Favorite Short Poems


Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

(Selections from) Poor Richard's Wisdom by Benjamin Franklin

An Open foe may prove a curse,
But a pretended friend is worse.

Tomorrow I'll reform, the fool does say.
Today's too late. The wise did yesterday.

Quarrels never could last long
If on one side were all the wrong.

Little strokes
Fell great oaks.

What is a butterfly? At best
He's but a caterpillar dressed.

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

A Reply by Matthew Prior

Sir, I admit your general rule
That every poet is a fool;
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

The Optimist by Benjamin Franklin

The optimist fell ten stories.
At each window bar
He shouted to his friends:
"All right so far."

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Poet, Trying to Surprise God by Peter Meinke

The poet, trying to surprise his God
composed new forms from secret harmonies,
tore from his fiery vision galaxies
of unrelated shapes, both even & odd.
But God just smiled, and gave His know-all nod
saying, "There's no surprising One who sees
the acorn, root, and branch of centuries;
I swallow all things up, like Aaron's rod.
So hold this thought beneath your poet-bonnet;
no matter how free-seeming flows your sample
God is by definition the Unsurprised."
"Then I'll return," the poet sighed, "to sonnets
of which this is a rather pale example."

"Is that right?" said God. "I hadn't realized..."

Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes by Strickland Gillilan

Had 'em

It's fairly easy to read (all of) Stevie Smith. Her most famous is also my favourite.
H.D. can be a trifle pseudo-classicist, but "Helen" devestates me every time and she didn't write all that much (although sometimes it doesn't feel that way.) She's the epitome of the girl with a curl. You can always try to get a "Best of..." if you must.
Yusef Komunyakaa is a living legendary modern day warrior. If you're ever involved in a poet bar fight he's the guy you want watching your back.
My posthumous favorite is Ogden Nash who was, is and always will be brilliant. For some reason witty & funny artists are never thought to be geniuses, which he is. Avoid "Best of..."s, when you see his total game you find out that he's one of the most passionate, tender and loving writers you can imagine.
But my favourite ever (at least at this moment) is Billy Collins. Do believe the hype; accessible does not mean shallow. I cannot remember the last time that a poem of his failed to surprise and delight by the end. My knees almost gave way the first time I heard "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice'" (perhaps because I was cooking at the time.) "Litany" (and to a lesser extent, "The Lanyard") is the only piece of art that makes me laugh no matter how many times I experience it. Out loud. He takes a snippet from another poet and reinvents it into his own work. That, in a broader sense, is what he does with all of poetic history. (Try not to read those two until you have several of his poems under your belt and have caught on to his flat, earnest, unaccented delivery.)

Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning

Helen by H.D
All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.

All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.

Greece sees unmoved,
God's daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.

Slam, Dunk, & Hook by Yusef Komunyakaa
Fast breaks. Lay ups. With Mercury's
Insignia on our sneakers,
We outmaneuvered the footwork
Of bad angels. Nothing but a hot
Swish of strings like silk
Ten feet out. In the roundhouse
Labyrinth our bodies
Created, we could almost
Last forever, poised in midair
Like storybook sea monsters.
A high note hung there
A long second. Off
The rim. We'd corkscrew
Up & dunk balls that exploded
The skullcap of hope & good
Intention. Bug-eyed, lanky,
All hands & feet . . . sprung rhythm.
We were metaphysical when girls
Cheered on the sidelines.
Tangled up in a falling,
Muscles were a bright motor
Double-flashing to the metal hoop
Nailed to our oak.
When Sonny Boy's mama died
He played nonstop all day, so hard
Our backboard splintered.
Glistening with sweat, we jibed
& rolled the ball off our
Fingertips. Trouble
Was there slapping a blackjack
Against an open palm.
Dribble, drive to the inside, feint,
& glide like a sparrow hawk.
Lay ups. Fast breaks.
We had moves we didn't know
We had. Our bodies spun
On swivels of bone & faith,
Through a lyric slipknot
Of joy, & we knew we were
Beautiful & dangerous.

Love under the Republicans (or Democrats) by Ogden Nash
Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of a marriage conducted with economy
In the Twentieth Century Anno Donomy.
We’ll live in a dear little walk-up flat
With practically room to swing a cat
And a potted cactus to give it hauteur
And a bathtub equipped with dark brown water.
We’ll eat, without undue discouragement,
Foods low in cost but high in nouragement
And quaff with pleasure, while chatting wittily,
The peculiar wine of Little Italy.
We’ll remind each other it’s smart to be thrifty
And buy our clothes for something-fifty.
We’ll go and stand in lines at Gray's
For seats at unpopular matinees,
And every Sunday we’ll have a lark
And take a walk in Central Park.
And one of these days not too remote
I’ll probably up and cut your throat.

