Piercing the Arras of Canonical Poetry

Poetry is the line of guys doing a Mexican wave in school; the lady laughing in church; the breeze in the trees and your hair on a still day.  First lines in poems are for indices only: here, TVC gives you some random, stellar lines from virtuoso poems.

And down by the brimming river I heard a lover sing under the arch of a
railway: ‘love has no ending’ (W. H. Auden, As I walked Out One Evening)

I do not stir. The frost makes a flower, the dew makes a star, the dead
bell, the dead bell. (Sylvia Plath Death & Co)

Who will ascend for me into the skies and bring me back the wits which I
have lost? (Ludovico Ariosto Orlando Furioso)

The hero calmly leaned on his sword, alone, and deigned to look at nothing
but the vessel’s wake. (Charles Baudelaie Don Juan in Hades)

It’s not their fault that they are mad they’ve tasted Hell. (John Betjeman Slough)

Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea. (S.T. Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

May be an illustration

If any man were dying for her love, on him she would take pity, probably; (Guillaume de Lorris The Romance of the Rose)

And this is why I sojourn here alone and palely loitering (John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci)

Leaving the page of the book carelessly open something unsaid, the phone off
the hook and the love, whatever it was, an infection. (Anne Sexton Wanting to Die)

Not to be here, not to be anywhere, and soon; nothing more terrible, nothing
more true. ( Philip Larkin Aubade)

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages; Thou thy worldly task is done, Home art gone and ta’en thy wages (W Shakespeare Cymbeline)

Our human testimony false, our fame and human estimation words and wind. (Robert Browning The Ring and the Book)

The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant’s bent shoulders….to
build the city of Dioce whose terraces are the colour of stars. (Ezra Pound The Pisan Cantos)

Nor are my hands of much use.  Look here: see how shrunken and shapeless
they are: clumsily hopping, clammy and fat, like toads after the rain. (Rainer Maria Rilke The Dwarf’s Song)

“Shadow,” said he, “Where can it be – this land of Eldorado?” (Edgar Allan Poe Eldorado)

You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it.  Where did it get
you? Nowhere. You left me my lips, and they shape words, even in
silence. (Osip Mandelstam)

Abandon all hope ye who enter here. (Dante Alighieri The Inferno)


William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Dante And Virgil In Hell (1850)









It didn’t pass – it didn’t pass – it didn’t pass from me.  I drank it when

we met the gas beyond Gethsemane. (Rudyard Kipling Gethsemane)

Mais quoi? je fuyoie l’escolle, comme fait le mauvais enfant. (Francois Villon [But Lord! I fled the school like a naughty child.])

The blind swipe of the pruner and his knife busy about the tree of
life…(Robert Lowell)

I was fifteen before I could smile, long to be one, like dust with
ashes; (Li Po The Ballad of Ch’ang-Kan)

Shame to him whose cruel striking kills for faults of his own liking! (W. Shakespeare Measure for Measure)

Children, to be illustrious is sad.  Do not look up.  Those empty eyes are
stars, their glance the constellation of the mad… (Howard Nemerov The Statues in the Public Gardens)

His vision, from the constantly passing bars, has grown so weary that it
cannot hold anything else. (R. M. Rilke The Panther)

Car l’Homme a fini! l’Homme a joué tous les rôles! (Arthur Rimbaud Sun and Flesh [For man is finished! Man has played all the roles!])

