This April, poets and poetry lovers everywhere will join together in cracking open their favorite notebooks and anthologies in celebration of the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month — a yearly, month-long appreciation of poetry and the amazing writers who compose it. In honor of the month of festivities, I’ve compiled some of my favorite classic poems to reread for National Poetry Month, just for you. Hopefully, they are (or will become!) a few of your favorites as well.
In the two decades since the Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month, in 1996, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world, complete with public readings, activities for students, and a calendar of daily ways to celebrate poetry all month long (my personal favorite is Poem In Your Pocket Day — which, in my life, is sometimes every day.) The celebration even has its own hashtag (like you’re surprised) so be sure to head over to Twitter during the month of April to mark all your National Poetry Month tweets with #npm16, and learn what poetic tweeters all over the world are doing as well.
Here are 14 classic poems to reread for National Poetry Month. Now get to reading!
1. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
— Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
2. Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
A free bird leapson the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current endsand dips his wingin the orange sun raysand dares to claim the sky.But a bird that stalksdown his narrow cagecan seldom see throughhis bars of ragehis wings are clipped and his feet are tiedso he opens his throat to sing.The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.The free bird thinks of another breezeand the trade winds soft through the sighing treesand the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawnand he names the sky his ownBut a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.
— Maya Angelou, Caged Bird
3. “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words -And never stops - at all -And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -And sore must be the storm -That could abash the little BirdThat kept so many warm -I’ve heard it in the chillest land -And on the strangest Sea -Yet - never - in Extremity,It asked a crumb - of me.
— Emily Dickinson, “Hope” is the thing with feathers
4. Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries, Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a seaSomewhere at the end of it, heaving. BlackberriesBig as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyesEbon in the hedges, fatWith blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.They accommodate themselves to my milk bottle, flattening their sides.Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.I do not think the sea will appear at all.The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven. One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.The only thing to come now is the sea.From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me, Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths Beating and beating at an intractable metal.
— Sylvia Plath, Blackberrying
5. Song of Myself (1) by Walt Whitman
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,And what I assume you shall assume,For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.I loafe and invite my soul,I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,Hoping to cease not till death.Creeds and schools in abeyance,Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,Nature without check with original energy.
— Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
6. Annabel Lee be Edgar Allan Poe
It was many and many a year ago,In a kingdom by the sea,That a maiden there lived whom you may knowBy the name of Annabel Lee;And this maiden she lived with no other thoughtThan to love and be loved by me.I was a child and she was a child,In this kingdom by the sea,But we loved with a love that was more than love—I and my Annabel Lee—With a love that the wingèd seraphs of HeavenCoveted her and me.And this was the reason that, long ago,In this kingdom by the sea,A wind blew out of a cloud, chillingMy beautiful Annabel Lee;So that her highborn kinsmen cameAnd bore her away from me,To shut her up in a sepulchreIn this kingdom by the sea.The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,Went envying her and me—Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,In this kingdom by the sea)That the wind came out of the cloud by night,Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.But our love it was stronger by far than the loveOf those who were older than we—Of many far wiser than we—And neither the angels in Heaven aboveNor the demons down under the seaCan ever dissever my soul from the soulOf the beautiful Annabel Lee;For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreamsOf the beautiful Annabel Lee;And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyesOf the beautiful Annabel Lee;And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the sideOf my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,In her sepulchre there by the sea—In her tomb by the sounding sea.
