“Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.” ~ Matthew Arnold
Poetry is certainly not for everyone. In fact, it is often disliked and misunderstood by many, and simply ignored by many more. Don’t believe me? Just take a moment to think about the last time you heard one of your friends talking as passionately about poetry as say, that movie or sports game they recently watched. Now imagine their reaction if you started talking passionately about poetry or, worse yet, reciting it!
But poetry has been around a lot longer than you or I, and it will continue long after we’re gone. For as long as we’ve had language, it is believed there’s been poetry — if only spoken at first. But what exactly is poetry? Elixir of the soul, or just a bunch of words?
Well, it’s up to you. That’s the thing — poetry can be anything you want it to be. On that note, for no other reason than POETRY, here are 15 of the most beautiful first lines of it:
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (daffodils), William Wordsworth
What’s a poetry list without the world’s most famous poem?
All it took was a country walk and a long strip of Daffodils to inspire Wordsworth to write the most quoted line in history.
A short revealing frock?
It’s just my luck
your lips were made to mock!
Fragment 155, Sappho
Like any modern woman, Sappho laments clearly the insecurities that all ladies still face today.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Still I rise, Maya Angelou
In response to centuries of oppression and persecution, Angelou assuredly speaks her truth.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare
So simple yet so highly flattering. Is there anything else better to be compared to? Probably not.
Once upon a midnight dreary,
while I pondered weak and weary,
The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe
Inspiring artists everywhere from Stephen King to the Simpsons, Poe’s career rocketed after this sordid treat. Ghoulish, macabre and morbid the tale of the Raven is world known everywhere.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot
As Sappho represented the ladies, T.S Eliot writes for the male counterpart with a modern gentleman unable to express his emotions in this traditional ‘love song’.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If, Rudyard Kipling
Stiff upper lip all whilst drenched in masculinity, Kipling so perfectly describes the bond between a Father advising his son on the world that awaits him.
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
London, William Blake
It’s almost as if you are right there with him, walking the streets of 18th century London, among the filth of the poor and desolate.
Maggie comes fleet foot, face full of black soot
Talking that the heat put plants in the bet book
Phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says “The Man, he say”
They must bust in early May, “Orders from the D.A.”
Look out kid, don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes, don’t try No-Doz
Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose, watch the plainclothes
You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows
Subterranean homesick blues, Bob Dylan
Who says Rock stars can’t be poets? Well a lot of people actually, nevertheless if you are on the side of the ‘artiste’ then who better than the self-proclaimed poet who didn’t know it. With Dylan himself calling it a ‘subconscious poem’, Subterranean homesick blues plunges into society’s ignorance.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
When You Are Old, William Butler Yeats
Make the most of your opportunities and embrace love, regrets are not welcome here claims Yeats.
So with curious eyes and sick surmise
We watched him day by day,
And wondered if each one of us
Would end the self-same way,
For none can tell to what red Hell
His sightless soul may stray.
The ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde
The brutalities of the Victorian British justice system are wretchedly explored as Wilde recounts his imprisonment and himself.
Society is now one polish’d horde,
Form’d of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.
Don Juan, Lord Byron
Taken from the incredibly clever , artistic and lenthy romp of Don Juan, Byron reflects on the society that he is so begrudgingly a part of.
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 Dickson
The grim reaper raises his gruesome head in this melancholy path on a mission towards death.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Song of myself, Walt Whitman
It’s important to celebrate yourself says Walt Whitman, and a million other things.
1. I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
Mad girl’s love song, Sylvia Plath
An early poem from Plath and the ever abiding feeling of young love in all its raw and glory.