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  1.  (10096.1)
    Being a foreign devil but under the anvil of Anglo Saxon cultural imperialism, the other day I was wondering how much I knew or recognized poetry in English compared to poetry in Finnish.

    Then I started wondering, what would be the top-10 of the most important poems in English. I mean, I know my Poe embarrassingly by heart, but outside of that...?

    I got a good list from my fiancé Susimur, who's only not a bilingual English speaker but also a student of English philology, but: how about the Whitechapel? The definition of "important" is of course fluid, so let's not argue about that. Let's hear your top-10.
  2.  (10096.2)
    There's a lot, but I'd like to propose "HOWL" by Allen Ginsberg. The most famous excerpt:

    "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,
    who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz"
  3.  (10096.3)
    I nominate The Masque of Anarchy by Shelley.

    Rise like Lions after slumber
    In unvanquishable number,
    Shake your chains to earth like dew
    Which in sleep had fallen on you-
    Ye are many — they are few
    • CommentTimeAug 1st 2011
    Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee

    Alligator pie, alligator pie,
    If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die.
    Give away the green grass, give away the sky,
    But don't give away my alligator pie.

    Alligator stew, alligator stew,
    If I don't get some I don't know what I'll do.
    Give away my furry hat, give away my shoe,
    But don't give away my alligator stew.

    Alligator soup, alligator soup,
    If I don't get some I think I'm gonna droop.
    Give away my hockey stick, give away my hoop,
    But don't give away my alligator soup.
  4.  (10096.5)
    That's one hell of a big ask, but as an Australian I'm pretty much legally bound to invoke The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Patterson - regardless of any actual merit or relevance to wider English literature...

    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 blaze
    At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
    And where around the Overflow the reedbeds sweep and sway
    To 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,
    • CommentTimeAug 1st 2011
    A question with no easy answer. I would normal go with Annabel Lee since your well versed this is a Lord Byron poem that always stuck with me.


    TITAN! to whose immortal eyes
    The sufferings of mortality,
    Seen in their sad reality,
    Were not as things that gods despise;
    What was thy pity's recompense?
    A silent suffering, and intense;
    The rock, the vulture, and the chain,
    All that the proud can feel of pain,
    The agony they do not show,
    The suffocating sense of woe,
    Which speaks but in its loneliness,
    And then is jealous lest the sky
    Should have a listener, nor will sigh
    Until its voice is echoless.

    Titan! to thee the strife was given
    Between the suffering and the will,
    Which torture where they cannot kill;
    And the inexorable Heaven,
    And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
    The ruling principle of Hate,
    Which for its pleasure doth create
    The things it may annihilate,
    Refus'd thee even the boon to die:
    The wretched gift Eternity
    Was thine--and thou hast borne it well.
    All that the Thunderer wrung from thee
    Was but the menace which flung back
    On him the torments of thy rack;
    The fate thou didst so well foresee,
    But would not to appease him tell;
    And in thy Silence was his Sentence,
    And in his Soul a vain repentance,
    And evil dread so ill dissembled,
    That in his hand the lightnings trembled.

    Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
    To render with thy precepts less
    The sum of human wretchedness,
    And strengthen Man with his own mind;
    But baffled as thou wert from high,
    Still in thy patient energy,
    In the endurance, and repulse
    Of thine impenetrable Spirit,
    Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
    A mighty lesson we inherit:
    Thou art a symbol and a sign
    To Mortals of their fate and force;
    Like thee, Man is in part divine,
    A troubled stream from a pure source;
    And Man in portions can foresee
    His own funereal destiny;
    His wretchedness, and his resistance,
    And his sad unallied existence:
    To which his Spirit may oppose
    Itself--and equal to all woes,
    And a firm will, and a deep sense,
    Which even in torture can descry
    Its own concenter'd recompense,
    Triumphant where it dares defy,
    And making Death a Victory.
  5.  (10096.7)
    The Wanderer (pardon the shitty translation. There's a better one in the norton anthology I have somewhere).
    .Yes. I went with Old English, and a super old poem. >:)
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011 edited
    Well, Poe's not such a great poet really. His short fiction and essays are much better.

    We could start with some of the great poets and choose one of their representative works...or go with what's most commonly anthologized.