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find,
and not to yield. (Alfred, Lord Tennyson Ulysses)


John William Waterhouse, “Ulysses and the Sirens” (1891)






O for a beaker full of the warm South, full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, with beaded bubbles winking at the brim, and purple stainéd mouth. (John Keats Ode to a Nightingale)

The present holds you like a raving wife, clever as the mad are
clever… (Adrienne Rich The Confrontation)

In the morning glad I see, my foe outstretchd beneath the tree. (William Blake A Poison Tree)

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: (S. T. Coleridge Kubla Khan)

Behold, rust is eating the edge of the blade in the hand of great Michael
the faithful displayed. (Giosuè Carducci Hymn to Satan)

For every thing that lives is Holy. (William Blake A Song of Liberty)

The glittering sparks flash from the helmets bright.  Nothing at all can ever end their strife till one confess he’s wrong, the other right. (The Song of Roland)

Upon the top of the San-Chu tree presumptuously they build that all may see. (Chang-Kiu-Ling Pride and Humility)

By day she stands a lie: by night she stands in all the naked horror of the truth with pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands. (Christina Rossetti The World)

And when the tumult dwindled to a calm, I left him practising the hundredth psalm. (Lord Byron The Vision of Judgment)

Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas Do Not go Gentle into that Good Night)

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! (P. B. Shelley Ozymandias)

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 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. (W. B. Yeats The Second Coming)

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; and each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. (E. A. Poe The Raven)


Gustav Dore









Aware my working room is thatched and humble, the river swallows come and go regardless…(Tu Fu Wandering Breezes)

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. (John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn)

The sun is one, and on the tare he doth as punctual call as on the conscientious flower, and estimates them all. (Emily Dickinson)

Scorn or sweetness, salutation, bidding or blessing, I would have borne great pain. (C. S. Lewis The Nameless Isle)

Past cure I am, now reason is past care, and frantic-mad with evermore unrest; my thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are, at random from the truth vainly express’d; for I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright, who art as black as hell, as dark as night. (W. Shakespeare Sonnet CXLVII)

Evil minds change good to their own nature.  I gave all he has; and in return he chains me here… (P. B. Shelley Prometheus Unbound)


Prometheus (17C)








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. (Stevie Smith Not Waving but Drowning)

These are the days that must happen to you; You shall not heap up what is call’d riches, You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve… (Walt Whitman Song of the Open Road)

The civilised are most so as they die.  He called a warning even as he fell in case his body hit a passer-by as innocent as was Egon Friedell. (Clive James Egon Friedell’s Heroic Death)

False beauty who makes me pay so dear rude in fact pretending to be so tender a love harder to chew than an iron bar now certain of my ruin I can name her… (Francois Villon The Testament)

We slowly drove, he knew no haste, and I had put away my labour, and my leisure too, for his civility. (Emily Dickinson)

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown till human voices wake us, and we drown. (T. S. Eliot The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock)

I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er. (W. Shakespeare Macbeth)

Fair play, it was frightful.  I spooned the chicken of Hell in a sauce of rich yellow brimstone. The valley boys with me tasting it, croaked to white Jesus. (Les Murray Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil)

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; (Alexander Pope Eloisa to Abelard)

Go, my songs, to the lonely and the unsatisfied, Go also to the nerve-racked, go to the enslaved-by-convention, Bear to them my contempt for their oppressors. Go as a great wave of cool water, Bear my contempt of oppressors. (Ezra Pound Commission)

no matter: hope, in child’s disguise, is there to lisp its pack of lies. (Alexander Pushkin Eugene Onegin)

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. (Wilfred Owen Dulce Et Decorum Est)

Break out word-storms! – a proper tongue-burst! Split Our palate down the middle – shatter it! Give us hare-lip and cross us with a seal That we may emit the most ear-splitting squeal! (Wyndham Lewis The Song of the Militant Romance)

Sometimes the soft, deceitful hours let us enjoy the halcyon wave; sometimes impending peril lowers beyond the seaman’s skill to save. (Francois de Malherbe To Cardinal Richelieu trans. H.W.Longfellow)

And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here among these dark Satanic mills? (William Blake The New Jerusalem)

I am the monarch of all I survey; My right there is none to dispute; From the centre all round to the sea I am lord of the fowl and the brute. (William Cowper Alexander Selkirk during his Solitary Abode in the Island of Juan Fernandez)

‘Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.’ (S. T. Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)