— Edgar Allan Poe, Annabel Lee
7. [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)] by e. e. cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it inmy heart) i am never without it (anywherei go you go, my dear; and whatever is doneby only me is your doing, my darling)i fearno fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i wantno world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meantand whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which growshigher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars aparti carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”
— e. e. cummings, [ i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)]
8. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Half a league, half a league,Half a league onward,All in the valley of DeathRode the six hundred.“Forward, the Light Brigade!Charge for the guns!” he said.Into the valley of DeathRode the six hundred.“Forward, the Light Brigade!”Was there a man dismayed?Not though the soldier knewSomeone had blundered.Theirs not to make reply,Theirs not to reason why,Theirs but to do and die.Into the valley of DeathRode the six hundred.Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them,Cannon in front of themVolleyed and thundered;Stormed at with shot and shell,Boldly they rode and well,Into the jaws of Death,Into the mouth of hellRode the six hundred.Flashed all their sabres bare,Flashed as they turned in airSabring the gunners there,Charging an army, whileAll the world wondered.Plunged in the battery-smokeRight through the line they broke;Cossack and RussianReeled from the sabre strokeShattered and sundered.Then they rode back, but notNot the six hundred.Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them,Cannon behind themVolleyed and thundered;Stormed at with shot and shell,While horse and hero fell.They that had fought so wellCame through the jaws of Death,Back from the mouth of hell,All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.When can their glory fade?O the wild charge they made!All the world wondered.Honour the charge they made!Honour the Light Brigade,Noble six hundred!
— Lord Alfred Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade
9. Howl (excerpt) by Allen Ginsberg
For Carl SolomonI saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,starving hysterical naked,dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn lookingfor an angry fix,angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenlyconnection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smokingin the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floatingacross the tops of cities contemplating jazz,who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and sawMohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofsilluminated,who passed through universities with radiant cool eyeshallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among thescholars of war,who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishingobscene odes on the windows of the skull,who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning theirmoney in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror throughthe wall…
— Allen Ginsberg, Howl
10. Harlem by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?Does it dry uplike a raisin in the sun?Or fester like a sore—And then run?Does it stink like rotten meat?Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet?Maybe it just sagslike a heavy load.Or does it explode?
— Langston Hughes, Harlem
11. “I think I should have loved you presently” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I think I should have loved you presently,And given in earnest words I flung in jest;And lifted honest eyes for you to see,And caught your hand against my cheek and breast;And all my pretty follies flung asideThat won you to me, and beneath your gaze,Naked of reticence and shorn of pride,Spread like a chart my little wicked ways.I, that had been to you, had you remained,But one more waking from a recurrent dream,Cherish no less the certain stakes I gained,And walk your memory’s halls, austere, supreme,A ghost in marble of a girl you knewWho would have loved you in a day or two.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, " I think I should have loved you presently"
12. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloudThat floats on high o'er vales and hills,When all at once I saw a crowd,A host, of golden daffodils;Beside the lake, beneath the trees,Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.Continuous as the stars that shineAnd twinkle on the milky way,They stretched in never-ending lineAlong the margin of a bay:Ten thousand saw I at a glance,Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.The waves beside them danced; but theyOut-did the sparkling waves in glee:A poet could not but be gay,In such a jocund company:I gazed—and gazed—but little thoughtWhat wealth the show to me had brought:For oft, when on my couch I lieIn vacant or in pensive mood,They flash upon that inward eyeWhich is the bliss of solitude;And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.
— William Wordsworth, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
13. Hyperion (excerpt) by John Keats
Deep in the shady sadness of a valeFar sunken from the healthy breath of morn,Far from the fiery noon, and eve's one star,Sat gray-hair'd Saturn, quiet as a stone,Still as the silence round about his lair;Forest on forest hung about his headLike cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,Not so much life as on a summer's dayRobs not one light seed from the feather'd grass,But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.A stream went voiceless by, still deadened moreBy reason of his fallen divinitySpreading a shade: the Naiad 'mid her reedsPress'd her cold finger closer to her lips.
— John Keats, Hyperion
14. What Kind of Times Are These by Adrienne Rich
There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphilland the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadowsnear a meeting-house abandoned by the persecutedwho disappeared into those shadows.I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooledthis isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,its own ways of making people disappear.I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woodsmeeting the unmarked strip of light—ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell youanything? Because you still listen, because in times like theseto have you listen at all, it's necessaryto talk about trees.
— Adrienne Rich, What Kind of Times Are These
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