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Poets

  • The poet is always our contemporary.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "How Should One Read a Book?," The Common Reader, 2nd series ()
  • There's always a job for an engineer / (But nobody wants a poet).

    • Marya Mannes,
    • "Help Wanted," Subverse: Rhymes for Our Times ()
  • I carry my unwritten poems in cipher on my face!

  • ... thou'rt a poet, crazed with finding words / May stick to things and seem like qualities. / No pebble is a pebble in thy hands: / 'T is a moon out of work, a barren egg, / Or twenty things that no man sees but thee.

  • I often wonder: Who will pick up the pieces of our damaged world? A poet, I think.

  • The people must grant a hearing to the best poets they have else they will never have better.

  • Byron and Shelley and Keats / Were a trio of lyrical treats.

  • And I'll stay off Verlaine too; he was always chasing Rimbauds.

  • My verses. I cannot say poems. Like everybody was then, I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work, 1st series ()
  • Poets, when they write of love, give themselves and everyone else away!

  • ... nobody alive or dead deserves to be called a poetess.

  • What's beautiful about the life of a poet is that it is still gratuitous. No one, not even Robert Frost, is able to earn a living only through publishing poetry. The only reason for writing poetry is because you have to, because it is what gives you joy. At best even glory is a by-product. Write because you need to find out what you really mean; write because you want to define your experience and because you want to communicate it to your friends. If they turn out someday to be counted in thousands, then you are lucky. But you are lucky now to have the wish, and to begin to learn about the skill, to do what in any age, in any country, very, very few people ever achieve. So let me welcome you, dear young poet, not into the conpany of angels, but into the great company of those who work for joy alone, the poets.

  • ... a poet never feels useful.

  • The fact is that I have lived with the belief that power, any kind of power, was the one thing forbidden to poets. ... Power requires that the inner person never be unmasked. No, we poets have to go naked. And since this is so, it is better that we stay private people; a naked public person would be rather ridiculous, what?

  • It is clear that we do not exactly choose our poems; our poems choose us.

  • Words are my passion / And out of them and me / I would create beauty.

    • May Sarton,
    • "Creation" (1937), in Susan Sherman, ed., May Sarton: Among the Usual Days ()
  • It is dangerous it seems to me for a civilization when there is a complete abyss betewen people in general and the artists. Or is it always so? The poets who are most ardently on the people's side write in such a way that the people cannot see rhyme nor reason to their work.

    • May Sarton,
    • 1941, in Susan Sherman, ed., May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954 ()
  • Poets ... are the only people to whom love is not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience, which entitles them to mistake it for a universal one.

  • We write poems / as leaves give oxygen — / so we can breathe.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "On Picking Up My Pen Again," At the Edge of the Body ()
  • ... who can Perswade more Powerfully than Poets?

  • I am subjective, intimate, private, particular, / confessional. / All that happens, / happens to me. / ... / If you're interested / in birds, trees, rivers, / try reference books. / Don't read my poems.

    • Nina Cassian,
    • "Ars poetica -- a polemic," Cheerleader for a Funeral ()
  • poets, / these species, these sepias / whose self defense / is splashing ink.

  • To be a poet is to be a virtual exile, someone who shifts between internal and external spaces, making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.

  • The unit of the poet is the word, the unit of the prose writer is the sentence.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1980, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • My relatives, Ellis and Acton Bell, and myself, heedless of the repeated warnings of various respectable publishers, have committed the rash act of printing a volume of poems. The consequences predicted have, of course, overtaken us: our book is found to be a drug; no man needs it or heeds it. In the space of a year our publisher has disposed but of two copies, and by what painful efforts he succeeded in getting rid of these two, himself only knows. Before transferring the edition to the trunkmakers, we have decided on distributing as presents a few copies of what we cannot sell; and we beg to offer you one in acknowledgement of the pleasure and profit we have often and long derived from your works. — I am, sir, yours very respectfully, Currer Bell.

