Tag Archives: Poetry

Reading in the Rearview Mirror: Best Books of the 1980s and 1990s

Why is it that sometimes we love the old and other times we love the new?  When it comes to the arts, my sense is that many people appreciate old paintings, sculpture and architecture, even to the exclusion of modern examples, but when it comes to movies, books and music, they only like what’s new.  (In the case of music, I find many people get stuck listening to the music they liked in their teens and 20s for the rest of their lives, as if music that happened before they were born or after they turned 30 holds no possible interest.)

I find these attitudes perplexing, but I am not going to try to argue folks out of their particular tastes when it comes to art.  I will say that my life has been enriched immeasurably by opening myself up to works of art from all time periods.  (It is no coincidence that most of the meta-lists on the Make Lists, Not War website include the phrase “of all time” in the title.) This includes paintings, sculptures, mixed media and architecture, on the one hand, but also music, literature, photography and film.  Watching Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante or Carl Theodor Dryer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is just as thrilling to me as watching the latest art film playing at the local theater.  Reading literature from Ancient Greece and Rome, or from the Middle Ages, or even the mid-20th Century has provided me with artistic experiences that are equal to and in some cases better than from reading current books. Similarly, with music, I find recordings from the 1920s, 1930s and later to be as fulfilling to listen to as the latest albums from contemporary musicians, and music composed in the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods does not disappoint merely because it is hundreds of years old.

I’ve been doing “best of the year” lists since 2000, but there is no reason to stop there. Although getting information for specific years prior to 2000 is difficult, there are plenty of “best of the decade” lists available.  With these thoughts in mind, I decided to go back just a little bit and find lists of the best literature of the 1980s and 1990s.  These lists are interesting because in addition to literary fiction and important works of nonfiction, there is quite a bit of genre fiction on the lists: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, young adult, children’s literature. In the past, the experts, academics and critics haven’t always been kind to genre fiction, but it seems to be getting more respect in recent years.  In the future, I plan to collect lists from even earlier decades. 

Here are the new lists:

Best Books of the 1980s
Best Books of the 1990s

Poetry in Motion: Introducing the Revised Poetry Meta-Lists

I have completely revised my poetry meta-lists.  The most significant difference is that the ranked list contains links to the texts of nearly every poem, from the haikus of Bashō, Issa and Buson, to the epic poems of Homer, Dante, John Milton, and Ferdowsi.  As you will see from the introductions to the revised lists, I tried very hard to include poets and poems from all over the world in order to counteract the persistent bias in favor of poems originally written in English.  While I recognize that translating poetry is enormously challenging and that there may be dozens, even hundreds of legitimate translations for some non-English language poems, I am not willing to accept the notion that poetry is immune to translation.  On the other hand, I recognize that in some ways, a poem’s translator becomes a collaborator of sorts, and that some translations are more ‘poetic’ than others.  For an example, take a look at this website showing over 30 different translations of Matsuo Bashō’s most famous haiku (my favorite is by Alan Watts).  Most of the links to translated poems include the name of the translator.  In spite of my diligent efforts to be inclusive, the majority of the poems on the lists were originally written in English.

The revised poetry lists are:

The Best Poetry of All Time – A List with Links
The Best Poets and their Best Poems
The Best Poems of All Time – Chronological

In the process of developing the revised poetry lists, I created a meta-list of the Best Poets of All Time.  As with the poetry lists, I used some affirmative action techniques to overcome the overwhelming bias towards English-speaking poets (except for the list on one website, which appeared to have been commandeered by Germanophiles).  Here are the results, ranked, of the poets on three or more of the “Best Poets” lists I found:

On 16 “Best Poets” Lists
Emily Dickinson
(US, 1830-1886)

On 15 Lists
William Shakespeare
(UK, 1564-1616)

