Register to reply

Favorite rhymed metric verse written after 1950 (e.g. Wilbur and Gunn)

by marcus
Tags: 1950, favorite, gunn, metric, rhymed, verse, wilbur
Share this thread:
Jul13-08, 01:49 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
Putting this thread together, samples to show how much good R-M verse grew in the post-1950 years, has given me a new appreciation for Philip Larkin. He seems to have had a pretty good time in his 63 years (1922-1985) and to have actually had the impertinence to turn down the Poet Laureate job when it was offered him. Reading the wikipedia article told me stuff I hadn't known. He liked jazz and used to play the drums when he was a kid. I'm tickled by his use of vernacular, among other things---as when referring to death as "snuffing it" and the UK's leading citizens as "crooks and tarts". Here's "Going, Going", written January 1972:


I thought it would last my time -
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there'd be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
- But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more -
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer . . . It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn't going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts -
First slum of Europe: a role
It won't be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won't be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.


I've bolded the part that comes to mind, when I think of this poem.
Jul13-08, 03:19 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
This one, by WH Auden, gets in through our 1950-plus time window. It is called "The More Loving One"


Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.


One of Auden's best known poems "The Shield of Achilles" was first published in 1953 and so it also comes in the time period we are looking at
It's pretty long. Maybe I will just give a couple of links to this one.
Jul15-08, 12:59 PM
hypatia's Avatar
P: 1,298
"Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,"

Ahahah I love it
Jul15-08, 08:19 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
What a nice comment to get!

BTW a friend just informed me that the Dylan Thomas poem "Do not go gentle into that good night" actually belongs in our post-1950 sample. David John Thomas, the poet's father, died in December 1952.
Jul17-08, 12:15 AM
P: 328
Don't like much rhymed poetry, let alone rhymed poetry written after 1950 - but this one is good:

Love and Tensor Algebra
from "The Cyberiad" by Stanislaw Lem


Come, let us hasten to a higher plane
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Bools or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
Abscissas some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
the product o four scalars is defines!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a^2 cos 2 phi!
Jul17-08, 09:11 AM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
thanks for contributing a favorite BWV
in the fifth stanza, should Bools actually be Boole?

I suspect the translator was Michael Kandel (the main translator of Lem).
Considerable credit should go to the translator. It isn't easy
to render a rhymed metrical poem in another language and
have it sound natural.

In the next to last stanza, probably

the product of four scalars is defined

instead of

the product o four scalars is define

I don't have the original Lem/Kandel poem to check so I am just guessing.
thanks for taking the time to copy this in!
It is grand satire. BTW do you have an explanation for a-squared cos (two phi)?
anything special about that mathematical expression making it the right note to end on?
my very tentative guess would be that there was a pun in the original Polish, in the
way they would read out a2 cos (2 phi), or whatever formula Lem had there.
but I could easily be missing something.
Jul18-08, 07:56 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
I had some comment earlier about Wilbur's "The Field" and gave some excerpts.
Quote Quote by marcus View Post
One night around summer 1968 Wilbur went out in a field with his wife Charlotte and looked at the stars---a field near their summerhouse in the Berkshires, I think---and the next morning they walked thru the same field which at the moment was full of wildflowers...

The poem has 20 short stanzas.
I will put the pieces together so we can get a look at the whole thing:


This field-grass brushed our legs
Last night, when out we stumbled looking up,
Wading as through the cloudy dregs
Of a wide sparkling cup,

Our thrown-back heads aswim
In the grand, kept appointments of the air,
Save where a pine at the sky's rim
Took something from the Bear.

Black in her glinting chains,
Andromeda feared nothing from the seas,
Preserved as by no hero's pains,
Or hushed Euripedes',

And there the dolphin glowed,
Still flailing through a diamond froth of stars,
Flawless as when Arion rode
One of its avatars.

But none of this was true.
What shapes that Greece or Babylon discerned
Had time not slowly drawn askew
Or like cat's cradles turned?

