I want to start out my blog by sharing with you my three favorite poems. However, I should also include that these are the only three poems I have ever really enjoyed reading. I am going to just put them right on here, and hopefully the only living author of one of them will not get upset and sue my pants off because he is my hero and that would break my soul. That being said, here are my favorite poems.
#1 Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came – by Robert Browning
This poem was written in 1855 by English author Robert Browning, who claimed the poem came him fully formed in a dream. The last line and the title of the poem also appear in William Shakespeare’s play King Lear. Stephen King (my favorite author and my hero) was inspired by this poem to write his epic series The Dark Tower in which the main character Roland Deschain, last remaining gunslinger from Gilead, completes his quest to find the Dark Tower, the apex of all existence. Without having read this series and seen the poem referenced in the author’s notes, I likely would have never known this poem. So thank you Stephen King, for not only being brilliant yourself, but also opening your readers up to think they had not before known about.
My first thought was he lied in every word
That hoary cripple with malevolent eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.
What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travelers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guessed what skull like laugh
Would break, what crutch ‘gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare.
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescently
I did turn as he pointed, neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.
For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out through years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
As when a sick man very near death
Seems sick indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, (‘since all is o’er’ he saith
‘And the blow fallen no grieving can amend;’)
When some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.
Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among “The Band” to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search addressed
Their steps-that just to fall as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now-should I be fit?
So, quiet as despair I turned from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path he pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its astray.
For mark! No sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace of two,
Than, pausing to throw backwards a last view
O’er the safe road, ’twas gone; grey plain all around:
Nothing but plain to the horizon’s bound.
I might go on, naught else remained to do.
So on I went, I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers-as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind with none to awe,
You’d think; a burr had been a treasure trove.
Np! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land’s portion. ‘See
Or shut your eyes,’ said Nature peevishly,
‘It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
‘Tis the Last Judgement’s fire must cure this place
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.’
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped, the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to balk
All hope of greenness? ’tis a brute must walk
Dashing their life out with a brute’s intents.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy: thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil’s stud!
Alive? he might be dead for all I know,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart,
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards, the soldier’s art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.
Not it! I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm to mine to fix me to the place,
The way he used. Alas, one night’s disgrace!
Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.
Giles then, the soul of honor-there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first,
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good-but the scene shifts-faught! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!
Better this present than a past like that:
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet or a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.
A sudden little river crossed my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
For the fiend’s glowing hoof-to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.
So pretty yet so spiteful! All along,
Low scrubby alders knelled down over it;
Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of mute despair; a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
What-e’er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit.
Which, while I forded-good saints, how I feared
To set my foot upon a dead man’s cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his head or beard!
-It may have been a water-rat I speared,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby’s shriek.
Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the stragglers, what war did they wage,
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage-
The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque,
What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
No footprint leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.
And more than that-a furlong on- why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel-that harrow fit to reel
Men’s bodies out like silk? With all the air
Of Tophet’s tool, on earth left unaware
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.
Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood-
Bog, clay and rubble, sand, and stark black dearth.
Now blotches rankling, colored gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil’s
Broke into moss, or substances like boils;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
And just as far as ever from the end!
Naught in the distance but the evening, naught
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon’s bosom friend,
Sailed past, not best his wide wing dragon-penned
That brushed my cap-perchance the guide I sought.
For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
‘Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains-with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surprised me-solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.
Yet half I seemed to recognize some trick
Of mischief happened to me, God know’s when-
In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts-you’re inside the den.
Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
While to the left a tall scalped mountain…Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight!
What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool’s heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
In the whole world. The tempest’s mocking elf
Points to the shipmen thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.
Not see? because of night perhaps?-why day
Came back again for that! before it left
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,-
‘Now stab and end the creature-to the heft!’
Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names on my ears
Of all the lost adventurers, my peers-
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew: ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.
#2 Paranoid: A Chant – by Stephen King
This was published in the short story collection Skeleton Crew in 1985. It is a narrative poem about a somewhat disturbed person. Love this one!
I can’t go out no more
There’s a man by the door
in a raincoat
smoking a cigarette.
I’ve put him in my diary
and the mailers are all lined up
on the bed, bloody in the glow
of the bar sign next door.
He knows that if I die
(or even drop out of sight)
the diary goes and everyone knows
the CIA’s in Virginia.
500 mailers bought from
500 drug counters each one different
and 500 notebooks
with 500 pages in every one.
I am prepared.
I can see him from up here.
His cigarette winks from just
above his trench-coat collar
and somewhere there’s a man on a subway
sitting under a Black Velvet ad thinking my name.
Men have discussed me in back rooms.
If the phone rings there’s only dead breath.
In the bar across the street a snub-nose
revolver has changed hands in the men’s room.
Each bullet has my name on it.
My name is written in back files
and looked up in newspaper morgues.
My mother’s been investigated:
thank God she’s dead.
They have writing samples
and examine the back loops of pees
and the crosses of tees.
My brother’s with them, did I tell you?
His wife is Russian and he
keeps asking me to fill out forms.
I have it in my diary.
you must listen.
In the rain, at the bus stop,
black crows with black umbrellas
pretend to look at their watches, but
it’s not raining. There eyes are silver dollars.
Some are scholars in the pay of the FBI
more are the foreigners who pour through
our streets. I fooled them
got off the bus at 25th and Lex
where a cabby watched me over his newspaper.
In the room above me an old woman
has put an electric suction cup on her floor.
It sends out rays through my light fixture
and now I write in the dark
by the bar sign’s glow.
I tell you I know.
They sent me a dog with brown spots
and a radio cobweb in its nose.
I drowned it in the sink and wrote it up
in the folder GAMMA.
I don’t look in the mailbox anymore.
The greeting cards are letter-bombs.
(Step away! Goddamn you!
Step away, I know tall people!
I tell you I know very tall people!)
The luncheonette is laid with talking floors
and the waitress says it was salt but I know arsenic
when it’s put before me. And the yellow taste of mustard
to mask the bitter odor of almonds.
I have seen strange lights in the sky.
Last night a dark man with no face crawled through nine miles
of sewer to surface in my toilet, listening
for phone calls through the cheap wood with
I tell you man, I hear.
I saw his muddy hand-prints
on the porcelain.
I don’t answer the phone now,
have I told you that?
They are planning to flood the earth with sludge.
They are planning break-ins.
They have got physicians
advocating weird sex positions.
They are making addictive laxatives
and suppositories that burn.
They know how to put out the sun
I pack myself in ice- have I told you that?
It obviates their infra-scopes.
I know chants and I wear charms.
You may think you have me but I could destroy you
any second now.
Any second now.
Any second now.
Would you like some coffee my love?
Did I tell you I can’t go out no more?
There’s a man by the door
in a raincoat.
The Raven – by Edgar Allen Poe
This one has been a favorite thing to read of mine since the first time I read it around age ten I think. First published in January 1845. I don’t even think I need to say more about this one, everyone knows it! Obviously my handle (therubyraven) is a reference to this, the ruby being my birthstone.