13 Lists
Dante Alighieri
(Italy, 1265-1321)
Walt Whitman (US, 1819-1892)
W.B. Yeats (Ireland, 1865-1939)

12
William Blake
(UK, 1757-1827)
Robert Frost (US, 1874-1963)

11
John Keats
(UK, 1795-1821)

10
William Wordsworth (UK, 1770-1850)
Percy Bysshe Shelley (UK, 1792-1822)
Edgar Allan Poe (US, 1809-1849)
Rainer Maria Rilke
(Czech Republic, 1875-1926)
T.S. Eliot (US/UK, 1888-1965)

9
Homer (Ancient Greece, c. 800-700 BCE)
John Donne (UK, 1572-1631)
John Milton (UK, 1608-1674)
Robert Burns (UK: Scotland, 1759-1796)
Pablo Neruda (Chile, 1904-1973)
Sylvia Plath (US, 1932-1963)

8
Geoffrey Chaucer (UK, c. 1343-1400)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Germany, 1749-1832)
Robert Browning (UK, 1812-1889)
Wallace Stevens (US, 1879-1955)
Langston Hughes (US, 1902-1967)

7
Virgil (Ancient Rome, 70-19 BCE)
Li Bai (Li Po) (China, 705-762 CE)
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (Persia/Iran, 1207-1273)
George Gordon, Lord Byron (UK, 1788-1824)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (UK, 1809-1892)
Charles Baudelaire (France, 1821-1867)
E.E. Cummings (US, 1894-1962)

6
Du Fu (Tu Fu) (China, 712-770)
Petrarch (Italy, 1304-1374)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (UK, 1806-1861)
Thomas Hardy (UK, 1840-1928)
Ezra Pound (US, 1885-1972)
W.H. Auden (UK/US, 1907-1973)
Dylan Thomas (UK: Wales, 1914-1953)

5
Sappho (Ancient Greece, c.630-c.570 BCE)
Ovid (Ancient Rome, 43 BCE – 18 CE)
Alexander Pope (UK, 1688-1744)
Alexander Pushkin (Russia, 1799-1837)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (US, 1807-1882)
Arthur Rimbaud
(France, 1854-1891)
Rudyard Kipling (UK, 1865-1936)
William Carlos Williams (US, 1883-1963)
Elizabeth Bishop (US, 1911-1979)

4
Ferdowsi (Persia/Iran, 940-1020)
Omar Khayyam (Persia/Iran, 1048-1131)
Matsuo Bashō (Japan, 1644-1694)
Friedrich Schiller (Germany, 1759-1805)
Friedrich Hölderlin (Germany, 1770-1843)
Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg) (Germany, 1772-1801)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (UK, 1772-1834)
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (Poland/Germany, 1788-1857)
Victor Hugo (France, 1802-1885)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (US, 1803-1882)
Oscar Wilde (Ireland, 1854-1900)
Rabindranath Tagore (India, 1861-1941)
Carl Sandburg (US, 1878-1967)
Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1899-1986)
Allen Ginsberg (US, 1926-1997)
Maya Angelou (US, 1928-2014)

3
Horace (Ancient Rome, 65-8 BCE)
Wang Wei (China, 699-759 CE)
Hafez (Persia/Iran, 1325-1390)
Sir Thomas Wyatt (UK, 1503-1542)
Luís Vaz de Camões (Portugal, 1524-1580)
Sir Walter Raleigh (UK, 1552-1618)
George Herbert (UK: Wales, 1593-1633)
Heinrich Heine (Germany, 1797-1856)
Giacomo Leopardi (Italy, 1798-1837)
Henrik Ibsen (Norway, 1828-1906)
Lewis Carroll (UK, 1832-1898)
Mark Twain
(US, 1835-1910)
Robert Louis Stevenson (UK: Scotland, 1850-1894)
A.E. Housman (UK, 1859-1936)
Fernando Pessoa (Portugal, 1888-1935)
Anna Akhmatova (Russia, 1889-1966)
Marina Tsvetaeva (Russia, 1892-1941)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (US, 1892-1950)
Wilfred Owen (UK, 1893-1918)
Ogden Nash (US, 1902-1971)
Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1914-1998)
Philip Larkin (UK, 1922-1985)
Ted Hughes (UK, 1930-1998)
Shel Silverstein (US, 1930-1999)
Seamus Heaney (Ireland, 1939-2013)
Billy Collins (US, 1941- )

