her own time for the formal, courtly aspect of her poetry. What was most noteworthy to her contemporaries, however, was that this sophisticated poetry was produced in the wilds of America by a woman. Considered but a relic of America's earliest literature, her poetry was seen as a slight exception to what the nineteenth-century reader perceived as the artless, repressive nature of Puritanism.
“Upon Some Distemper of Body” by Anne BradstreetIn anguish of my heart replete with woes, And wasting pains, which best my body knows, In tossing slumbers on my wakeful bed, Bedrenched with tears that flowed from mournful head, Till nature had exhausted all her store, Then eyes lay dry, disabled to weep more; And looking up unto his throne on high, Who sendeth help to those in misery; He chased away those clouds and let me see My anchor cast i' th' vale with safety. He eased my soul of woe, my flesh of pain, and brought me to the shore from troubled main.
Gwendolyn Brooks 1917-2000 • Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1950. Brooks has been associated with the Black Arts movement of the late 1960s. Long a trailblazer, in 1985 she became the first African American woman to be appointed poetry consultant by the Library of Congress.
“The Sonnet-ballad” by Gwendolyn BrooksOh mother, mother, where is happiness? They took my lover's tallness off to war, Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess What I can use an empty heart-cup for. He won't be coming back here any more. Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew When he went walking grandly out that door That my sweet love would have to be untrue. Would have to be untrue. Would have to court Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort) Can make a hard man hesitate--and change. And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes." Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
William Cullen Bryant 1794-1878 • Bryant's chief stylistic hallmark is his treatment of nature, especially his belief that it consoles as well as provides lessons about history and divine purpose. His poetry embodies an acceptance of the cycles of change in nature and in life and a belief that change is providential because it leads to an individual's spiritual progress and moral improvement.
“Sonnet--to an American Painter Departing for Europe” by William Cullen BryantThine eyes shall see the light of distant skies: Yet, Cole! thy heart shall bear to Europe's strandA living image of thy native land,Such as on thy own glorious canvass lies. Lone lakes--savannahs where the bison roves-- Rocks rich with summer garlands--solemn streams-- Skies, where the desert eagle wheels and screams-- Spring bloom and autumn blaze of boundless groves. Fair scenes shall greet thee where thou goest--fair, But different--every where the trace of men, Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glen To where life shrinks from the fierce Alpine air. Gaze on them, till the tears shall dim thy sight, But keep that earlier, wilder image bright.
Countee Cullen 1903-1946 • Countee Cullen emerged in the 1920s as the most famous black writer in America. Inspired by European sonnet form, works of classical antiquity, and Biblical imagery, Cullen sought to create poetry that transcended the boundaries of race. "If I am going to be a poet at all," stated Cullen in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1924, "I am going to be Poet and not Negro Poet.“
“For a Poet” - by Countee CullenI have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,And laid them away in a box of gold;Where long will cling the lips of the moth,I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;I hide no hate; I am not even wrothWho found earth's breath so keen and cold;I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,And laid them away in a box of gold.
e. e. cummings 1894-1962 • cummings's work celebrates the individual, as well as erotic and familial love. Conformity, mass psychology, and snobbery were frequent targets of his humorous and sometimes scathing satires. All of cummings's poetry attests to the author's neverending search for fresh metaphors and new means of expression through creative placement of words on the page, new word constructions, and unusual punctuation and capitalization.
“Buffalo Bill's” - by e. e. cummingsBuffalo Bill's defunct who used to ride a watersmooth-silver stallion and break onetwothreefourfivepigeonsjustlikethat Jesus he was a handsome man and what i want to know is how do you like your blueeyed boy Mister Death
Rita Dove 1952- • Dove's poetry is characterized by a tight control of words and structure, an innovative use of color imagery, and a tone that combines objectivity and personal concern. Although many of her poems incorporate black history and directly address racial themes, they present issues, such as prejudice and oppression, that transcend racial boundaries.
“This Life”- by Rita Dove The green lamp flares on the table. You tell me the same thing as that one, asleep, upstairs. Now I see: the possibilities are like golden dresses in a nutshell. As a child, I fell in love with a Japanese woodcut of a girl gazing at the moon. I waited with her for her lover. He came in white breeches and sandals. He had a goatee—he had your face, though I didn't know it. Our lives will be the same— your lips, swollen from whistling at danger, and I a stranger in this desert, nursing the tough skin of figs.
Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872-1906 • Best known for his poems in dialect, Dunbar became a sought-after writer at the turn of the century, popular with black and white audiences alike. His poems and stories picture the hopeful, sensuous, and joyous side of working-class black life as well as its sorrows and disillusionments. He lifted the black oral tradition to the height of art and looked at his people objectively and with pride.
“Choice” – by Paul Laurence DunbarTHEY please me not--these solemn songsThat hint of sermons covered up.'T is true the world should heed its wrongs, But in a poem let me sup,Not simples brewed to cure or easeHumanity's confessed disease,But the spirit-wine of a singing line, Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!