[Be warned that there are several subsequent versions of "Love under..." which have been rearranged and watered down. This is/was the real one.]

A Lady who Thinks She Is Thirty by Ogden Nash
Unwillingly Miranda wakes,
Feels the sun with terror,
One unwilling step she takes,
Shuddering to the mirror.

Miranda in Miranda's sight
Is old and gray and dirty;
Twenty-nine she was last night;
This morning she is thirty.

Shining like the morning star,
Like the twilight shining,
Haunted by a calendar,
Miranda is a-pining.

Silly girl, silver girl,
Draw the mirror toward you;
Time who makes the years to whirl
Adorned as he adored you.

Time is timelessness for you;
Calendars for the human;
What's a year, or thirty, to
Loveliness made woman?

Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
Pick up your glass and tell me, then--
How old is Spring, Miranda?

I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice' by Billy Collins
And I start wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sisters,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
If not,
if each came to his or her blindness separately,

How did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.

Just so she could cut off the tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.

By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging,
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"

which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better.

Don't read this until you've read some Billy Collins... do I look like I'm joking?
Litany by Billy Collins
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.

You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter, or the house of cards.

And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees and the blind woman's tea cup.

But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet
and--somehow--the wine.

[Thinking about Ogden Nash caused me to write this poem, which I've named...]
Plathitudes by 0dysseus
It is difficult to discuss a poet,
When her work, you do not knoet
'splace in the establishment,
Or what a particular ravishment.

Unaware wherever she is rhyming,
That you should double your two-thyming,
And when you ought to read aloud,
Or times when it is not alloud.

But I'm sure that we're all sickened
By a young poet's tragickened.
And think that we wouldn't read each girlie page,
Had death not arrived at such an irlie age.

Your poem is very good fun! How much time/how many drafts did it require? I also liked your selections, especially [duh] 'A Lady Who Thinks She Is Thirty.'

I have a growing suspicion that you know everything about everything (almost). The contrast between my own unabashed nakedness and your indomitable mystery spawns crazythoughts:

1. Algorithms Shmalgorithms. You are Google and Wikipedia and Answers.com, a few wires attached to your head like the precogs of Minority Report.

2. You're a brilliant phony, who uses Google and Wikipedia and Answers.com and two hours of prepwork on every post to come off as all-knowing, with personality.

3. You're a 43-year-old, hairy, fat, pedophile who madly believes knowledge will attract victims more quickly than sexy, vapid comments and the nickname 'blonde_angel69'.

I was in a poet bar fight the other night. Someone was cracking jokes, and quite by accident I asked: "I'm glad you're happy, but I'm leery; when you're alone, are you this cheery?" Before I knew it, he was shooting off assonance and onomatopoeia faster than I could alliterate - that is, until I sicked my Jabberwocky on him and he fled into the cold. As a parting shot, I finished Frosting him: "I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice."

Thank you so much, I appreciate hearing that. The poem took me (probably) 1.85 drafts. I have a real problem with revision/proofreading so I usually edit as I go. In this case I used half a sheet of paper. It would be (is) tremendously difficult for me to write further. If I don't get to the top of the hill in one headlong rush then I have to go back to the bottom and start pushing the boulder from the beginning. But when "ravish meant" popped into my head I knew I had to try to do more. I chose poems that I really liked (and I thought were accessible.) But it's much like 'Greatest Hits' packages... you really ought to listen to the albums 'cause the band could always suck.

I like to think I have a little knowledge about a wide range of dangerous things. A little mystery is good for a relationship. Besides, who wants to be dominated?

1. It's a brave new world for writing. It's easy to find the information that you want... unless you want truth or facts

2. A "brilliant phony" is still "brilliant."

3. To quote Emo Philips, "My girlfiend said to me in bed last night, 'you're a pervert.' I said, 'that's a big word for a girl of nine.'"

There was a young man
who wrote haiku
who didn't know
what to do
warm rain

Shit, a shorter, simpler poem that I just wrote took 4 drafts and still isn't as good. Precedent allows me to hate you a little for that, you know.

It's possible for entities to be stronger for their lack of mystery, as several open source software projects testify.

