10 Poems: Recommended Reading

I think it’s safe to say that I’m in a slump. This happens to me every February (my mom calls it my “February Funk” – the fact that it has its own name tells you how regular of a thing this is) as well as after every big project is completed and I’m not sure what to work on next. This year, those two things are coinciding for a super-mega-slump-of-doom.

All this to say I couldn’t think of anything to blog about this week. Since my own words won’t do, I hope you’ll forgive me for instead directing you to some words by others that always touch my heart. Below, ten poems I’d love for you to read. (These aren’t in any type of order.)

1. “The Day is Done” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This poem absolutely must be read at night right before bed. If at all possible, have someone you love read it to you, slowly and softly. I tear up most times that my husband reads it to me; it’s just so perfect.

2. “Litany” by Billy Collins

If you love a little bit of dry humor in your poetry – as well as a healthy dose of exquisite phrasing – this one’s for you. How Billy Collins entwines the two so perfectly is beyond me.

3. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

I find that this poem of Robert Frost’s is less talked about than others, even though I think it’s one of his masterpieces. I suggest: read it once literally, and then read it again as a metaphor for suicide.

4. “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

Man, even in a heavy slump this poem touches me. Every line is packed with power; if this one can’t make you feel inspired, I dare say ye have little hope.

5. “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur

Writers, this is a must-read. If you don’t read any of the others on this list; read this one. Even if you hate poetry. I promise.

6. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

Another one that will make you cry, if you let it. This one is a villanelle, which is a form of poem heavily rhymed and repetitive, so it might not be for all modern readers, but if you can let the rhythm of it sink in, I think you’ll find it powerful.

7. “To Science” by Edgar Allan Poe

I would be remiss not to include some Poe here, but I wanted one you might not have read. This is a sonnet – and it’s not perfect – but I think it’s well worth a read. If nothing else, I think everyone should know that Poe wrote about many things besides spooks and death.

8. “Night is my Sister” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

By now… you’re probably realizing that I tend to gravitate towards dark, powerful poems. This is another one (another sonnet), and it would be difficult for me to explain how deeply this speaks to me. It feels like one I almost could have written myself in a different life.

9. “If Only We Had Taller Been” by Ray Bradbury

This poem is a beautiful example of free verse, and it’s also a nice “conversation” poem with Poe’s “To Science.” Bonus: this link comes with a video of Bradbury reading the poem. If you’re feeling impatient, you can skip to 2:20 in where he actually starts reading, or just scroll to the text below the video.

10. “A Room” by Jane Hirshfield

If this poem doesn’t convince you to read Jane Hirshfield, I don’t know what could. I love it so much I actually wrote to her and included one of my own poems that’s modeled after it. I think it speaks to what a lovely person she must be that she took the time to write back.


So there you have it: ten poems I think you’ll find well worth your time. I hope you all have a great, slump-free week.

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  • Regina Richards

    February Funk of Doom. I like that. My mom always just called it the winter blues. She got it every year from mid-January to spring. Sometimes I feel the tug of it as well, but I try to resist. I tell myself this is prime writing time since come spring sitting at a desk will have a lot less charm. Sometimes that works. Sometimes not.

    Thanks for all the poems. I love Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. It’s a favorite. I’d never read The Litany before, but I was laughing, laughing, laughing before I was halfway through. Tons here to enjoy. Thanks, Annie!

    • I try to avoid it as well, especially since my birthday is in February, but sometimes knowing that I’m *supposed* to be happy makes me feel even sadder. I guess I should just keep trying different techniques every year until one works!

      I’m so glad you’re liking the poems I picked. I was lucky enough to hear Billy Collins read “Litany” aloud, and believe it or not, he makes it even funnier. He’s a very charming guy. =)

  • Quite a range of poems! I mostly prefer free verse but “The Day is Done” is marvelous. I liked the Jane Hirshfield too, and of course “The Writer.” 😀

    Sorry to hear you’re in a slump right now. I hate the downtime after finishing a big project too, because I always feel restless and aimless instead of relieved. I hope you’re able to get through it relatively quickly this time.

    • Thanks! I was aiming for a range to try to find a little something for everyone. If you like free verse, you might check out #9 if you haven’t already. It seems like you might like that one too.

      That’s exactly it, Lura. Glad to hear at least I’m not the only one. Thanks very much.

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    Sorry for your super-mega-slump-of-doom 🙁 I can relate, I often feel down in the dumps during the gray winter months, and I too feel down after finishing a long project. Hang in there, Annie — and thank you for posting these poems. I’ve read some and look forward to reading the rest. Here’s to spring!

  • The Jane Hirshfield poem is nice, Annie. What book(s) of hers do you recommend?
    Get some sunshine and exercise. Best meds around for the FFD 🙂

    • FFD made me smile. 🙂 Sunshine and exercise coming right up!

      I love Jane Hirshfield’s book The Lives of the Heart the most so far, although I also enjoyed After.

  • Great post! I absolutely loved “If Only Taller We Had Been” and looked up the whole poem. My mom used to recite “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” so much that it feels like it’s part of me.

    • Thank you! Did you listen to Bradbury reading, too? I think he’s such a wonderful reader. I almost always like his work better when I hear him read it than when I read it on my own.

      • Yes, he’s wonderful!! I had never seen or heard him and was surprised at how sweet he seemed.

        • You hear it around that horror writers are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Can’t say I disagree. 😉

  • jclementwall

    Love “Super-mega-slump-of-doom.” I guess, on your end, it’s not worth the funk to have come up with it, but I’m grateful. For the poems too. I’ve been on a 13-month and counting poetry kick (reading a poem a day), so recommendations are welcome.

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    So sorry to hear you’re in your mega-slump-of-doom. No fun! See — if you were STILL working on WIP, like I am (keeping the tortoise’s pace with ME), your February wouldn’t be slumpy at all ;-). Thanks for the poetry rec’s!

    • Haha, you are so right! If only I weren’t finished. Lesson learned, Melissa. Lesson learned.

  • Amanda Myre

    You know, I was actually just thinking of asking you for poetry recommendations. I’ve historically been anti-poetry, but it has occurred to me recently that I may be missing out. So this is awesome!

  • I feel so out of touch with the poetry scene. Thank you for this!

  • Also . . . make sure to read my Writer Unboxed post today–especially the last paragraph!

  • Mike

    If memory serves, “Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening” was composed for and read at John F. Kennedy’s innauguration in 1961. Little did we know, then, the true impact of the poem would be. Some times it haunts. Thanks for choosing it as one of your Top Ten.

    • Mike, I never knew that. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that knowledge with me!