Gustave Dore









Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, and the rocks melt wi’ the sun! And I will love thee still, my dear, while the sands o’ life shall run. (Robert Burns)

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee: she is a fen of stagnant waters… (William Wordsworth London 1802)

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; along the cool sequester’d vale of life they kept the noiseless tenour of their way. (Thomas Gray Elegy in a Country Churchyard)

He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed, with his name painted clearly on each: but since he omitted to mention the fact, they were all left behind on the beach. (Lewis Carroll The Hunting of the Snark)

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!) awoke one night from a deep dream of peace… (Leigh Hunt Abou Ben Adhem)

They also serve who only stand and wait. (John Milton On His Blindness)

He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small, that dares not put it to the touch, to gain or lose it all…(James Graham Montrose)

But love is an astonished always with death as affidavit for its birth and timeless progress. (Robert Graves The Theme of Death)

sharers in the feast, at the fall of their lord: they said that he was of all the world’s kings the gentlest of men, and the most gracious, the kindest to his people, the keenest for fame.  (Beowulf trans. Michael Alexander)

Mother. This cheerfulness has flown too far and now is overdue. They’re closing up – the ideologists and boys from homes too upper class.  They’re coming nearer. Let me out. (Gunther Grass Claustrophobia)

They will not see you, only wraiths they see.  So then, take courage, for the danger’s great.  Go to that tripod, do not hesitate, and touch it with the key! (Goethe Faust)

What the man said as he shook hands and went to the hangman was, ‘Father, this is going to be a lesson to me.’ (Seamus Heaney The Lesson)

A careless shepherd once would keep the flocks by moonlight there, and high amongst the glimmering sheep the dead man stood on air. (A. E. Housman A Shropshire Lad)

You must have met reverent aesthetes patting rarest icons and have known, while biting on their expensive food, their incomes derive from Mail Order jugs of Charles and Di…What will they dig up afterwards of us? Donald Duck is quacking his charges off to school.  He will not tell them he has cancer. (Peter Porter Civilization and its Disney Contents)

This cage should hold only songlines of love and poet’s musings scripted gently on paper-like wings, never the death feather of crows. (Samuel Wagan Watson, Beautiful Bones).

For the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, so
various, so beautiful, so new, hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And here we are as on a
darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where
ignorant armies clash by night. (Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach).

For good undone and gifts misspent and resolutions vain, ’tis somewhat late
to trouble.  This I know – I should live the same life over, if I had to
live again; And the chances are I go where most men go. (Adam Lindsay Gordon, The Sick Stockrider)

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut, your round me
roaming end, and under be my boughs? When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?
I’ll not play hypocrite to own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
that piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows alarms of wars,
the daunting wars, the death of it?  (Gerald Manley Hopkins, Peace)

I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of
committees. (G. K. Chesterton)

As poet and as Yankee I will greet you, Texas Jack, for it isn’t no ill
feelin’ that is gettin’ up my back; But I won’t see this land crowded by
each Yank and British cuss who takes it in his head to come a-civilizin’ us.
(Henry Lawson A Word to Texas Jack)

The warrior king set flag upon his car, had pity, gripped his axe and blazed
to war.  None dared stand our shock.  Three sucking shoots clamped round the
King of Hia, a stump (a block, dead wood) none moved, none understood (had
news) in Hia. (Confucius The Odes of Shang trans. Ezra Pound)

The publican, none too soon, has finally lost his licence; chimney and
shadowy door there drink to each other in silence. (Douglas Stewart The Man
from Adaminaby*)


Photograph by Andrew Gerrand






[*Adaminaby is Australia’s Atlantis]

his claws extended were the coulter of the gods and a raw March wind was in his merely agricultural yawn. (Peter Porter The King of the Cats is Dead)

There Affectation, with a sickly mien, shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen, practis’d to lisp, and hang the head aside, faints into airs, and languishes with pride (Alexander Pope The Rape of the Lock)