    • Charlotte Brontë,
    • in Muriel Spark, ed., The Letters of The Brontës: A Selection ()
  • [The poet] is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who — for whatever reasons — are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet's existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson" (1975), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • ... my life as a human only includes my life as a poet, it doesn't depend on it.

  • People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that's a mistake. One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated.

  • I would like a simple life / yet all night I am laying / poems away in a long box.

    • Anne Sexton,
    • "The Ambition Bird," The Book of Folly ()
  • Poets ever fail in reading their own verses to their worth, / For the echo in you breaks upon the words which you are speaking, / And the chariot wheels jar in the gate through which you drive them forth.

  • The poet hath the child's sight in his breast / And sees all new.

  • I do distrust the poet who discerns / No character or glory in his times.

  • The critics could never mortify me out of heart — because I love poetry for its own sake, — and, tho' with no stoicism and some ambition, care more for my poems than for my poetic reputation.

  • Why are we poets? Because we can / not sing, that is why.

  • I think, to a poet, the human community is like the community of birds to a bird, singing to each other. Love is one of the reasons we are singing to one another, love of language itself, love of sound, love of singing itself, and love of the other birds.

  • [The poet is] an undoer of knots, and love without words is a knot that strangles.

  • I feel that women of my kind are a profound mistake. There have been few women poets of distinction, and, if we count only the suicides of Sappho, Lawrence Hope and Charlotte Mew, their despair rate has been very high.

    • Anna Wickham,
    • 1935, in R.D. Smith, ed., The Writings of Anna Wickham ()
  • ... the passionate poets seem to die younger than the reflective ...

  • One of the obligations of the writer, and perhaps especially of the poet, is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language.

    • Denise Levertov,
    • "Statement for a Television Program," The Poet in the World ()
  • Because poets feel what we're afraid to feel, venture where we're reluctant to go, we learn from their journeys without taking the same dramatic risks.

  • Here the poets feel their heads capsize, and inhaling the fresh smells of the ravines, they take possession of the wreath of islands ... and they see tropical flames kindled no longer in the heliconia, in the gerberas, in the hibiscus, in the bougainvillea, in the flame trees, but instead in the hungers, and in the tears, in the hatreds, in the ferocity, that burn in the hollows of the mountains.

    • Suzanne Césaire,
    • in Daniel Maximin, ed., The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945) ()
  • [On meeting Lord Byron:] Mad, bad and dangerous to know.

    • Lady Caroline Lamb,
    • noted in her diary (1812), in Elizabeth Jenkins, Lady Caroline Lamb ()
  • Being a poet is one of the unhealthier jobs — no regular hours, so many temptations!

  • When you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.

  • [On Marianne Moore:] If she speaks of a chair you can practically sit on it.

  • Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.

    • Maud Gonne,
    • to W.B. Yeats, in Nancy Cardozo, Maud Gonne ()
  • Novelists have to love humanity to write anything worthwhile. Poets have to love themselves.

  • Poets must be / Either men or women, more's the pity.

    • Michelene Wandor,
    • "Aurora Leigh" (1979), in Michelene Wandor, ed., Plays by Women ()
  • Great Poets discover themselves. Little Poets have to be 'discovered' by somebody else.

    • Marie Corelli,
    • "On the Making of Little Poets," Free Opinions ()
  • Good poets need teachers, friends, or an occasional stranger / To say, Are you sure? I don't agree. It was an indulgent dream.. / Or, Be sober, beloved. We work this side of the dark.

  • The poet should try to give his poem the quiet swiftness of flame, so that the reader will feel and not think while he is reading. But the thinking will come afterwards.

  • The fine gifts of temperament and imagination which are essential to the production of true poetry are often accompanied by morbid sensibility. The soul capable of ecstasy and transport must pay its price in suffering; he who walks upon the heights must sometimes grovel in the dust.

  • Poets never die — nor friends either, I assure you, monsieur. Neither death nor silence in reality changes the soul.

