The following section contains samples from some of the better-known English poets: John Donne (1573-1631), Richard Lovelace (1618-1658), William Blake (1757-1827), William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), George Gordon Noel Byron, "Lord Byron" (1788-1824), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), and John Keats (1795-1821).  These poets' lives and stories are often fascinating and moving, sometimes equaling or exceeding their creations. 

Lord Byron, for example, was a major human force in his day, a romantic, charismatic and wounded man, inspired by the myths and ideals of ancient Greece (which many of his generation no doubt exaggerated, turning into a vision of their lonely, searching souls).  As Greece, was at the time, fighting for its freedom against Turkey, he went to the rescue of his Muses' sacred homeland, to lend his efforts to that struggle; and there he lost his life, succumbing to the weapon of illness.  It was a death that gave a halo to all he had written, and secured his stature for the ages.

William Blake was an eccentric and a visionary, a painter, engraver, and illustrator as well as poet.  Ill at ease with both Reason and Organized Religion, he lived in his own world of personally experienced spiritual reality. He is said to have had repeated visions of angels and ghosts, beginning in childhood and lasting throughout his lifetime.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the husband of Mary, the creator of Frankenstein!  Hopefully, he was not the model for that character! Shelley's  poem "Ozymandias" is one of the best I know for placing history in perspective, and reminding us all that the things we build with blood and injustice will crumble the same as our fragile, transient bodies.  Why sell our souls to gain a false sense of immortality?  Why lose our moral power to project a form of power that is ephemeral and illusory?

Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan" - or the history behind it - stands out as one of the great stories of English literature.  Coleridge was said to be in the midst of a deep, opium-induced trance as he began to conceive this poem, in the form of a vision or a dream.  Far from being a simple drug addict, Coleridge was, like some other creators of his day, drawn to the visionary, creative, and transformative potential of certain mind-altering drugs, opium being high on the list - and saw it as a gateway into another, more vivid and imaginative world, one lit up with insight and divinity.  After awaking from his vision, but with it still freshly imprinted in his mind - awake but not quite awake - he began to write down the words to the poem "Kubla Khan", when, unfortunately, he was interrupted by a visitor from the neighboring town of Porlock, who had come to see him on some matter of mundane business.  The man's visit took some time, and finally dragged Coleridge out of his creative trance, to the point that when he was once again able to return to pen and paper, the poem was gone, vanished like a bird that alights on a branch for only a moment: and thus, "Kubla Khan" was destined to forever remain unfinished - a magnificent fragment.  This story is attractive, especially to writers, seeming to embody the clash between the mundane and the visionary, the mediocre which rules the earth and the spiritually powerful which struggles for space to live.  Although some critics doubt the authenticity of Coleridge's story, believing that he perceived the incident in this way as a means of justifying flaws in an already completed poem - (they don't buy the idea that "Kubla Khan" is an interrupted fragment) - the story has a power that will not die.  True or false, why give up such a fascinating legend?  [Another of my Coleridge favorites, "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner", is a bit long to reproduce in this sampler. But a word of warning I feel I must include here, in lieu of the entire poem:  never harm an albatross!  "God save thee, ancient Mariner! From the fiends, that plague thee thus! - Why looke'st thou so?" "With my cross-bow I shot the Albatross! ...  The helmsman steered, the ship moved on; Yet never a breeze up-blew; The mariners all 'gan work the ropes, Where they were wont to do: They raised their limbs like lifeless tools - We were a ghastly crew."]

John Keats was a brilliant poet who died young, broken by the collision of his sensitivity with the world's harshness: burned and destroyed, perhaps, by inner passions and deep sorrows that laid him at the mercy of unhealthy times. Also a devotee of ancient Greece, and the spiritual fire he saw in it, through its fables, its history, the words of its poets and its ruins, he found, in a Grecian urn, a powerful subject for a meditation on time, mortality, and longing.  I can't help but believe that Bob Dylan got his idea for "Forever Young" from this poem.  For me, Keats' "Ode On A Grecian Urn" is one of the great poems of the English language, a mixture of homage and pain, and ultimately a search for life and meaning in spite of the insult of brevity, which so deeply wounds our existence. 


[Technical Note:  In the presentation of poems, here, the format has sometimes been simplified from the original (this applies primarily to margins):  otherwise, the poems are as they were written.]