“Consult how we may henceforth most offend our enemy, our own loss how repair, how overcome this dire calamity, what reinforcement we may gain from hope; If not, what resolution from despair” (John Milton Paradise Lost)

She heard a voice like voice of doves cooing all together: They sounded kind and full of loves in the pleasant weather. (Christina Rossetti Goblin Market)

‘I weep for you,’ the Walrus said: ‘I deeply sympathize.’ With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size, holding his pocket-handkerchief before his streaming eyes. (Lewis Carroll The Walrus and the Carpenter)

Awake, I watched junjurries dance through fingers of sun slowly hoovering a linoleum floor. A residue of mint from the garden by the back door always stays with you, and a soundtrack of early morning traffic, (Samuel Wagan Watson In My Mother’s ‘80s Kitchen)

The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. (Sylvia Plath Tulips)

I am afraid to tear its dentate little fringes (Nabokov Butterflies)

the lone last light post on the street

the raised back of the stray cat,

at eleven every day, resigned to hunger and random death

the same tiredness and stillness of the windy day, (Dionne Brand Ossuaries)

Julian was bursting with rage and he spread it abroad –

what else was he to do?-that the fire had been started

by us Christians. Let him talk.

Nothing has been proved. Let him talk.

What really matters is that he was bursting with rage. (C. P. Cavafy In the Suburbs of Antioch)

“…my hands have embraced what they have always been;

two grasping panics, two torches to everything I love.

feet – nothing more than two rocks some days.

& my heart has developed a kind of amnesia,

Where it remembers everything but itself.” (Sabrina Benaim what I told the doctor)


Notes in review:

The early Auden was better.  Sylvia should have avoided taking up a Fullbright scholarship.  The defence of civilisation can occasionally be causal of fine, furioso poetry.  Baudelaire died heroically, not by the sword but by the poet’s course: syphilis.  Betjeman shows we need suburban poets. Opium can be of use to some.  Courtly love is dangerous.  So is loitering.  And waiting.  Waiting for a conclusion.  Or going home.  Looking for treasure in a book.  Reading economics into human emotion.  Sympathy for peasants or the differently able.  Searching for Gold. For freedom.  For salvation.  For Glory.  Irresponsibility.  The cycle of life in the garden.  Beware smiles.  Or hypocrisy!  The stone form contorts the meaning made flesh.  Locked in a cage.  Sun on flesh.  Sail away.  Drink up.  Madness.  Delusions of splendour, William Blake!  More opium.  Sing to the Devil.  Write for the ages, not for wages.  Art should be anonymous.  And have humility.  the present world recedes; it shan’t return.  All judgment.  And rage. All plastic works.  And end of days.  Shall nevermore.  In the wind’s ways.  Keep score of truth or beauty.  Or mortality.  And pain.  Revenge is bittersweet.  And cruelty feeds upon itself.  It eats our heart.  Gnaws at our pocket.  Despair.  Renunciation.  A grim postillion.  Drown.  Blood.  Burn.  Sacrifice. Contempt.  Lies.  Mistakes.  Ouch!  Infernal designs.  Wheels grinding.  Sunlight blinding.  Parched sailors rhyming.  Seas’ disguised timing.  A savior.  An elegy. A hunt.  A Hunt.  Blindness.  Weakness.  Astonishment.  A great warrior.  Mummy’s boy.  A slow mind.  Hanging behind.  Dr Freud.  A ribcage void.  Alone on a beach.  Sick on a bench.  Does peace exist?  A list made of wood, blocked in gold.  A spurious cowboy.  The simplicity of joy.  A drowned world.  Tails unfurled.  A trivial rape.  Satan’s cape.  A market of trolls.  Empty shells.  Gleam of faded linoleum. Sylvia’s reading is preserved in the British Library. Lepidoterist. Brilliant elegiac enjambment. Christians 1, Pagans 0. Depression can still allow panic.



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