    • Eugénie de Guérin,
    • letter (1841), in Guillaume S. Trébutien, ed., Letters of Eugénie de Guérin ()
  • ... a poet will even face death when he sees his people oppressed.

  • To a poet, silence is an acceptable response, even a flattering one.

    • Colette,
    • Paris From My Window
    • ()
  • A poet perceives and gives whole-hearted expression to that which our sensibilities, not less lively but less musicianly, keep stored inside.

    • Colette,
    • Paris From My Window
    • ()
  • If you know much about your work — why you work, how you work, your aims — you are probably not a poet.

  • ... we are far too used to the assumption that poetry and poets will be there when we want them, no matter how long they have been ignored, taken for granted, misused. After all, isn't poetry a form of prophecy, and aren't prophets known for their talent for flourishing in inhospitable deserts and other bleak surroundings? Maybe. But maybe not indefinitely.

  • It is the gift of all poets to find the commonplace astonishing, and the astonishing quite natural.

  • [Emily] Dickinson, our supreme poet of inwardness.

  • On Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning:] I have also here [in Paris] a poet and a poetess — two celebrities who have run away and married under circumstances peculiarly interesting, and such as render imprudence the height of prudence. Both excellent; but God help them! for I know not how the two poet heads and poet hearts will get on through this prosaic world.

    • Anna Jameson,
    • 1846, in Geraldine Macpherson, Memoirs of the Life of Anna Jameson ()
  • Poets are the leaven in the lump of civilization.

  • The poet is first and foremost an individual with a personal vision. His poem is not an event in social history nor a symptom of a literary movement; it is an assertion of the poet's singular identity.

  • The poet is neither an intellectual nor an emotional being alone; he feels his thoughts and thinks his sensations.

  • ... I believe that poets have to be inside their poems somewhere, or the poem won't work.

    • Joy Harjo,
    • in Laura Coltelli, ed., Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak ()
  • I have more questions than answers in this world as do most poets and writers. The field of memory we exist in is absolutely encompassing and is both a question and answer. It is memory that provides the heart with impetus, fuels the brain, and propels the corn plant from seed to fruit.

  • Poets are those who know how to give shape to my dreams.

  • Poets are lovers. Critics are / mean, solitary masturbators.

  • I am a full-time fraud, / passing as a poet. / It's filthy work. But, / someone has to do it.

  • I also discovered that I was a poet. From the standpoint of one's family this is probably a regrettable discovery ...

  • ... the poet ... like the lover ... is a person unable to reconcile what he knows with what he feels. His peculiarity is that he is under a certain compulsion to do so.

  • ... most good poets have been bad poets once.

  • You don't choose poetry. You're a poet, and you're either working at it or you're going nuts. Why do you breathe? I'm not real unless I've written recently. I can feel myself slipping away.

  • God makes many poets, but he only gives utterance to a few.

  • All poets chew cuds.

  • For me, a poet is someone who is 'in contact.' Someone through whom a current is passing.

  • ... poet, once you're given a voice, / From you all else is taken.

    • Marina Tsvetaeva,
    • "There Are Happy Men and Women" (1935), in David McDuff, ed., Selected Poems ()
  • And the words loved me and I loved them in return.

  • [On writing her first poem at age eight:] An ode to my dead mother and father, who were both alive and pretty pissed off.

  • I can be a warrior but I would rather be a poet. I think poets live longer.

  • You must continue. Poets are the ones who change the world.

  • Who can ever say the perfect thing to the poet about his poetry?

  • I do not suppose that anyone not a poet can realize the agony of creating a poem. Every nerve, even every muscle, seems strained to the breaking point. The poem will not be denied; to refuse to write it would be a greater torture. It tears its way out of the brain, splintering and breaking its passage, and leaves that organ in the state of a jelly-fish when the task is done.

    • Amy Lowell,
    • "A Memoir," in Louis Untermeyer, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell ()
  • Prostitutes have clients, wives have husbands, / Poets, you will understand, have editors.