The Dream:  By John Donne

To Althea From Prison:  By Richard Lovelace  

The Garden Of Love:  By William Blake

The Tiger:  By William Blake 

Jerusalem:  By William Blake  

She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways:  By William Wordsworth 

Ode On Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections Of Early Childhood:  By William Wordsworth

Kubla Khan:  By Samuel Coleridge 

When We Two Parted:  By Lord Byron  

Ozymandias:  By Percy Bysshe Shelley  

Ode On A Grecian Urn:  By John Keats


The Dream:  By John Donne  

Dear love, for nothing less than thee

Would I have broke this happy dream;

It was a theme

For reason, much too strong for fantasy.

Therefore thou waked'st me wisely; yet

My dream thou broke'st not, but continued'st it.

Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice

To make dreams truths and fables histories;

Enter these arms, for since thou thought'st it best

Not to dream all my dream, let's act the rest.


As lightning, or a taper's light,

Thine eyes, and not thy noise, waked me;

Yet I thought thee -

For thou lov'st truth - an angel, at first sight;

But when I saw thou saw'st my heart,

And knew'st my thoughts beyond an angel's art,

When thou knew'st what I dreamt, when thou knew'st when

Excess of joy would wake me, and cam'st then,

I must confess it could not choose but be

Profane to think thee anything but thee.


Coming and staying show'd thee, thee,

But rising makes me doubt that now

Thou art not thou.

That love is weak where Fear's as strong as he;

"Tis not all spirit pure and brave

If mixture it of Fear, Shame, Honour have.

Perchance as torches, which must ready be,

Men light and put out, so thou deal'st with me.

Thou cam'st to kindle, go'st to come:  then I

Will dream that hope again, but else would die.


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To Althea From Prison:  By Richard Lovelace  


When Love with unconfined wings

Hovers within my gates,

And my divine Althea brings

To whisper at the grates;

When I lie tangled in her hair

And fetter'd to her eye,

The birds that wanton in the air

Know no such liberty.


When flowing cups run swiftly round

With no allaying Thames,

Our careless heads with roses crown'd,

Our hearts with loyal flames;

When thirsty grief in wine we steep,

When healths and draughts go free,

Fishes that tipple in the deep

Know no such liberty.


When, linnet-like confined, I

With shriller throat shall sing

The sweetness, mercy, majesty

And glories of my King;

When I shall voice aloud how good

He is, how great should be,

Enlarged winds, that curl the flood,

Know no such liberty.


Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage:

If I have freedom in my love

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.


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The Garden Of Love:  By William Blake  


I went to the Garden of Love,

And saw what I never had seen:

a chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.


And the gates of this chapel were shut,

And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;

So I turned to the Garden of Love,

That so many sweet flowers bore;


And I saw it was filled with graves,

And tombstones where flowers should be;

And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars my joys and desires.


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The Tiger:  By William Blake  


Tiger! Tiger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?


And what shoulder, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? and what dread feet?


What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?


When the stars threw down their spears,

And water'd heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


Tiger! Tiger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

what immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


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Jerusalem:  By William Blake  


And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?


And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?


Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!


I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land.


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She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways:  By William Wordsworth 


She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove,

A maid whom there were none to praise,

And very few to love.


A violet by a mossy stone

Half-hidden from the eye!

Fair as a star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.


She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;

But she is in her grave, and oh,

The difference to me!


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Ode On Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections Of Early Childhood:  By William Wordsworth  


There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore: -

Turn wheresoe'er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


The rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the rose;

The moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare;

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where'er I go,

That there hath past away a glory from the earth.


Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,

And while the young lambs bound

As to the tabor's sound,

To me alone there came a thought of grief:

A timely utterance gave that thought relief,

And I again am strong.

The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep, -

No more shall grief of mine the season wrong:

I hear the echoes through the mountains throng,

The winds come to me from the fields of sleep,

And all the earth is gay;

Land and sea

Give themselves up to jollity,

And with the heart of May

Doth every beast keep holiday; -

Thou child of joy,

Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy



Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call

Ye to each other make; I see

the heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;

My heart is at your festival,

My head hath its coronal,

The fullness of your bliss, I feel - I feel it all.

O evil day! if I were sullen

While Earth herself is adorning

This sweet May-morning;

And the children are culling

On every side

In a thousand valleys far and wide

Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,

And the babe leaps up on his mother's arm: -

I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!

- But there's a tree, of many, one,

A single field which I have look'd upon,

 Both of them speak of something that is gone:

The pansy at my feet

Doth the same tale repeat:

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting

And cometh from afar;

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature's priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.


Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;

Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,

And, even with something of a mother's mind,

And no unworthy aim,

The homely nurse doth all she can

To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man,

Forget the glories he hath known,

And that imperial palace whence he came.


Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,

A six years' darling of a pigmy size!

See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,

Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,

With light upon him from his father's eyes!

