The leaves will soon start turning color, the sun is setting sooner, the nights are cooler. The days may still be in the 80s, but school has started and it’s really starting to feel like fall is around the corner. What better way to celebrate getting back to the books than with a classic poem? I hope you’ll join us in reading any classic poem or just in posting about any kind of poetry
“Classic” is such a subjective term and I hope you’ll play around with the meaning, but for the purposes of this recommendations post, I’m going to take “classic” to mean anything published more than 50 years ago. Feel free to twist and turn what classic means to you, just like Snowball did for the Pulitzer Prize theme last month. One good thing about adhering to the “more than 50 years ago” rule is that a lot of the poetry can be found in the public domain.
I got a little excited when I was writing up this post and I found it almost impossible to narrow down. It was hard not to jump up and down and squee about ALL THE POETS. There are hundreds of years of poetry for you to explore, so use this list as a jumping off point, or ignore it entirely. Unfortunately, my list ended up being very focused on the Western canon. If you have other suggestions, please list them in the comments or write your own post!
Let’s Go Waaaaaay Back
Sappho (~615BCE-~550BCE) – We don’t really know much about Sappho, other than the fact that she was born on the island Lesbos in Ancient Greece and much of her poetry has been lost; she was a teacher and poet and was famous, as her bust can be found on statues and her likeness on coins from Ancient Greece. You can read Sappho’s poetry here. (Source: poets.org)
Homer (8th century BCE) - If you want to get really ambitious, why not read the Illiad or The Odyssey? You would be a hero among Poetry Project participants. Bonus! They’re available online: here (Illiad) and here (The Odyssey).
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne!
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400)- Just because a class on Chaucer is what caused me to give up MY English major, please don’t be scared! I’m just kidding – I just happened to be enrolled in a very difficult Chaucer class when I became a Spanish major instead, but I’m disappointed I missed out on reading his work in depth. Also, I just found the coolest website ever. You can read The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English, Modern English or side-by-side. So cool!
William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) - We’re celebrating Shakespeare over an entire month in July 2013, but that’s forever away. Get a head start by reading some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Read them here.
John Donne (1572 – 31 March 1631) – Reading John Donne in high school is one of my favorite reading experiences. I connected with Donne’s poetry in a way that I didn’t really think was possible of a poet so old. His poetry is accessible, but so nuanced. You could spend a lifetime reading Donne, or enjoy his poems on one read. Check out John Donne’s Poetry Foundation page to read a collection of his poems.
Skipping A Whole Bunch of Years to the 19th and 20th Century!
WB Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) -I’ve always been interested in the poetry of Yeats, but I’ve never spent quality time with him. When I was putting together my list of poetry to read for Jillian’s Classics Club, I knew that he would be high on the list. The Poetry Foundation has a collection of 58 poems by Yeats.
Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) – Reading Walt Whitman is like reading nothing else. If you haven’t read him yet, I highly recommend it. Walt Whitman’s Poetry Foundation page.
Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) – With the possible discovery of a new photograph of Emily Dickinson, this poet has been in the news a lot the past few days. Emily Dickinson is, in my opinion, a must-read. Here are her Complete Poems.
I lost a little bit of steam there at the end, because it was really hard to think of who to include. There are hundreds more that could have gone on this list, but these are the poets I am most familiar with and the ones that I think you might get the most out of reading. Of course, this list is entirely subjective. I encourage you to create your own list. Take this month to read one “classic” poet or read a smattering of poems from various poets. I look forward to reading your posts!
Unless otherwise noted, my source for dates is Wikipedia.