  • [On Elizabeth Barrett Browning:] ... for finish, and melody of versification, there is nothing approaching to Miss Barrett in this day, or in any other — also for diction. Her words paint.

    • Mary Russell Mitford,
    • 1841, in Henry Chorley, ed., Letters of Mary Russell Mitford, 2nd series, vol. 1 ()
  • More rich, more noble I will ever hold / The Muses' laurel, than a crown of gold.

    • Anne Killigrew,
    • "Upon the Sayings That My Verses Were Made by Another," Poems by Mrs. Anne Killigrew ()
  • Poets are interested mostly in death and commas.

  • Miss Snooks was really awfully nice / And never wrote a poem / That was not really awfully nice / And fitted to a woman. / She therefore made no enemies / And gave no sad surprises / But went on being awfully nice / And took a lot of prizes.

  • The poet is the complete lover of mankind.

    • Edith Sitwell,
    • in Richard Thruelsen and John Kobler, eds., Adventures of the Mind, 1st series ()
  • The reason why Matthew Arnold, to my feeling, fails entirely as a poet (though no doubt his ideas were good — at least, I am told they were) is that he had no sense of touch whatsoever. Nothing made any impression on his skin. He could feel neither the shape nor the texture of a poem with his hands.

  • Like Midas, I guess / everything we touch turns / to a poem — / when the spell is on.

  • I am an ordinary human being who is impelled to write poetry. ... I still do feel that a poet has a duty to words, and that words can do wonderful things, and it's too bad to just let them lie there without doing anything with and for them.

    • Gwendolyn Brooks,
    • "Interviews: March 29, 1969," Report From Part One: An Autobiography ()
  • ... poets are privileged to utter more than they can always quite explain, bringing up from the mind's unplumbed depths tokens of the nature of the world we carry within us.

    • Vernon Lee,
    • in C. Anstruther-Thomson, Art and Man ()
  • Mindfulness is the heart of my work. The poems are a tool, to help me notice the details of my life.

  • I knew that he would be a poet, a keeper of other people's dreams.

  • To write about the monstrous sense of alienation the poet feels in this culture of polarized hatreds is a way of staying sane. With the poem, I reach out to an audience equally at odds with official policy, and I celebrate our mutual humanness in an inhuman world.

    • Maxine Kumin,
    • "A Way of Staying Sane," in Marilyn Sewell, ed., Cries of the Spirit ()
  • Well, but the joy to see my works in print! / Myself too pictur'd in a mezzo-tint!

    • Mary Jones,
    • "An Epistle to Lady Bowyer," in Alexander Dyce, Speciments of British Poetesses ()
  • This book, by any yet unread, / I leave for you when I am dead, / That, being gone, here you may find / What was your living mother's mind. / Make use of what I leave in love, / And God shall bless you from above.

    • Anne Bradstreet,
    • "To My Dear Children" (1656), in Frank Easton Hopkins, ed., The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet 1612-1672: Together With Her Prose Remains ()
  • I am obnoxious to each carping tongue / Who says my hand a needle better fits, / A poet's pen all scorn I should thus wrong, / For such despite they cast on female wits: / If what I do prove well, it won't advance, / They'll say it's stol'n, or else it was by chance.

    • Anne Bradstreet,
    • prologue, "The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America" (1650), in John Harvard Ellis, ed, The Works of Anne Bradstreet in Prose and Verse ()
  • To me the Muses truly gave / An envied and a happy lot: / E'en when I lie within the grave, / I cannot, shall not, be forgot.

    • Sappho,
    • 6th c. BCE, in C.R. Haines, ed., Sappho: The Poems and Fragments ()
  • I work best in a difficult light. / The world for me is the piece of cloth / I have at the moment beneath my fingers.

  • A poet is a state of mind.

  • None but a poet can write a tragedy. For tragedy is nothing less than pain transmuted into exaltation by the alchemy of poetry.