    Top ten would need to include Shakespeare, Blake, Dickinson, Yeats, Pound, & Eliot, for starters. My choices will certainly reflect my personal bias.
    I know more about modern American poets and I prefer the writers of shorter lyrical poems to the long-winded blow-hards...I'm looking at you, Whitman. ;-)
    I do sincerely believe that Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets in English after Shakespeare and Blake, and certainly the greatest American poet to have ever lived.

    Commonly anthologized examples might be (admittedly heavy on the American Modernists):
    1. Shakespeare's Sonnet 129
    2. Milton's "Paradise Lost"
    3. Blake's "Tyger, Tyger!"
    4. Yeats' "Second Coming"
    5. Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death —"
    6. Shelley's "Ozymandias"
    7. T.S. Eliot's "Waste Land"
    8. Wallace Steven's "The Emperor of Ice Cream" (not my favorite of his, but frequently anthologized)
    9. Ezra Pound's Canto I
    10. Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

    Anyway, that's just me shooting from the hip a bit. Leaving out a ton of other great stuff which I could natter on about.
    My list of personal faves would look different. Many of my favorite poets didn't even write in English though (Paul Celan, Paul Valéry.)
    [Full disclosure: my first undergrad degree was in English/Creative Writing with a Poetry focus.]
  6.  (10096.9)
    i'm in full agreement with some of the choices made upstream - i adore Paradise Lost and Howl

    Don't know if these class as the most important but they're the ones I love.

    Charles Bukowski's An Almost Made Up Poem - full text here - but this line is just wow...

    "“ her, print her, she’ mad but she’
    magic. there’ no lie in her fire.” "

    i never got too into his novels but I adore his poetry


    T.S.Eliot's The Hollow Men
    most noted of course for it's final stanza...

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.


    One of the first books of poetry I ever owned was Ted Hughes' The Crow.
    I sat and read those poems for years whenever I got stoned..

    A Childish Prank

    Man's and woman's bodies lay without souls,
    Dully gaping, foolishly staring, inert
    On the flowers of Eden.
    God pondered.

    The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep.

    Crow laughed.
    He bit the Worm, God's only son,
    Into two writhing halves.

    He stuffed into man the tail half
    With the wounded end hanging out.

    He stuffed the head half headfirst into woman
    And it crept in deeper and up
    To peer out through her eyes
    Calling it's tail-half to join up quickly, quickly
    Because O it was painful.

    Man awoke being dragged across the grass.
    Woman awoke to see him coming.
    Neither knew what had happened.

    God went on sleeping.

    Crow went on laughing.


    Spike Milligan - There are holes in the Sky

    There are holes in the sky
    Where the rain gets in
    But they're ever so small
    That's why the rain is thin.


    and finally John Cooper Clarke - Haiku

    To-con-vey one's mood
    In sev-en-teen syll-able-s
    Is ve-ry dif-fic
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011
    I would have to second "Howl" honestly. I wish I could have come up with something, but as soon as I read the topic Howl started playing in my head. Of course, so did "There once was a man from Nantucket..." but I should be smacked for that.
  7.  (10096.11)
    I'd say with Blake, do the entire Songs of Innocence and Experience (which if memory serves is where The Tyger comes from) or the Marriage of Heaven and Hell (my personal fave).

    And while it's definitely not "Most Important" the poems of Sherman Alexi are amazing and worth checking out. I'd say he's probably the best living poet I'm aware of (or he was 10 years ago. I haven't really been keeping up to date).

    Otherwise, I agree with most of the statements above (although I can't stomach the beats, but I know that's a personal issue).
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011

    It's English!
  8.  (10096.13)
    to anyone who has studied GCSE English i'd like to propose:

    Half Caste - By John Agard "excuse me standing on one leg"

    I wanna be yours - John Cooper Clarke

    to his coy mistress - Andrew Marvel


    try Shane Macgowan's waltzing Mathilda ( I know it's a song but its still poetry)
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011
    I'm going to go all mainstream here, but I like Desiderata

    Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.

    As far as possible, without surrender,
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even to the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
    they are vexatious to the spirit.

