Elements of Poetry. From: Elements of Literature. How to read a poem. Read the poem aloud at least once. Read from the “inside out.” Be aware of punctuation, especially periods and commas. If a line of poetry doesn’t end with punctuation, don’t stop.
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Elements of Poetry
From: Elements of Literature
You may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I'll rise.
Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I'll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,You may cut me with your eyes,You may kill me with your hatefulness,But still, like air, I'll rise.
This lovely flower fell to seed;
Work gently, sun and rain;
She held it as her dying creed
That she would grow again.
This lovely flower fell to seed;
This lovely flower fell to seed;
Work gently, sun and rain;
She held it as her dying creed
That she would grow again.
This lovely flower fell to seed;
Excerpt from “Peanut-Butter Sandwich”
From Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
I'll sing you a poem of a silly young kingWho played with the world at the end of a string,But he only loved one single thing—And that was just a peanut-butter sandwich.
His scepter and his royal gowns,His regal throne and golden crownsWere brown and sticky from the moundsAnd drippings from each peanut-butter sandwich.
His subjects all were silly foolsFor he had passed a royal ruleThat all that they could learn in schoolWas how to make a peanut-butter sandwich.
The panther is like a leopard,
Except is hasn’t been peppered.
From “The Panther”
Even though it’s spelled differently, the ending sound is the same in both words.
O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem For that sweet odour which doth in it live. The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye As the perfumed tincture of the roses, Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:But, for their virtue only is their show, They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade, Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so; Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made: And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth, When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.
(That’s a perfect couplet!)
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
(Here’s another perfect couplet.)
Rhymes occurring within lines.
“So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains”
I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I look”: . . .then the door I opened wide.
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm-
Since I Left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”
“The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the
Cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to Roam ‘round the
Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to
hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that he’d
‘sooner live in hell.”
On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the
Talk of your cold! Through the parka’s fold it stabbed
like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, the lashes froze till sometimes
we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was
I was out one day for my usual jog
(I go kinda easy, rarely full-hog)
When I happened to see right there on the road
The squishy remains of a little green toad.
I thought to myself, where is his home?
Down yonder green valley, how far did he roam?
From out on the pond I heard sorrowful croaks,
Could that be the wailing of some his folks?
I felt for the toad and his pitiful state,
But the day was now fading, and such was his fate.
In the grand scheme of things, now I confess,
What’s one little froggie more or less?
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouseinto a poem
and watch it probehis way out,
Or walkinside the poem’s room
and feel the wallsfor a light switch.
I want them to water-ski
Across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession of out it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it reallymeans.
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or devil! Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted On this home by Horror haunted tell me truly, I implore Is there is there balm in Gilead? tell me tell me, I implore!" Quoth the raven, "Nevermore." "Prophet!' said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us by that God we both adore Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?" Quoth the raven, "Nevermore." "Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked upstarting "Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken! quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!" Quoth the raven, "Nevermore." And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted nevermore.
…Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk that was magnified by its own reflection in the tide.
It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes. The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
Ship riveters talk with their feet
To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
"I got the blues.
I got the blues.
I got the blues."
And . . . as we said earlier:
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
That time my grandmother dragged me
through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up
by my arm, hissing, "Stand up,"
through clenched teeth, her eyes
bright as a dog's
cornered in the light.
She said it over and over,
as if she were Jesus,
and I were dead. She had been
solid as a tree,
a fur around her neck, a
light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked
marble and passed through
brass openings--in 1945.
There was not even a black
elevator operator at Saks.
The saleswoman had brought velvet
leggings to lace me in, and cooed,
as if in service of all grandmothers.
My grandmother had smiled, but not
hungrily, not like my mother
who hated them, but wanted to please,
and they had smiled back, as if
they were wearing wooden collars.
When my legs gave out, my grandmother
dragged me up and held me like God
holds saints by the
roots of the hair. I begged her
to believe I couldn't help it. Stumbling,
her face white
with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing
away from those eyes
that saw through
her clothes, under
her skin, all the way down
to the transparent
You can't order a poem like you order a taco.Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"and expect it to be handed back to youon a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit.Anyone who says, "Here's my address,write me a poem," deserves something in reply.So I'll tell you a secret instead:poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,they are sleeping. They are the shadowsdrifting across our ceilings the momentbefore we wake up. What we have to dois live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wifetwo skunks for a valentine.He couldn't understand why she was crying."I thought they had such beautiful eyes."And he was serious. He was a serious manwho lived in a serious way. Nothing was uglyjust because the world said so. He reallyliked those skunks. So, he re-invented themas valentines and they became beautiful.At least, to him. And the poems that had been hidingin the eyes of skunks for centuriescrawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give uswe find poems. Check your garage, the odd sockin your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.And let me know.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
O God of dust and rainbows
help us see
That without dust the rainbow
would not be.