T. S. Eliot 1888-1965 • Eliot’s poetry and prose are frequently cited as having helped inaugurate the modern period in English and American letters. Eliot is best known for his distinctly erudite and innovative verse. Many of his poems combine classical references and concerns with elements drawn from contemporary culture.
“Morning at the Window” – by T. S. EliotThey are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens, And along the trampled edges of the street I am aware of the damp souls of housemaidsSprouting despondently at area gates. The brown waves of fog toss up to me Twisted faces from the bottom of the street, And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts An aimless smile that hovers in the air And vanishes along the level of the roofs.
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803- 1882 • Emerson sought to "create all things new" with a philosophy stressing the recognition of ongoing creation and revelation by a god apparent in all things and who exists within everyone. Traditional values of right and wrong, good and evil, appear in his work as necessary opposites. Emerson's works also emphasize individualism.
“Eros” – by Ralph Waldo EmersonThe sense of the world is short,Long and various the report,—To love and be beloved;Men and gods have not outlearned it,And how oft soe'er they've turned it,'Tis not to be improved.
Allen Ginsberg 1926-1997 • The American poet AllenGinsberg (1926-1997) was one of the most celebrated figures in contemporary American literature. He was a leading member of the "Beat Movement" and helped lead the revolt against "academic poetry" and the cultural and political establishment of the mid-20th century.
Excerpt from “Kaddish, Part I” –by Allen Ginsberg Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village. downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph the rhythm the rhythm--and your memory in my head three years after-- And read Adonais' last triumphant stanzas aloud--wept, realizing how we suffer--
Nikki Giovanni 1943- • In much of her work, Giovanni focuses on the individual's search for love and acceptance, reflecting what she considers a general struggle in the African-American community. Concentrating on themes of family, blackness, womanhood, and sexuality, Giovanni's poetry is conversational and strongly influenced by contemporary rhythm and blues music.
“Knoxville, Tennessee” - by Nikki Giovanni I always like summer best you can eat fresh corn from daddy's garden and okra and greens and cabbage and lots of barbecue and buttermilk and homemade ice-cream at the church picnic and listen to gospel music outside at the church homecoming and go to the mountains with your grandmother and go barefooted and be warm all the time not only when you go to bed and sleep
Oliver Wendell Holmes 1809-1894 • According to one of his students, when Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes entered his classroom at Harvard College to lecture on anatomy, he was greeted "by a mighty shout and stamp of applause”. Holmes's fame, however, went far beyond his medical lectures, for he also gained renown as a poet, novelist, biographer, and essayist. Furthermore, his writings exhibited an independent intellectual attitude, aversion to any restraint on free thought, and a scientific habit of mind.
Excerpt from “The Old Man Dreams” - by Oliver Wendell Holmes OH for one hour of youthful joy! Give back my twentieth spring! I'd rather laugh, a bright-haired boy, Than reign, a gray-beard king. Off with the spoils of wrinkled age! Away with Learning's crown! Tear out life's Wisdom-written page, And dash its trophies down! One moment let my life-blood stream From boyhood's fount of flame! Give me one giddy, reeling dream Of life all love and fame!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1882 • He is credited with having been instrumental in introducing European culture to the American readers of his day. In addition, he simultaneously popularized American folk themes abroad, where his works enjoyed an immense readership. He is known for his narrative style of writing and his (and America's) most famous poems, "Paul Revere's Ride."
“Autumn”- by Henry Wadsworth LongfellowThou comest, Autumn, heralded by the rain, With banners, by great gales incessant fanned, Brighter than brightest silks of Samarcand, And stately oxen harnessed to thy wain! Thou standest, like imperial Charlemagne, Upon thy bridge of gold; thy royal hand Outstretched with benedictions o'er the land, Blessing the farms through all thy vast domain! Thy shield is the red harvest moon, suspended So long beneath the heaven's o'er-hanging eaves; Thy steps are by the farmer's prayers attended; Like flames upon an altar shine the sheaves; And, following thee, in thy ovation splendid, Thine almoner, the wind, scatters the golden leaves!
Edna St. Vincent Millay 1892- 1950 • Millay’s verse captured the rebellious mood of post-World War I youth. She is primarily remembered for her early volumes of poetry, which boldly asserted an independent, nonconformist perspective toward contemporary life rarely expressed by women authors of her time. An advocate of individualism and romanticism in her verse, Millay commonly employed rhyme and traditional metrical patterns to convey her nontraditional ideas about the role of women in relationships and society.
“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)” - by Edna St. Vincent MillayWhat lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning; but the rain Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh Upon the glass and listen for reply, And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain For unremembered lads that not again Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: I cannot say what loves have come and gone, I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more.
Marianne Moore 1887- 1972 • Moore created poetry characterized by loose rhythms, carefully chosen words, close attention to descriptive detail, and acute observation of human character. Moore's poems often reflect her preoccupation with the relationships between the common and the uncommon, advocate discipline in both art and life, and espouse virtues of restraint, modesty, and humor. She frequently used animals as a central image to emphasize themes of independence, honesty, and the integration of art and nature.