See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,

Some fragment from his dream of human life,

Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;

A wedding or a festival,

A mourning or a funeral;

And this hath now his heart,

And unto this he frames his song:

Then will he fit his tongue

To dialogues of business, love, or strife;

But it will not be long

Ere this be thrown aside,

And with new joy and pride

The little actor cons another part;

Filling from time to time his 'humorous stage'

With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,

That life brings with her in her equipage;

As if his whole vocation

Were endless imitation.


Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie

Thy soul's immensity;

Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep

Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind,

That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,

Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind, -

Mighty Prophet!  Seer blest!

On whom those truths do rest

Which we are toiling all our lives to find,

In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;

Thou, over whom thy Immortality

Broods like the day, a master o'er a slave,

A Presence which is not to be put by;

To whom the grave

Is but a lonely bed, without the sense of sight

Of day or the warm light,

A place of thought where we in waiting lie;

Thou little child, yet glorious in the might

Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,

Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke

The years to bring the inevitable yoke,

Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?

Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,

And custom lie upon thee with a weight

Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!

O joy! that is in our embers

Is something that doth live,

That Nature yet remembers

What was so fugitive!

The thought of our past years in me doth breed

Perpetual benediction:  not indeed

For that which is most worthy to be blest,

Delight and liberty, the simple creed

Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,

With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast: -

-Not for these I raise

The song of thanks and praise;

But for those obstinate questionings

Of sense and outward things,

Fallings from us, vanishings,

Blank misgivings of a creature

Moving about in worlds not realized,

High instincts, before which our mortal nature

Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:

But for those first affections,

Those shadowy recollections,

Which, be they what they may,

Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,

Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;

Uphold us - cherish - and have power to make

Our noisy years seem moments in the being

Of the eternal Silence:  truths that wake,

To perish never;

Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,

Nor man nor boy,

Nor all that is at enmity with joy,

Can utterly abolish or destroy!

Hence, in a season of calm weather

Though inland far we be,

Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

Which brought us hither;

Can in a moment travel thither -

And see the children sport upon the shore,

And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.


Then, sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!

And let the young lambs bound

As to the tabor's sound!

We, in thought, will join your throng,

Ye that pipe and ye that play,

Ye that through your hearts to-day

feel the gladness of the May!

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.


And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,

Forebode not any severing of our loves!

Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;

I have only relinquish'd one delight

To live beneath your more habitual sway;

I love the brooks which down their channels fret

Even more than when I tripp'd lightly as they;

The innocent brightness of a new-born day

Is lovely yet;

The clouds that gather round the setting sun

Do take a sober colouring from an eye

That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;

Another race hath been, and other palms are won.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


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Kubla Khan:  By Samuel Coleridge  


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.


But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,

As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,

A mighty fountain momently was forced:

Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst

Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,

Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:

And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever

It flung up momently the sacred river.

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

Then reached the caverns measureless to man,

And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure

Floated midway on the waves;

Where was heard the mingled measure

From the fountain and the caves.

It was a miracle of rare device,

A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!


A damsel with a dulcimer

In a vision once I saw:

It was an Abyssinian maid,

And on her dulcimer she played,

Singing of Mount Abora.

Could I revive within me

Her symphony and song,

To such a deep delight 'twould win me,

That with music loud and long,

I would build that dome in air,

that sunny dome! those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there,

And all should cry, "Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise."


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When We Two Parted:  By Lord Byron  


When we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted,

To sever for years,

Pale grew thy cheek and cold,

Colder thy kiss;

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this!


The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow;

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now.

The vows are all broken,

And light is thy fame:

I hear thy name spoken

And share in its shame.


They name thee before me,

A knell to mine ear;

A shudder comes o'er me -

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee

Who knew thee too well:

Long, long shall I rue thee

Too deeply to tell.


In secret we met:

In silence I grieve

That thy heart could forget,

Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee

After long years,

How should I greet thee? -

With silence and tears.


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Ozymandias:  By Percy Besshy Shelley  


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.


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Ode On A Grecian Urn:  By John Keats  


Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme;

What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape

Of deities or mortals, or of both,

In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?


Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,

Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

Fair youth beneath the trees, thou canst not leave

Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!


Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed

Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;

And, happy melodist, unwearied,

For ever piping songs for ever new;

More happy love! more happy, happy love!

For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,

For ever panting, and for ever young;

All breathing human passions far above,

That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,

A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.


Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

What little town by river or sea shore,

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

And, little town, thy streets for evermore

will silent be; and not a soul to tell

Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.


O Attic shape!  Fair attitude! with brede

Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;

Thou, silent form, dost teast us out of thought

As doth eternity:  Cold Pastoral!

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


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