Still supposing your omniscience, do you also know any good joke books? I realize at every awkward silence in my life that I know no good jokes. I'd especially prefer short story jokes that don't begin with "So a lawyer, a judge, and and a rabbit walk into a bar..." and have a strong punchline.

I hope other Listologists aren't sore for my recent singling out 0Dysseus for occasional genius. Though it doesn't demand the genius so many of you possess, my question is an open one: "So, know any good jokes?"

Not at all, not at all, everybody knows 0dysseus is the cleverest Greek.

Two jokes I like.

Very nice. Squish those two together, add nuns and... I'm not sure whether I should be ashamed or not.

Four nuns are lined up before Saint Peter in front of the pearly gates. Saint Peter looks them over and says, "I know that you've all kept your vow of chastity but I must know from each if you have ever had any contact with *ahem* the male member in your entire life."

The first nun says that, yes, her habit once brushed up against a naked member. Saint Peter pointed to a nearby fountain. "Wash your clothes clean in the water and you may enter into heaven."

The second nun confesses that, yes, she had once held a male member. Saint Peter pointed to the fountain. "Wash your hands clean in the water and you may enter into heaven."

Hearing this the fourth nun broke out of line and dashed to the fountain. "What are you doing?" asked Saint Peter.

"I'm going to wash out my mouth before you tell that slut to get her ass in the water!"

Evidently I don't feel ashamed enough.

Heh, thanks!

I don't want my code rewritten by amateur cryptographers until I'm the one in the crypt. My life is an open book. An open pop-up book, but there's still something to be said for modesty. Writing takes practice, if it didn't everyone would be good at it. Or they'd at least use capitals and punctuation. Should that be: Capitals and punctuation!?

"Humour can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." So said E.B. White and there's no better place to start if you want to learn bantamweight banter. In the same vein you can dig through early issues of The New Yorker until you reach the motherlode of the Algonquin Roundtable. You'll love reading Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood... of course he wood. You can Hammett up with The Thin Man and if you're lucky you'll catch Hellman.

Much as I may love the single life and the inevitable questions that follow, I think that there is much more occasional and far less genius than meets the eye. It also helps to have the reactions of others to enrage, entice and ensure a prim and proper range of responses. Until I'm tired of being single I'll keep hoping for a nice three-way... so to speak. Perhaps we could make it a foursome?.. quit it! I'm not knocking it but knock the pretty petty potty mouthing-off off.

"Awkward silence" is golden, but still awkward. To quote someone who might be Mark Twain or possibly someone else, "It is better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." If you want the all-time champeen of conversational funny, the master of the comedic take-down, the man who puts the "partee" in repartee then he's your guy. Two men enter! Mark Twain leave! Two men enter...

Sorry, I have no idea what you're saying in any sentence of your third paragraph.

Anyway: silence remains golden, but I can't help being a fool most of the time anyway so I don't mind talking a lot and being 80% foolish. In fact, my 15-a-day (or so) post pace here suggests this quantity over quality. But I tell myself that I'm really blabbering so much because I like to listen and the only way to get others to talk at a place like this is to speak, yourself.

"Sorry, I have no idea what you're saying in any sentence of your third paragraph." I often feel that way, too. "Single" was about my mysterious, non-entity writing style. "...more occasional [etc]" was a reference to your "occasional genius" misnomer. Then there's the benefits that "mystery" elicits and an internal reference to the single life. Followed by an illicit plea for three-way conversations. And a dirty desire for four-way intercommunication. Both come with an admonition to think unsexy thoughts. Finally, a faint-hearted murmur to avoid leading off a response with a euphemism for "shoot" (or "sugar.")

I have to remind myself that it's okay to have an unexpressed thought. (Ooh! shouldn't have said that.)

Oh, okay. Thanks.

Don't go for a joke book, just search the web. Here are a few I like..

Two muffins are in a microwave. One turns to the other and says, "Hey, it's gettin' kinda hot in here, isn't it?" The other muffin says, "HOLY SHIT! A TALKING MUFFIN!"


An guy walks into a bar and asks for three glasses of Irish whiskey. The bartender pours him three, and he casually alternates between each one, taking a sip of each at a time. The bartender asks him why he's doing that, and he says that when he came to America, his two brothers stayed in Ireland, and if he has three separate glasses, he feels like he and his brothers are still together. The bartender is somewhat touched by this story.