“He Made This Screen” – by Marianne Moorenot of silver nor of coral, but of weatherbeaten laurel. Here, he introduced a sea uniform like tapestry; here, a fig-tree; there, a face; there, a dragon circling space -- designating here, a bower; there, a pointed passion-flower.
Sylvia Plath 1932-1963 • Plath became widely known following her suicide in 1963 and the posthumous publication of Ariel (1965), a collection containing her most startling and acclaimed verse. Through bold metaphors and stark, often violent and unsettling imagery, Plath's works evoke some of the mythic qualities of nature and human experience. Her vivid, intense poems explore such topics as personal identity, individual suffering and oppression, and the inevitability of death.
“A Better Resurrection” – by Sylvia PlathI have no wit, I have no words, no tears; My heart within me like a stone Is numbed too much for hopes or fears; Look right, look left, I dwell alone; A lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief No everlasting hills I see; My life is like the falling leaf; O Jesus, quicken me.
Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849 • It is Poe's achievement in the short story for which he is best remembered by critics. Yet Poe retains a popular audience rare among so-called "classic" authors, for his tales of terror contain a fascination and a mystery that appeals to many readers. Whether they are published as comic books, released as movies, or read in their original versions, Poe's dark tales speak to the human desire to peer into the realm of the unknown and the unspeakable.
“Sonnet: To Science” – by Edgar Allan PoeScience! true daughter of Old Time thou art!Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise?Who wouldst not leave him in his wanderingTo seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?And driven the Hamadryad from the woodTo seek a shelter in some happier star?Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,The Elfin from the green grass, and from meThe summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
Ezra Pound 1885-1972 • Pound sought to employ le mot juste--the precise word--which often took the form of foreign phrases, archaic dialects, or technical diction, and he revived the end-stopped line to create self-contained measures of poetry that resonate with independent significance. In addition, Pound's experiments with rhythm are often considered the first substantial twentieth-century efforts to liberate poetry from iambic patterns.
“A Girl” - by Ezra Pound The tree has entered my hands,The sap has ascended my arms,The tree has grown in my breast-Downward,The branches grow out of me, like arms.Tree you are,Moss you are,You are violets with wind above them.A child - so high - you are,And all this is folly to the world.
Adrienne Rich 1929- • Rich is praised for lyrical and highly crafted poems in which she explores a variety of socially relevant subjects, including feminism, and criticizes patriarchal societies where women traditionally assume secondary status to men. An early proponent of societal changes that reflect the values and goals of women, Rich is credited with articulating one of the most profound poetic statements of the modern feminist movement.
“For the Dead” – by Adrienne RichI dreamed I called you on the telephoneto say: Be kinder to yourselfbut you were sick and would not answerThe waste of my love goes on this waytrying to save you from yourselfI have always wondered about the left-overenergy, the way water goes rushing down a hilllong after the rains have stoppedor the fire you want to go to bed frombut cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-downthe red coals more extreme, more curiousin their flashing and dyingthan you wish they weresitting long after midnight
Theodore Roethke 1908-1963 • American poet and teacher TheodoreRoethke (1908-1963) is considered a major poet of his generation. He demonstrated a wide range of styles and growing awareness of how to transform his love of nature into a vehicle for expressing his mystical visions. His work conveys through dynamic, descriptive imagery the physical essence of nature and the human body.
“Wish for a Young Wife”- by Theodore Roethke My lizard, my lively writher, May your limbs never wither, May the eyes in your face Survive the green ice Of envy’s mean gaze; May you live out your life Without hate, without grief, And your hair ever blaze, In the sun, in the sun, When I am undone, When I am no one.
Carl August Sandburg 1878-1967 • Carl Sandburg developed a unique and controversial form of free verse that captured the rhythms and color of Midwestern American vernacular. While some critics have dismissed Sandburg for his sentimental depictions of urban and agrarian landscapes and for his simple style, others have lauded his rhapsodic and lyrical technique and his effective patterns of parallelism and repetition.
“LOST” – by Carl SandburgDESOLATE and loneAll night long on the lakeWhere fog trails and mist creeps,The whistle of a boatCalls and cries unendingly,Like some lost childIn tears and troubleHunting the harbor's breastAnd the harbor's eyes.
Anne Sexton 1928-1974 • Sexton was among the best-known of the often controversial Confessional poets, a group composed primarily of New England writers who rose to prominence during the 1950s and early 1960s. She wrote highly introspective verse that revealed intimate details of her emotional troubles, including the severe depression from which she suffered for most of her adult life and which led to her suicide.
“Housewives” – by Anne SextonSome women marry houses. It's another kind of skin; it has a heart, a mouth, a liver and bowel movements. The walls are permanent and pink. See how she sits on her knees all day, faithfully washing herself down. Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah into their fleshy mothers. A woman is her mother. That's the main thing.