Not Averse to Verse – The Best Poetry Ever

I’ve compiled a new list – The Best Poetry of All Time – The Critics’ Picks.  It includes the best poems by dozens (hundreds?  I didn’t count) of poets, both named and anonymous.  I organized it by poet, chronologically by date of birth.  Because that seemed like the thing to do.

To give you a sampling of what’s in store when you peruse the list, I’ve created two mini-lists from it: Best Epic Poems and Best Lyric Poems.  The numbers in bold indicate how many of the original lists the poem was on.

BEST EPIC POEMS
Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000-1200 BCE) – Anonymous
The Iliad (c. 750-650 BCE) – Homer
The Odyssey (c. 750-650 BCE) – Homer
The Aeneid (29-19 BCE) – Virgil
Ramayana  (c. 500 BCE – 100 CE) – Valmiki (attrib.)
Mahabarata (c. 800 BCE – 300 CE) – Vyasa (attrib.)
The Book of Kings (Shanameh) (1010) – Ferdowsi
Beowulf (c. 700-1025) – Anonymous
The Divine Comedy  (1265-1321) – Dante Alighieri
The Canterbury Tales (1343-1400) – Geoffrey Chaucer
Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton

BEST LYRIC POEMS

10
The Tyger (1794) – William Blake

9
My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose (1794)Robert Burns
A Noiseless Patient Spider (1882) – Walt Whitman
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (1951) – Dylan Thomas

8
A Poison Tree (1794) – William Blake
Ozymandias (1818) – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Canti (1835) – Giacomo Leopardi
O Captain! My Captain! (1865) – Walt Whitman
Dover Beach (1867) – Matthew Arnold
Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923) – Robert Frost

7
Holy Sonnet 10: “Death Be Not Proud” (1609) – John Donne
Jerusalem (1804-1810) – William Blake
The Raven (1845) – Edgar Allan Poe
When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer (1867) – Walt Whitman
I Hear America Singing
(1867) – Walt Whitman
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers (c. 1850-1886) – Emily Dickinson
The Road Not Taken (1916) – Robert Frost
The Waste Land (1922) – T.S. Eliot

6
Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud) (1807) – William Wordsworth
How Do I Love Thee? (1845) – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Jabberwocky (1871) – Lewis Carroll
The Listeners (1912) – Walter de la Mare
When You Are Old (1892) – William Butler Yeats
The Darkling Thrush (1901) – Thomas Hardy
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) – T.S. Eliot
Dulce et Decorum Est  (1917) – Wilfred Owen

5
Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 30 “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 65 “Since neither brass nor stone”  (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 73 “That Time of year thou mayst in me behold” (1609) – William Shakespeare
To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785) – Robert Burns
The Garden Of Love (1794) – William Blake
The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (1798) –  Samuel Taylor Coleridge
She Walks In Beauty (1814) – Lord Byron
Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) – John Keats
Ode on Melancholy (1819) – John Keats
Ode to a Nightingale (1819) – John Keats
Two in the Campagna (1855) – Robert Browning
Remember (1862) – Christina Rossetti
Because I could not stop for death (c. 1850-1886) – Emily Dickinson
Anthem For Doomed Youth (1917) – Wilfred Owen
The Bridge (1930) – Hart Crane
Lullaby (1940) – W.H. Auden
Death Fugue (1948) – Paul Celan
We Real Cool (1959) – Gwendolyn Brooks
Those Winter Sundays (1962) – Robert Hayden
Daddy (1962) – Sylvia Plath
The Cantos (1917-1969) – Ezra Pound

Since this original post, I have arranged the poetry list in chronological order: Best Poems of All Time – Chronological.