And did we not recall
That Egypt's north was in the Dragon's tail?
As if a form of type should fall
And dash itself like hail,

The heavens jumped away,
Bursting the cincture of the zodiac,
Shot flares, with nothing left to say
To us, not coming back

Unless they should at last,
Like hard-flung dice that ramble out the throw,
Be gathered for another cast.
Whether that might be so

We could not say, but trued
Our talk awhile to words of the real sky,
Chatting of class or magnitude,
Star-clusters, nebulae,

And how Antares huge
As Mars' big roundhouse swing, and more, was fled
As in in some rimless centrifuge
Into a blink of red.

It was the nip of fear
That told us when imagination caught
The feel of what we said, came near
The schoolbook thoughts we thought,

And faked a scan of space
Blown black and hollow by our spent grenade,
All worlds dashed out without a trace,
The very light unmade.

Then, in the late-night chill,
We turned and picked our way through outcrop stone
By the faint starlight, up the hill
To where our bed-lamp shone.

Today, in the same field,
The sun takes all, and what could lie beyond?
Those holes in heaven have been sealed
Like rain-drills in a pond,

And we, beheld in gold,
See nothing starry but these galaxies
Of flowers, dense and manifold,
Which lift about our knees--

White daisy-drifts where you
Sink down to pick an armload as we pass,
Sighting the heal-all's minor blue
In chasms of the grass,

And strews of hawkweed where,
Amongst the reds or yellows as they burn,
A few dead plls commit to air
The seeds of their return.

We could no doubt mistake
These flowers for some answer to that fright
We felt for all creation's sake
In our dark talk last night,

Taking to heart what came
Of the heart's wish for life, which, staking here
In the least field an endless claim,
Beats on from sphere to sphere

And pounds beyond the sun,
Where nothing less peremptory can go,
And is ourselves, and is the one
Unbounded thing we know.

Jul19-08, 08:28 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
In earlier times, poets did not always confine themselves to their own private experience. Milton wrote sonnets about public events and political issues. I believe he wrote at least one poem addressed to someone in power, namely Oliver Cromwell.

Maybe we should remember this occasionally. It's possible for the voices of poets to play a role in politics, at times. If you include popular singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan then it might not even be uncommon. The singer's voice can help to change social mood, in some eras. But I'm not sampling popular song lyrics in this thread, just conventional verse poetry.

Well Wilbur wrote a snarky sonnet to President Lyndon Johnson which I like quite a bit. He let people know it was written in just one day---impromptu unpolished---triggered by the news that Johnson, having commissioned a presidential portrait, had rejected the artist's work because it was too big (made Johnson look larger than life-size as I recall) and the Capitol building in the background too brightly illuminated. I like it for the combnation of deep seriousness with the humorous adoption of a kind of 18th century Dr. Johnson How Now Sir! manner. As a disdainful rebuke it seems to work excellently, while being delivered with a bit of old mannerisms serves to lightens it up. Maybe your take on it is different, feel free to comment.

Wilbur called the poem "A Miltonic Sonnet for Mr. Johnson on His Refusal of Peter Hurd's Official Portrait"


Heir to the office of a man not dead
Who drew our Declaration up, who planned
Range and Rotunda with his drawing-hand
And harbored Palestrina in his head,
Who would have wept to see small nations dread
The imposition of our cattle-brand,
With public truth at home mistold or banned,
And in whose term no army's blood was shed,

Rightly you say the picture is too large
Which Peter Hurd by your appointment drew,
And justly call that Capitol too bright
Which signifies our people in your charge;
Wait, Sir, and see how time will render you,
Who talk of vision but are weak of sight.

Apr8-09, 05:54 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
by Richard Wilbur

O Egypt, Egypt—so the great lament
Of thrice-great Hermes went—
Nothing of thy religion shall remain
Save fables, which thy children shall disdain.

His grieving eye foresaw
The world’s bright fabric overthrown
Which married star to stone
And charged all things with awe.

And what, in that dismantled world, could be
More fabulous than he?
Had he existed? Was he but a name
Tacked on to forgeries which pressed the claim
Of every ancient quack—
That one could from a smoky cell
By talisman or spell
Coerce the Zodiac?

Still, still we summon him at midnight hour
To Milton’s pensive tower,
And hear him tell again how, then and now,
Creation is a house of mirrors, how
Each herb that sips the dew
Dazzles the eye with many small
Reflections of the All—
Which, after all, is true.

