Poetry Summaries

Ode on a Grecian Urn (John Keats)
famous line: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” poem about some old pottery

Chicago (Carl Sandburg)
calls the title city a “Tool maker”, “Stacker of Wheat”, and “Hog Butcher for the world” it is an homage to the title city referencing its toughness

The Wasteland (TS Eliot)
begins “April is the cruelest month,” long poem divided into 5 sections roughly follows story of The Fisher King and the holy grail

The Tyger (William Blake)
Part of the author’s Songs of Experience collection it is supposed to be a counterpart to “the lamb” from Songs of Innocence. Famous lines: “What immortal hand or eye could frame they fearful symmetry?” “burning bright, in the forests of the night,”

Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
From the collection “Lyrical Ballads” Tells the story of a ship’s crew doomed by shooting an albatross with a crossbow. Famous lines “water water everywhere but not a drop to drink”

The Rape of the Lock (Alexander Pope)
mock heroic poem where a woman (Belinda) has a piece of her hair cut off without permission by a baron despite Belinda being defended by sylphs and gnomes. In the end the piece of hair becomes a star

Kubla Khan (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
poem describes the home of the title Mongol leader, supposedly composed after an opium induced dream and interrupted by some “person from Purlock” and thus never finished. key live “pleasure dome of Xanadu”

Song of Myself (Whitman)
longest poem of the collection “Leaves of Grass” it has the narrator begins “I celebrate myself” other key lines mentions a “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” and “I contradict myself”

The raven (Poe)
a man sets in memory of his lost love Lenore while constantly being pestered by the title bird who keeps saying “Nevermore”

O Captain, My Captain!
Poem about Abraham Lincoln’s death and the country in reconstruction. America is represented as a ship and Lincoln is the captain who after bringing the ship out their “fearful trip” is found dead.

Ode to Joy (Schiller)
German poem celebrating the brotherhood of mankind, best known for being set to music in Beethoven’s 9th symphony

Don Juan (Lord Byron)
Satiric poem about the legendary womanizer who in this poem is reversed to be also easily seduced by women

Mending Wall (Robert Frost)
Poem in which two neighbors meet yearly to fix their rock wall fence which splits between two properties in the countryside. The narrator sees no need for this fence since there are no cow but the other neighbor keeps to his outdated ways insisting that “Good fences make good neighbors”

Dulce de Decorum Est (Owen)
famous WWI poem describing a gas attack in the trenches. The poem refers to the “old lie” that serves as the title of the poem that it is sweet and right to die for one’s country

Richard Cory (EA Robinson)
poem describes the title person as a seemingly perfect person, who suddenly at the end of the poem “puts a bullet in his head”

The Second Coming (William butler Yeats)
post WWI poem that describes “a rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born” and a “creature with “a lion body and head of a man” other key lines: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” as it references Christ’s return to earth

Because I could not stop for death (Dickinson)
poem in which Death accompanies the Poet on a carriage ride to her grave. Key line: “He kindly stopped for me”

The Road not taken (Robert Frost)
composed as a mockery of indecision sent to his friend Edward Thomas, it describes “two roads diverging in a yellow wood” and the

Paradise Lost (Milton)
epic poem that tells the story of a fallen angel (Lucifer/Satan) who leads a rebellion against god, then sets about to tempt Adam and Eve. Key lines: “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven” the poet apparently wrote the work to justify the ways of god to man

The Charge of the Light Brigade (Lord Tennyson)
set during the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War 600 calvarymen ride into the valley of death. A later work by Rudyard Kipling references this poem and the struggle in old age of Crimean War Veterans

The Cantos (Ezra Pound)
long incomplete book of poems divided into 120 sections. Controversial as the author was known to support Fascist Ital. The most famous section is the “Pisan” section written during the Author’s imprisonment in American Occupied Italy. Uses Chinese characters in one tribute to Confucianism and the work famously criticizes usury

Howl (Allen Ginsberg)
1950s beat generation poem that was the subject of an obscenity trial. It begins “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” it is dedicated to poet and mental patient Carl Solomon with the line “I’m with you in Rockland”

To His Coy Mistress (Andrew Marvell)
sonnet about a man’s desire to sleep with a reluctant woman. He talks how he could spend centuries admiring her but unfortunately their time on earth is short. begins “had we but World enough, and time”

Ozymandias (Percy Shelley)
written in competition with poet Horace Smith (who wrote a poem of the same name) the poem is inspired by a sculpture of Ramses II. Key line: “look upon my works, ye mighty and despair”

The Song of Hiawatha (Longfellow)
epic poem about the title native American and his love for Minnehaha

Lyrical Ballads (Wordsworth and Coleridge)
collection of poems containing “lines written above tintern abbey” and the “Rime of the ancient Mariner”

Ode to a Nightingale (John Keats)
ode written to “an immortal bird” key lines: “was it a vision or a waking dream”?

Evangeline (longfellow)
The poem follows the title Acadian girl and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.

My Last Duchess (Robert Browning)
poem focuses on the deceased wife of the Duke of Ferrara and the painting of her done by the fictional Fra Pandolf

Metamophoses (Ovid)
early roman poetry collection that focuses on a theme of transformation

The Song of Roland
French epic poem about the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and the nephew of Charlemagne, Oldest surviving French literature

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