Core Learning Poems

1 to 20 of 75 Poems
  • By Nikky Finney
    Poem Guide

    Nikky Finney’s “The Afterbirth, 1931” appears in Rice, a beautifully designed book filled with daring poems of painful eloquence. Rice was Finney’s second book, arriving 10 years after her 1985 debut, On Wings Made of Gauze. As part of the...

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  • By Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea
    Poem Guide

    E-mail, texting, IM: thanks to the Internet, we compose messages to each other as spontaneously as our parents picked up the telephone. Among the literate classes of Europe, poetry used to be a kind of social media too. Poetry back...

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  • By Philip Larkin
    Poem Guide

    The last line of “An Arundel Tomb” is among the most quoted in all of Larkin: “What will survive of us is love.” Its popularity can seem ironic. Larkin is mainly known for the dry eloquence of his gloom, and...

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  • By Sir Philip Sidney
    Poem Guide

    Sir Philip Sidney is a key figure of the Elizabethan era, the fountainhead of the modern poetic tradition. He was born in 1554 in Kent, England, around the same time that the first sonnets in English (by Sir Thomas Wyatt)...

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  • By W. S. Merwin
    Poem Guide

    What can one poet teach another, in person, that cannot be learned just by studying the poems? How can a poem on a page embody that live, one-time-only connection? If you don’t have to meet the poet—if all that matters...

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  • By Juan Felipe Herrera
    Poem Guide

    “Blood on the Wheel,” Juan Felipe Herrera’s effusive, energetic catalog of violent extremes, may sound almost improvised; the poem passionately leaps from scene to scene, phrase to phrase, reacting against the pervasive injustice that Herrera notices and envisions in the...

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  • By Lucille Clifton
    Poem Guide

    What happens when an individual comes face to face with her “creator”?

    This scene plays out in science fiction all the time: heroes journey to the ultimate inner sanctum in their quest for the “truth” and find nothing...

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  • By Josephine Miles
    Poem Guide

    What stuck me about “Cage” when I first saw it among the previously uncollected work in Josephine Miles’ Collected Poems 1930-83 was its lyricism. Although Miles wrote lyric poetry all her life, she is generally recognized as a poet more...

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  • By Seamus Heaney
    Poem Guide

    Seamus Heaney is likely the best-selling English-language poet alive. Famous, at this point, for being famous (he received the Nobel Prize in 1995), Heaney began earning acclaim with his first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966). Critical interest and popular...

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  • By James Tate
    Poem Guide

    At least since Freud, jokes have been regarded as shortcuts to the unconscious. They reveal the sunny parts of even our darkest and most worrisome fears and desires. If “told” jokes are expressly linguistic revelations, “practical” jokes—performances that are funny...

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  • By W. S. Graham
    Poem Guide

    Asked to list the key figures of 20th-century British poetry, even the most widely read of us might forget to include W.S. Graham. A Scottish poet who lived in Cornwall, England for over 40 years, Graham enjoyed a paradoxical relationship...

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  • By Donald Revell
    Poem Guide

    Donald Revell has mastered a poetic genre few poets even attempt: the happy poem. That’s not to say that his poetry doesn’t grapple with darkness—it does, and deeply. This poem is called “Death,” after all, and Revell tries as hard...

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  • By Linda Pastan
    Poem Guide

    Growing up on the grounds of a mental institution in rural western New York (my mother was a psychiatrist there), I did what any insouciant preteen with a penchant for reading would do when told she could not go trick-or-treating...

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  • By William Butler Yeats
    Poem Guide

    One of the most powerful political poems of the 20th century was written by a man who was ambivalent about politics. William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) began his career under the spell of the late Victorian era. Art in that time...

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  • By Wallace Stevens
    Poem Guide

    To tease out the meaning of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” one of the most famously elliptical poems of the 20th century, maybe we should start by looking into the meaning of ice cream itself.

    It turns out that its implications...

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  • By Alexander Pope
    Poem Guide


    Illustration by Marianne Goldin.

    The English poet Alexander Pope (like his favorite Latin poet, Horace) wrote many epistles, verse-letters meant at once for particular friends and for his reading public. One of his best—“Epistles to Several Persons: Epistle...

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  • By Yusef Komunyakaa
    Poem Guide

    Maya Lin was about as far removed from the Vietnam War as anyone could be, and at just 21, seemed an unlikely candidate to design a prominent national memorial. Lin—a senior undergraduate architecture student at Yale—had studied Scandinavian cemetery design...

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  • By Sylvia Plath
    Poem Guide

    Sylvia Plath begins her poem “Fever 103” with a one-word question: “Pure?” as if from the middle of an unheard conversation. She asks impatiently, “What does it mean?” and then plunges in, conjuring up the heat of a high fever:
    The...

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  • By Gary Snyder
    Poem Guide

    Gary Snyder was one of the first contemporary poets I read seriously, and he helped shape my conception of what a poet ought to be. He seemed to occupy many worlds: an environmentalist long before “environment” was a household word,...

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  • By Robert Browning
    Poem Guide

    It’s past midnight in Florence’s red-light district in the mid-15th century, and a man dressed as a monk has just been strong-armed by the police and questioned about his presence in such a place. Wait, he says, I can explain...

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