The way I picture it, the leafy plant (the herb) is covered with dazzling dewdrops each of which mirrors an image of the world around it---so the mystical (Hermetic?) idea is made to be true in a simple mundane way. And also every atom in the leaf is a reflection of the physical laws and constants of nature, and so a kind of reflection of the whole world, again in a straightforward matter-of-fact way.

So this line that says "Which, after all, is true." has a fair amount of punch or weight. I like it.

Some of the references are to the famous poem Il Penseroso by John Milton.
Apr15-09, 10:44 AM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215

this is so deft, so skillful that it makes me want to laugh triumphant or cheer and yet
at the same time sick at the pit of my stomach from the image.

Remember how Dante finishes each canto of successive three-zers with a one-zer. That is how you end a terza rima chain----3,3,....3,3,1
And he is always going somewhere.

by Richard Wilbur

In this great form, as Dante proved in Hell,
There is no dreadful thing that can’t be said
In passing. Here, for instance, one could tell

How our jeep skidded sideways toward the dead
Enemy soldier with the staring eyes,
Bumping a little as it struck his head,

And then flew on, as if toward Paradise.
May22-09, 08:57 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
Lyn Coffin is a crackerjack verse translator of the great 20-cent Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Here is a sample. This is part of a longer poem in verse sections called REQUIEM, which is about the Stalin purge years. Akhmatova's husband was executed and her son went to Gulag. Requiem was written during this time and not published but preserved and then came out in 1957. This section is called Introduction:

This happened when only the dead wore smiles--
they rejoiced at being safe from harm.
And Leningrad dangled from its jails
like some unnecessary arm.

And when the hosts of those convicted
marched in mad, tormented throngs,
and railroad whistles were restricted
to singing separation songs.

The stars of death stood overhead,
and guiltless Russia, that pariah,
writhed under boots, all blood-bespattered,
and the wheels of many a black maria.

It is dated 1935.
The height of the great purge was 1937-1938
For years some of Akmatova's poems were not written but kept only in memory because it was not safe to have written copies of anything critical. Police could search the private papers. Her friends helped her by sharing the job of memorizing. Most of her work is in classic (rhyme metric) verse form which does make it more easy to memorize. Lyn Coffin has preserved this feature.
I have typed LC translation from memory and so may have some mistakes of punctuation or a few words but it is roughly correct.
Lyn Coffin's book is here:

Lyn Coffin did these translations around 1983 (when her Akhm. book was published.) Later appeared what are generally considered the best unrhymed translations, those by Judith Hemschemeyer from around 1990. You can compare. Here is the Hemschemeyer unrhyme version of the same thing:

That was when the ones who smiled
were the dead, glad to be at rest.
And like a useless appendage, Leningrad
swung from its prisons.

And when, senseless from torment,
regiments of convicts marched,
and the short songs of farewell
were sung by locomotive whistles.

The stars of death stood above us
and innocent Russia writhed
under bloody boots
and under the tires of the Black Marias.

Judith Hemschemeyer's book is here:

Although the LC trans speaks more to my heart---is more rhythmical, rocks and rolls more---even so I appreciate the precision of the JH, where she indicates that the convicts being marched to the train station, to be shipped to the Gulag, were senseless because they had been tortured to the point of senselessness. This is more precise in the details than what LC says. Although one can get the same idea from the LC version.

Both LC and JH render the great image of a world-culture city (former Petersburg) which has then become essentially just its police and prison system, and the rest of the society is just a dangling appendage to the essential, which is the jails. Akhmatova, who could see that way, I think has lasting greatness. Out of respect I will try to transcribe her original so we get an idea of the sound.

Eto bilo kogda oolibalsya
tolko mertvui, spokoistviyoo rad.
I nenoozhnim privyescom boltalsya
vozlye tyoorem cvoickh Lyeningrad.

I kogda, obyezoomev ot mooki,
schli oozhe osoozhdyennikh polki,
i korotkooyoo pesnyoo razlooki
parovozni peli goodki.