Thanks to the wordthat says thanks!Thanks to thanks,wordthat meltsiron and snow! The world is a threatening placeuntilthanksmakes the roundsfrom one pair of lips to another,soft as a brightfeatherand sweet as a petal of sugar,filling the mouth with its soundor else a mumbledwhisper.Life becomes human again:it’s no longer an open window.A bit of brightnessstrikes into the forest,and we can sing again beneath the leaves.Thanks, you’re the medicine we taketo save us fromthe bite of scorn.Your light brightens the altar of harshness. Or maybea tapestryknownto far distant peoples.
Travelersfan outinto the wilds,and in the jungleof strangers,mercirings outwhile the hustling trainchanges countries,sweeping away borders,then spasiboclinging to pointyvolcanoes, to fire and freezing cold,or danke, yes! and gracias, andthe world turns into a table:a single word has wiped it clean,plates and glasses gleam,silverware tinkles,and the tablecloth is as broad as a plain. Thank you, thanks,for going out and returning,for rising upand settling down.We know, thanks,that you don’t fill every space-you’re only a word-butwhere your little petalappearsthe daggers of pride take cover,and there’s a penny’s worth of smiles
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed aroundThat the colt from old Regret had got away,And had joined the wild bush horses -- he was worth a thousand pound,So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and farHad mustered at the homestead overnight,For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,The old man with his hair as white as snow;But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up --He would go wherever horse and man could go.And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,No better horseman ever held the reins;For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand,He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.
And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,He was something like a racehorse undersized,With a touch of Timor pony -- three parts thoroughbred at least --And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.He was hard and tough and wiry -- just the sort that won't say die --There was courage in his quick impatient tread;And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.
But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,And the old man said, "That horse will never doFor a long and tiring gallop -- lad, you'd better stop away,Those hills are far too rough for such as you.“So he waited sad and wistful -- only Clancy stood his friend --"I think we ought to let him come," he said;"I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end,For both his horse and he are mountain bred."
"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,The man that holds his own is good enough.And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,Where the river runs those giant hills between;I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."
So he went -- they found the horses by the big mimosa clump --They raced away towards the mountain's brow,And the old man gave his orders, "Boys, go at them from the jump,No use to try for fancy riding now.And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,If once they gain the shelter of those hills."
So Clancy rode to wheel them -- he was racing on the wingWhere the best and boldest riders take their place,And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ringWith the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,And off into the mountain scrub they flew.
Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and blackResounded to the thunder of their tread,And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered backFrom cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;And the old man muttered fiercely, "We may bid the mob good day,No man can hold them down the other side."
When they reached the mountain's summit, even Clancy took a pull,It well might make the boldest hold their breath,The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was fullOf wombat holes, and any slip was death.But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,While the others stood and watched in very fear.
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat --It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,At the bottom of that terrible descent.
He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies metIn the ranges, but a final glimpse revealsOn a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,With the man from Snowy River at their heels.
And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.He followed like a bloodhound on their track,Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,And alone and unassisted brought them back.But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,For never yet was mountain horse a cur. And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blazeAt midnight in the cold and frosty sky,And where around the Overflow the reedbeds sweep and swayTo the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
Higlac is my cousin and my king; the days
Of my youth have been filled with glory. Now Grendel’s
Name has echoed in our land: Sailors
Have brought us stories of Herot, the best
Of all mead-halls, deserted and useless when the moon
Hangs in skies the sun had lit,
Light and life fleeing together. My people have said, the wisest, most knowing
And best of them, that my duty was to go to the Danes’
Great King. They have seen my strength for themselves,
Have watched me rise from the darkness of war,
Dripping with my enemies’ blood. I drove
Five great giants into chains, chased
All of that race from the earth. I swam
In the blackness of night, hunting monsters
Out of the ocean, and killing them one
By one; death was my errand and the fate
They had earned. Now Grendel and I are called
Together, and I’ve come. Grant me, then,
Lord and protector of this novel place,
A single request! I have come so far,
Oh shelterer of warriors and your people’s loved friend,
That this one favor you should not refuse me-
That I, alone and with the help of my men,
May purge all evil from this hall. I have heard,
Too, that the monster’s scorn of men
Is so great that he needs no weapons and fears none.
Nor will I. My lord Higlac
Might think less of me if I let my sword
Go where my feet were afraid to, if I hid
Behind some broad linden shield: My hands
Alone shall fight for me, struggle for life
Against the monster. God must decide
Who will be given to death’s cold grip.
The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The restClung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore."Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two.“
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
I sat next to the Duchess at tea;
It was just as I feared it would be;
Her rumblings abdominal
Were truly phenomenal,
And everyone thought it was me!