The rhythm of the tongue brings wordless music into the air; it is in poetry that the human essence is refined to such ritualistic purity. It's in the steady beats, the sonorous rise-and-fall of speech; for a moment it appears as if all the mysteries of the world have unlocked themselves to our private view.
It's these works which are celebrated on World Poetry Day, falling on 21 March, in which UNESCO recognises the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture.
In honour of these celebrations, here stands a small collection of singular lines, stanzas, and notions possessing of a power which springs the most moving of thoughts and feelings off of the page and into the humming imagination of its readers.
Because I could not stop for Death, / He kindly stopped for me; / The carriage held but just ourselves / And Immortality
'Because I could not stop for Death', Emily Dickinson
And when wind and winter harden / All the loveless land, / It will whisper of the garden, / You will understand
'To My Wife', Oscar Wilde
But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper / And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper / In an elementary world; There is something down there and you want it told
'Dark Pines Under Water', Gwendolyn MacEwen
This is the way the world ends / not with a bang but a whimper
'The Hollow Men', T.S Eliot
Out of the ash I rise / With my red hair / And I eat men like air
'Lady Lazarus', Sylvia Plath
Only a true master of the English language can pronounce all the words in this poem (we tried)
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, / Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs / And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
'Dulce et Decorum est', Wilfred Owen
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved / in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
'Sonnet XVII', Neruda
I would like to be the air / that inhabits you for a moment / only. I would like to be that unnoticed / & that necessary
'Variation on the Word Sleep', Margaret Atwood
they speak whatever’s on their mind / they do whatever’s in their pants / the boys i mean are not refined / they shake the mountains when they dance
'the boys i mean are not refined', E. E. Cummings
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done; / The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won
'O Captain! My Captain!', Walt Whitman
Don’t like the / fact that he learned to hide from the cops before he knew / how to read. Angrier that his survival depends more on his ability / to deal with the “authorities” than it does his own literacy
'Cuz He’s Black', Javon Johnson
The weight of the world / is love / Under the burden / of solitude, / under the burden / of dissatisfaction / the weight, / the weight we carry / is love
'Song', Allen Ginsberg
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
'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings', Maya Angelou
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity '
The Second Coming', William Butler Yeats
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave / Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; / Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. / I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned
'Dirge Without Music', Edna St. Vincent Millay
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles
'Leaves of Grass', Walt Whitman
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot. / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd
'Eloisa to Abelard', Alexander Pope
Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove: / O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, / That looks on tempests, and is never shake
'Sonnet 116', William Shakespeare
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
'A Girl', Ezra Pound
You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise 'Still I Rise', Maya Angelou
you are much more than simply dead/ I am a dish for your ashes / I am a fist for your vanished air / the most terrible thing about life/ is finding it gone
'The Unblinking Grief', Charles Bukowski
At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do./ But they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue
'Daddy', Sylvia Plath
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix / angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night
'Howl', Allan Ginsberg
She had blue skin,/ and so did he./ He kept it hid/ and so did she./ They looked for blue/ their whole life through./ Then passed right by--/ and never knew 'Masks', Shel Silverstein
Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light
'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night', Dylan Thomas
Water, water, every where, / And all the boards did shrink; / Water, water, every where / Nor any drop to drink
'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart / I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars / I am the red man driven from the land, / I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek - / And finding only the same old stupid plan / Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak
'Let America Be America Again', Langston Hughes
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye / Who cheer when soldier lads march by, / Sneak home and pray you'll never know / The hell where youth and laughter go
'Suicide in the Trenches', Siegfried Sassoon
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."