Zvyezdi cmerti ctoyali nad nami,
i byezvinnaya korchilas Roos
pod krovavimi sapogami
i pod schinami chernikh maroos.
May23-09, 05:34 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 8,552
Quote Quote by marcus View Post
Blackberries for Amelia
Quote Quote by marcus View Post
Words for Some Ash
They are very beautiful.
May24-09, 12:47 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
Quote Quote by atyy View Post
They are very beautiful.
Thanks for the comment. It's encouraging to get some response! I agree. The two you mentioned (Blackberries for Amelia, and Words for Some Dust) are among the loveliest verse in this thread. The complete Blackberries for Amelia is here:
Mar1-10, 12:22 AM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
My general impression of Auden's poems is they are urbane, often humorous, ironical, and don't get carried away. But then there's this wonderful outburst:

Follow poet, follow right
to the bottom of the night:
with your unconstraining voice
still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
make a vineyard of the curse.
Sing of human unsuccess
in a rapture of distress.

In the desert of the heart
let the healing fountain start:
in the prison of his days
teach the free man how to praise.

This is from memory and may have mistakes.

Why don't we change the definition of the thread and allow other rhymed verse besides stuff from 1950 and after. That excerpt was from 1939, against a gruesome political background.

Let's make the title from here on be just "Favorite rhymed metric verse" (without the "written after 1950")
Mar16-10, 10:38 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
Here's a minor Wilbur poem I like from around 2004. The ABBA rhyme pattern is made subtle so that you may not hear it right away.

Though the season's begun to speak
its long sentence of darkness,
the upswept boughs of the larch
bristle with gold for a week,

and then there is only the willow,
to make bright interjection,
its drooping branches decked
with thin leaves, curved and yellow,

till winter, loosening these,
with a first flurry and bluster,
shall scatter across the snow-crust
their dropped parentheses.
Mar16-10, 11:47 PM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
Earlier I quoted a short excerpt of a 1939 poem by Auden. On the occasion of the death of the great Irish poet William Yeats. It didn't seem typical Auden to me, if there is a typical Auden voice.
Quote Quote by marcus View Post
... often humorous, ironical, and don't get carried away. But then there's this wonderful outburst:

Follow poet, follow right
to the bottom of the night:
with your unconstraining voice
still persuade us to rejoice.

Yeats had just died, and there were bad things going on in Europe (including the Hitler-Stalin pact, purges, holocaust, it gets worse and worse.) This is from memory and may have mistakes.

Earth receive an honored guest,
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel like
emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark,
all the dogs of Europe bark.
And the living nations wait,
each sequestered in its hate.

Intellectual disgrace
stares from every human face.
And the seas of pity lie,
locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow poet follow right
to the bottom of the night.
With your unconstraining voice,
still persuade us to rejoice,

with the farming of a verse,
make a vineyard of the curse,
sing of human unsuccess,
in a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart,
let a healing fountain start,
in the prison of his days.
teach the free man how to praise.

Verse doesn't get much better than that IMHO.
Mar19-10, 01:40 AM
Sci Advisor
PF Gold
marcus's Avatar
P: 23,215
Here's a sort of conjugal love poem. A husband and wife happily occupied under a tree.
(The Wilburs live in rural Mass, the Berkshires.)


We know those tales of gods in hot pursuit,
who frightened wood-nymphs into taking root

and changing then into a branchy shape,
fair, but perplexing to the thought of rape:

but this, we say, is more how love is made--
ply and reply of limbs in fireshot shade,

where overhead we hear tossed leaves consent
to take the wind in free dishevelment

and, answering with supple blade and stem,
caress the gusts that are caressing them.
Mar20-10, 04:07 AM
P: 463
Charles Tomlinson

It falls onto my page like rain
the morning here
and the ink-marks run
to a smoke and stain, a vine-cord, hair:

this script that untangles itself
out of wind, briars, stars unseen,
keeps telling me what I mean
is theirs, not mine:

I try to become all ear
to contain their story:
it goes on arriving from everywhere:
it overflows me

and then:
a birdís veering
into sudden sun
finds me for a pen

a feather on grass,
a blade tempered newly
and oiled to a gloss
dewless among the dew:

save for a single
quicksilver dropó
one from a constellation
pearling its tip.

Register to reply

Related Discussions
A scholarly paper and a rhymed metric poem about the end of the universe and life Cosmology 5
Homebuilt quantum tunneling experiment Electrical Engineering 3
Multi-verse experiment General Physics 3
Multi - Verse is true Astronomy & Astrophysics 8