The website The Art of Manliness truly is one of the great website on the internet and one of my favorites. Its mission statement claims it is “a blog dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.” It’s not about indulging in a hyper masculinity such as those ridiculous “professional” wrestlers or some other cartoon characterization of masculinity. It’s about understanding and excelling at the various elements of a man’s life, such as clothing, shaving, family and fatherhood, sports, and manly skills. If you’ve never surfed it, you should, and that goes for women too.
The other week they had a post titled “20 Classic Poems Every Man Should Read” and it wanted to promote reading poetry as a manly pursuit. From their post:
John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States, commended poetry to his son John Quincy. Both Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt committed their favorite poems to memory. Ancient kings were expected to produce poetry while also being versed in warfare and statecraft. That poetry has fallen out of favor among men in the 21st century is a recent trend rather than the norm.
To help remedy this, we have compiled a list of 20 classic poems that every man should read. Spanning the past two thousand years, the poems on this list represent some of the best works of poetry ever composed. But don’t worry—they were selected for both their brevity and ease of application. Some are about striving to overcome, others about romantic love, and still others about patriotism. Whether you’ve been reading poetry for years or haven’t read a single line since high school, these poems are sure to inspire and delight you.
The list is somewhat questionable if you ask me. Look it over. Read them all. I’m familiar with most of them. I agree some are poems perfect for men. A couple I don’t understand why they would be oriented toward manliness, and then some are rather testosterone filled that I think it does manliness a disservice. Let me identify the ones I absolutely agree men should be familiar with:
1. "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
2. "If-" by Rudyard Kipling
4. Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare
6. "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost
15. "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne
20. Ode 1.11 by Horace
So given I have read a fair amount of poetry in my life and given I consider myself a man—yes, in today’s world the biological fact of manhood doesn’t necessarily mean you consider yourself a man—I decided to create my own list of twenty classic poems for men. These are poems I’ve been familiar with for most of my life, and somehow are endearing to me, and I think speak to the fullness of masculinity, true masculinity, not cartoonish masculinity. Some you may be familiar with, some you may not.
Here is the list with links to the full poems.
1. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas
2. “The Wild Swans at Coole” by William Butler Yeats
3. “The Emperor of Ice Cream” by Wallace Stevens
4. “They Flee from Me” by Sir Thomas Wyatt
5. “At Melville's Tomb” by Hart Crane
6. “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
7. Henry Woos Katherine, Henry V, Act V, Scene II by William Shakespeare
8. “Upon Julia's Clothes” by Robert Herrick
9. “Gloire de Dijon” by D. H. Lawrence
10. “[Buffalo Bill 's]” by e. e. cummings
11. “The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth
12. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
13. “Water” by Robert Lowell
14. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats
15. “My Papa's Waltz” by Theodore Roethke
16. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell
17. “Canto I” by Ezra Pound
18. “The Collar” by George Herbert
19. “The Hunters in the Snow” by William Carlos Williams
20. “Mortal Limit” by Robert Penn Warren
So what makes these poems manly? First they are all written from a man’s perspective, and all the authors are men.
Second, they take on various aspects of a man’s life: fatherhood (“My Papa’s Waltz”) or hunting (“The Hunters in the Snow”) or a sailing voyage (Pound’s “Canto I”) or just a sort of mundane busyness (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”). They look at maturity from a male’s perspective, such as curbing one’s desire (“The Collar”) or the realization of time’s passage (“The Wild Swans at Coole”), and they look at a man’s relationship with God (“The World is too Much with Us” and “The Windhover”). They look at various aspects of love, such as wooing of a young lady in Henry V or of a more Platonic friendship with a woman friend (“Water”), or of being captivated by a mysterious woman (“La Belle Dame Sans Merci”), or seduced (“Upon Julia’s Clothes) or aroused (“Gloire de Dijon”) or being used by women (“They Flee from Me”). Finally there are a fair number of them that deal with death: a tragic death as a soldier (“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”) or the death of a gallant man (“Buffalo Bill’s” and “At Melville’s Tomb) or resisting death (“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”) or death represented as a brawny brute (“The Emperor of Ice Cream”).
Third, the language of the poems have a masculine tone, a masculine diction, or a masculine voice. I don’t have the space to post every poem in entirety, but I want to give you a sampling from each, a sample I hope that captures that masculine diction or voice or just perspective.
From Dylan’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. (l. 1-6)
From Yeats’ “The Wild Swans at Coole”:
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away? (l. 25-30)
From Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream”:
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (l. 1-8)
From Wyatt’s “They Flee from Me”:
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change. (l. 1-7)
From Crane’s “At Melville's Tomb”:
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides ... High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps. (l. 13-16)
From Hopkins’ “The Windhover”:
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing. (l. 1-8)
From Shakepeare’s Henry Woos Katherine, Henry V, Act V, Scene II
[Henry] The princess is the better Englishwoman. I' faith,
Kate, my wooing is fit for thy understanding: I am
glad thou canst speak no better English; for, if
thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king
that thou wouldst think I had sold my farm to buy my
crown. I know no ways to mince it in love, but
directly to say 'I love you:' then if you urge me
farther than to say 'do you in faith?' I wear out
my suit. Give me your answer; i' faith, do: and so
clap hands and a bargain: how say you, lady? (l. 121-130)
Herrick’s “Upon Julia's Clothes” (entire poem):
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!
From Lawrence’s “Gloire de Dijon”:
When she rises in the morning
I linger to watch her;
She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
And the sunbeams catch her
Glistening white on the shoulders,
While down her sides the mellow
Golden shadow glows as
She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
Sway like full-blown yellow
Gloire de Dijon roses. (l. 1-10)
From cummings’ “[Buffalo Bill 's]”:
Buffalo Bill ’s
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
stallion (l. 1-5)
From Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us”:
….Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. (l. 9-14)
From Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year. (l. 5-8)
From Lowell’s “Water”:
Remember? We sat on a slab of rock.
From this distance in time
it seems the color
of iris, rotting and turning purpler,
but it was only
the usual gray rock
turning the usual green
when drenched by the sea. (l. 13-20)
From Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”:
I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery’s song. (l. 13-20)
From Roethke’s “My Papa's Waltz”:
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself. (l. 1-8)
Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” (entire poem):
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
From Pound’s “Canto I”:
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly seas, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end. (l. 1- 9)
From Herbert’s “The Collar”:
Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death's-head there; tie up thy fears;
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need
Deserves his load."
But as I rav'd, and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, "Child";
And I replied, "My Lord." (l. 27-36)
From Williams’ “The Hunters in the Snow”:
The over-all picture is winter
in the background the return
from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in
their pack the inn-sign
a broken hinge is a stag a crucifix (l. 1-9)
From Penn Warren’s “Mortal Limit”:
I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.
There—west—were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light? (l. 1-8)