Is There a Poem that Constantly Runs Through Your Head?

April is National Poetry Month.

I don’t read much poetry these days; usually, when I do, it’s because a book that I’m reading includes a quote from a poem, and that makes me interested enough to look it up.

I found one of my favorite poems that way. I was reading Marjorie Williams’s wonderful collection of essays, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, and that led me to read Randall Jarrell’s brilliant, haunting poem of that name. Read it here.

When I was researching my book Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I came across the fact that at Jackie Kennedy’s funeral, Constantine Cavafy’s Ithaka was read at her funeral. Beautiful.

Or a poem is called to my attention in another way. The other day, I was walking with a friend, and she pulled up a poem on her phone and said, “Reading this has been a huge epiphany for me.” I see why! That last line! Read Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

I’m obsessed with the subject of color right now, and it’s clear that the patron poet of color is Wallace Stevens –“The Man with the Blue Guitar,” to take just one example. (In my obsession, I’m truly hunting down any color-related material I can find.)

In middle school, I had to memorize a lot of poems, and I can still recite them.  Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” I will recite them in my head if I’m feeling anxious in a dentist’s chair.

Do you read poetry, or do you have a poem that sticks in your mind for some reason?

You know what I was, you see what I am: change me, change me!


  • Mimi Gregor

    I just can’t get into poetry. A couple posts ago, when you mentioned about “skipping over the boring parts.” Whenever a poem is fronting a chapter in a book, I skip over it. I love quotes — in prose. But set it to iambic pentameter, and it sets my teeth on edge. And, yes, when I was a teenager, I used to write poems like every other teenage girl. Now, I find myself thinking, “Oh, just cut to the chase, willya.”

  • statmam

    “Nature’s first green is gold. Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower, but only so an hour…” Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay

  • Margaret

    I can also recite those three poems (more or less)! Classics.

  • Amy Christensen

    It’s not a poem…but I turned Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny into one. I really couldn’t tell you why it was so meaningful to me. My son doesn’t really remember it, but I love it.

  • Jill Douthett

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldgengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you will weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow’s springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    – Gerald Manley Hopkins

  • Aleisha

    When You Are Old
    by William Butler Yeats

    When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

    How many loved your moments of glad grace,

    And loved your beauty with love false or true,

    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

    And bending down beside the glowing bars,

    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

    I had to memorize this in 9th grade when I hated poetry, but it stuck with me because I love the sound of it. I understand it more and more with each passing year though and think it was a genius assignment from my teacher.

  • Bookworm9798

    I think of this line from Robert’s Frost’s poem every spring as I watch the leaves burst from the trees: “Nature’s first green is gold. Her hardest hue to hold.” Nothing Gold Can Stay

    I’ve also always loved the short poem Fog by Carl Sandburg: