April is National Poetry Month in the United States, so I was already planning to do this Top 10 list. Now I’m hoping that if you’re stuck at home, you might be able to enjoy a collection of short or relatively short works to give you some variety. Whether or not you’ve read these all before, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them or some of your own favorite poems in the comments section below.
Because I couldn’t totally whittle down my own list, I’m adding my top 10 favorite Civil War poems since there were a lot in that category.
Top 10 Poems
- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe – If you couldn’t tell by now, I love structured poems with a good rhythm and rhyme scheme. Poe is a master of this, and he never choose lazy rhymes. He combines clever word choice with evocative imagery in a moody, atmospheric poem that’s usually read at Halloween but is good at any time of the year.
- “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost – He has a lot of good poems including “Acquainted with the Night”, “Fire and Ice”, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, and “The Road Not Taken”. This particular poem has an almost dreamlike way of describing a winter journey with simple but powerful descriptions.
- “No Man is an Island” by John Donne – John Donne, a reluctant cleric and a well-known example of metaphysical poets, wrote this short poem to discourage isolationism. It’s equally true of people and countries that “no man is an island” and any and every person has value to the whole of mankind. It’s an important lesson that’s well worth remembering.
- “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll – This poem, first included in Carroll’s novel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, is filled with nonsense words but is nevertheless very comprehensible. It tells the story of a young man on an epic journey to defeat a creature called the Jabberwock, but it’s told in whimsical Lewis Carroll fashion.
- “Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare – The author describes a woman he loves who is not someone that could be seen as a traditional beauty and how he doesn’t see physical appearance as diminishing his love. Plus, Shakespeare’s sonnets are always technically very well done and a great example of the art.
- “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron – With that being said, authors describing the beauty of a loved one is also a time-honored subject for poetry, and this is one of the better examples.
- “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge – This is the longest poem on the list. It’s there to tell a story, but it’s still borderline short enough that it can be read as poetry.
- “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson – It’s hard to meet Death with peace and dignity, and that’s the subject that Emily Dickinson addresses here.
- “The Explorer” by Rudyard Kipling – This one reminds me of my sister, who’s a fan of both off-the-beaten-track travel and of Rudyard Kipling.
- “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley – Nothing manmade lasts. Lots of poets have tackled this topic, including this sonnet, which describes the ruined remains of a pharaoh’s hubris. It’s beautiful and haunting and a fair warning to anyone who might put too much weight on their own works or legacy.
Top 10 Civil War Poems
- “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman
- “Bivouac of the Dead” by Theodore O’Hara
- “Brown of Ossawatomie” by John Greenleaf Whittier
- “Little Giffen” by Francis Orrery Ticknor
- “The Blue and the Gray” by Francis Miles Finch
- “Cavalry Charge” by Benjamin F. Taylor (Sorry, but I couldn’t find a link for this one.)
- “Driving Home the Cows” by Kate Putnam Osgood
- “Dirge for a Soldier” by George Henry Boker
- “A Cry to Arms” by Henry Timrod
- “Cavalry Crossing a Ford” by Walt Whitman
Because of everything that’s going on, medicine is the subject on most peoples’ minds, including mine, so that’ll be the theme of my next post. It’ll be another Top 10 list, but this one will be of medical or medical-adjacent books.