The guy becomes a regular at the bar, always performing the same ritual. But one day he comes in and only orders two glasses of whiskey. The bartender is saddened, "Oh my, did something happen to one of your brothers?"

"Oh no," says the man, "I've just decided to give up drinking."


The joke that appeals to the third-grader in me...

A short man walks into a bar, but there's a big pile of dog crap right in the doorway, and he trips over it. He gets up, dusts himself off, and heads over to the bar.

Then a big, muscular man walks into a bar. He trips over the same pile of dog crap, gets up, dusts himself off, and goes to sit at the bar stool.

The short guy says, "I just did that." The big guy punches him in the face.


The nerdy joke...

An experimental chemist, a biologist, and a mathematician watch two people go into a shed. No one else enters, and soon afterwards, three people come out of the shed.

The experimental chemist thinks, "Our initial observations must have been wrong."

The biologist thinks, "They must have reproduced."

The mathematician thinks, "Now, if one more person goes into that shed, there will be nobody in it."


And of course, the obligatory Jewish joke...

In Biblical times, God was trying to decide which people He wanted to make His chosen people. He decided to first try the Egyptians. He went to them and asked, "Do you want a commandment?" The Egyptians asked, "What's a commandment?" God replied, "It's a rule that governs the way you live." The Egyptians refused.

Then God moved on the Phoenicians. He asked them if they wanted a commandment. They replied, "What's a commandment?" God said, "It's a rule that governs the way you live." The Phoenicians considered it, but eventually declined.

Finally, God got to the Israelites. He asked them, "Do you want a commandment?" The Israelites asked, "How much are they?" God said, "They're free." The Israelites said, "Great! We'll take ten!"

There are a billion joke sites, and most of them are either not 'story jokes' or are very crappy. I've started checking random sites, but if you have any favorites, let me know.

I laughed hardest at the muffin one.


Curious: what was your motivation for posting to my weblog entry for the list instead of the list itself?

Had I not seen this post on your own recent activity page, I may never have noticed it.

Want me to move all this over to the list, and delete the weblog posts?

That would be friggin' sweet!!!



There was little difference between the two pages (to my eyes) except for the fact that you had several poems on the "other" page. I try to keep line counts down and format my stuff so that it's easily scanable/readable. So I made my land-grab here. Having been unaware of the danger, I'm thankful that you noticed.

That unawareness is what you get for not gracing us with your own Listology pages!

BTW, Jim what's up with the two copies of 'Favorite Short Poems'? (this one and this one). Only the latter shows up in my profile, even though both read 'by lukeprog'. Neither read 'this content has been archived...', either (I have 'helper text' or whatever turned on).

Edit: Oh, I see this is a weblog entry. Why/how are weblog entries automatically generated? I certainly don't creat them, they just seem to appear randomly for some (but definitely not all) content I create. Can I turn that off?

You haven't been using the "Teaser" box, have you? Those become weblog posts, and point back to the created content.

I can't think of how the system would create a weblog post out of the blue. I've never noticed this phenomenon before!

Certainly, I haven't been using the 'Teaser' box on purpose. :-)

Your citation of Strickland Gillilan reminded me of one of Roy Blount, Jr.'s blunter junior works:
Song Against Broccoli
The neighborhood stores are all out of broccoli
...which brought to mind Ogden Nash's
Is gharsley
and that stirred up
Reflection on Veracity
Is obscurity.

Reflection on Ice-Breaking
Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Natural Reflection
Dentists' anterooms
Give me the tanterooms.

Architectural Reflection
I'd feel much better about the Grand Central Bldg.
If only the architect had left off the gldg.

Orthopedic Reflection
Many an infant that screams like a calliope
Could be soothed by a little attention to its diope.

Literary Reflection
Philo Vance
Needs a kick in the pance.

Invidious Reflection
To the ignorant the noises composed by Monsieur Ravel
Bear a striking similarity to the 6th Ave. L.
and finally...
Introspective Reflection
I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

Good fun. :-)

I've decided I don't too much care for 'spelling rhymes', since I'm a crusty barnacle who still thinks poetry is best read aloud, and such wit doesn't survive the leap from the page to the air.

I appreciate the inclusion of Lewis Carroll. He is often overlooked when it comes to his poetry and is more often than not pigeonholed as simply a children's author.

This is a great list altogether.

Strangely, this is the first instance of Wikipedia vandalizing that I've actually seen before it was fixed.

I do like that poem, yes.

I haven't read much poetry, so this list is short.