    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain or bitter,
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs,
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals,
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.
    Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love,
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.
    You are a child of the universe
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be.
    And whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life,
    keep peace in your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
  9.  (10096.15)
    Many good choices. I'd add another T.S.Eliot poem to the list - Sweeney Erect:

    And the trees about me,
    Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks
    Groan with continual surges; and behind me
    Make all a desolation. Look, look, wenches!

    Paint me a cavernous waste shore
    Cast in the unstilted Cyclades,
    Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks
    Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.

    Display me Aeolus above
    Reviewing the insurgent gales
    Which tangle Ariadne's hair
    And swell with haste the perjured sails.

    Morning stirs the feet and hands
    (Nausicaa and Polypheme),
    Gesture of orang-outang
    Rises from the sheets in steam.

    This withered root of knots of hair
    Slitted below and gashed with eyes,
    This oval O cropped out with teeth:
    The sickle motion from the thighs

    Jack-knifes upward at the knees
    Then straightens out from heel to hip
    Pushing the framework of the bed
    And clawing at the pillow slip.

    Sweeney addressed full length to shave
    Broadbottomed, pink from nape to base,
    Knows the female temperament
    And wipes the suds around his face.

    (The lengthened shadow of a man
    Is history, said Emerson
    Who had not seen the silhouette
    Of Sweeney straddled in the sun).

    Tests the razor on his leg
    Waiting until the shriek subsides.
    The epileptic on the bed
    Curves backward, clutching at her sides.

    The ladies of the corridor
    Find themselves involved, disgraced,
    Call witness to their principles
    And deprecate the lack of taste

    Observing that hysteria
    Might easily be misunderstood;
    Mrs. Turner intimates
    It does the house no sort of good.

    But Doris, towelled from the bath,
    Enters padding on broad feet,
    Bringing sal volatile
    And a glass of brandy neat.
  10.  (10096.16)
    If you want to go way back into Anglo-Saxon there's The Seafarer which like most Anglo-Saxon poetry can be appreciated with no knowledge of the language because it relies on alliteration and rhythm rather than rhyme.

    Personal favourites of mine are Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, both by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The former is famous for having been composed in a drug laced stupor and remaining forever unfinished after some bastard from Porlock interrupted Coleridge while he was writing it down. The later is a batshit insane account of the sea voyage from hell including demons, angels, manifestations of death, zombies, an albatross and a guy that you seriously don't want turning up to your wedding.

    Anthologised to the point of cliche are Wordsworth's Daffodils and Ode to a Grecian Urn by Keats. Shelly's Ozymandias still stands up though.

    Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome were wildly popular in the Victorian Era, and were an attempt to reconstruct (in English) the kind of poems the Romans wrote before they got all cultured. Horatius is probably the best known today. Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade is a fine example of the Victorian worship of idiotic adherence to orders in the face of all common sense, as is Hemans' Casabianca - better known as "The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck".

    William Topaz McGonagall deserves a mention for being perhaps the best bad poet in English. For instance The Tay Bridge Disaster.

    The First World War Poets are highly significant because they were about the first to buck the trend of celebrating war as glorious and manly. Fantastic examples include Benjamin Peret's Little Song for the Maimed and Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum est
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011
    T'was the night before Christmas
    And all through the house
    Not a creature was stirring
    Not even a mouse
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011
    In the desert
    I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
    Who, squatting upon the ground,
    Held his heart in his hands,
    And ate of it.

    I said, "Is it good, friend?"
    "It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
    "But I like it
    Because it is bitter,
    And because it is my heart."
    - "The Heart", Stephen Crane

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away".
    - "Ozymandias", Percy Bysshe Shelley
  11.  (10096.19)
    oh man - can't believe i forgot Dulce Et Decorum Est (good call Purple Wyrm) - one of the most devastating poems I've ever read.
    was first introduced to Wilfred Owen in a tiny little theatre in North Wales. was the first play i'd ever gone to and it was a one man show (called The Pity of War) based on Owens life and works. it was amazing!
    • CommentAuthor256
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2011 edited
    There's something seriously mindbending about this entire exercise. I'm not quite sure what makes it so troubling, but... there is something.

    Anyway. I've never read it, but I have to second @celan's #7 pick, The Wasteland - you're never very far from a reference to that poem.