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It's World Poetry Day! Here are 12 poems every human should know by heart

Happy World Poetry Day, everyone! Today is officially dedicated to honoring those poems that changed the way we think through a series of perfectly placed words. So we’re giving you twelve poems you might want to commit to memory. For fun, and for your soul, of course. Memorizing a poem is a particularly rewarding challenge—it helps you get inside the words, their arrangement and their rhythm. And some poems were just meant to be absorbed by your brain. It feels good. And if memorizing sounds a little daunting, you can always keep these poems in your notebook for later:

“After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” 

by Galway Kinnell


For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

Via The Poetry Foundation

“This Is Just To Say”

by William Carlos Williams


I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Via Poets.org

“Those Winter Sundays”

by Robert Hayden


Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fire blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Via The Penguin Anthology of the 20th Century American Poetry

“We Real Cool”

by Gwendolyn Brooks


THE POOL PLAYERS
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool, We
Left school We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Via The Penguin Anthology of the 20th Century American Poetry

“Taking Off My Clothes”

by Carolyn Forche


I take off my shirt, I show you.
I shaved the hair out under my arms.

I roll up my pants, I scraped off the hair
on my legs with a knife, getting white.

My hair is the color of chopped maples.
My eyes dark as beans cooked in the south.
(Coal fields in the moon on torn-up hills)

Skin polished as a Ming bowl
showing its blood cracks, its age, I have hundreds
of names for the snow, for this, all of them quiet.

In the night I come to you and it seems a shame
to waste my deepest shudders on a wall of a man.

You recognize strangers,
think you lived through destruction.
You can’t explain this night, my face, your memory.

You want to know what I know?
Your own hands are lying.

Via The Penguin Anthology of the 20th Century American Poetry

“Jilted”

by Sylvia Plath


My thoughts are crabbed and sallow,
My tears like vinegar,
Or the bitter blinking yellow
Of an acetic star.

Tonight the caustic wind, love,
Gossips late and soon,
And I wear the wry-faced pucker of
The sour lemon moon.

While like an early summer plum,
Puny, green, and tart,
Droops upon its wizened stem
My lean, unripened heart.

Via Hello Poetry

“After they fell and after we found them”

by Anis Mojgani


We cut them open like melons
ate em with our hands
juice running down our chins
wiped our fingers on our legs
when we was called for dinner
we all came in to set the table
and faces still sticky
kissed mama on her cheek

Via Over the Anvil we Stretch

“Daughter”

by Nicole Blackman


One day I’ll give birth to a tiny baby girl
and when she’s born she’ll scream
and I’ll tell her to never stop.

I will kiss her before I lay her down at night
and will tell her a story so she knows
how it is and how it must be for her to survive.

I’ll tell her to set things on fire
and keep them burning.
I’ll teach her that fire will not consume her,
that she must use it.

I’ll tell her that people must earn the right
to use her nickname,
that forced intimacy is an ugly thing.

I’ll help her to see that she will not find God
or salvation in a dark brick building
built by dead men.

I’ll make sure she always carries an pen
so she can take down the evidence.
if she has no paper, I’ll teach her to
write everything down with her tongue,
write it on her highs.

I’ll make her keep reinventing herself and run fast.
I’ll teach her to write her manifestos
on cocktail napkins.
I’ll say she should make men lick her ambition.
I’ll make her understand that she is worth more
with her clothes on.
I’ll teach her to talk hard.

I’ll tell her that when the words come too fast
and she has no use for a pen
that she must quit her job
run out of the house in her bathrobe,
leave the door open.
I’ll teach her to follow the words.

They will try to make her stay,
comfort her, let her sleep, bathe her in a television blue glow.
I will cut her hair, tell her to light the house on fire,
kill the kittens
when nothing is there
nothing will keep her
and she is not to be kept.

I’ll say that everything she has done seen spoken
has brought her to the here this now.
This is no time for tenderness,
no time to stand, waiting for them to find her.
There are nations within her skin.
Queendoms come without keys you can carry.

I’ll teach her that she has an army inside her
that can save her life.
I’ll teach her to be whole, to be holy.
I’ll teach her how to live,
to be so much that she doesn’t even
need me anymore.
I’ll tell her to go quickly and never come back.
Things get broken fast here.

I will make her stronger than I ever was.

Turned at twenty
she’ll break into bits of star
and throw herself against the sky.
(1999 is an excellent year
to disappear)

I will not let them destroy her life
the way they destroyed mine.

I’ll tell her to never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.

Never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.

Never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.

Via Blood Sugar

“Buffalo Bill’s”

by E.E. Cummings


Buffalo Bill’s
defunct

who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver

stallion
and break onetwothreefourgive pigeonsjustlikethat
Jesus
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is

how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

Via The Penguin Anthology of the 20th Century American Poetry

“Teach Us to Number Our Days”

by Rita Dove


In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.

Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon
crossed by TV antennae, dreams

he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling
around the sockets and locking them shut.

And this sky, knotting like a dark tie?
The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.
August. The mums nod past, each a prickly heart on a sleeve.

Via The Poetry Foundation

“All Your Horses”

by Kay Ryan


Say when rain
cannot make
you more wet
or a certain
thought can’t
deepen and yet
you think it again:
you have lost
count. A larger
amount is
no longer a
larger amount.
There has been
a collapse; perhaps
in the night.
Like a rupture
in water (which
can’t rupture
of course). All
your horses
broken out with
all your horses.

Via The Poetry Foundation

“Introduction to Poetry”

by Billy Collins


I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Via The Poetry Foundation

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