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Best Famous Competition Poems

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12
Written by T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot | Create an image from this poem

Four Quartets 2: East Coker

 I

In my beginning is my end.
In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth Which is already flesh, fur and faeces, Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
In my beginning is my end.
Now the light falls Across the open field, leaving the deep lane Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon, Where you lean against a bank while a van passes, And the deep lane insists on the direction Into the village, in the electric heat Hypnotised.
In a warm haze the sultry light Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.
In that open field If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close, On a summer midnight, you can hear the music Of the weak pipe and the little drum And see them dancing around the bonfire The association of man and woman In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie— A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction, Holding eche other by the hand or the arm Whiche betokeneth concorde.
Round and round the fire Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles, Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes, Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth Mirth of those long since under earth Nourishing the corn.
Keeping time, Keeping the rhythm in their dancing As in their living in the living seasons The time of the seasons and the constellations The time of milking and the time of harvest The time of the coupling of man and woman And that of beasts.
Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking.
Dung and death.
Dawn points, and another day Prepares for heat and silence.
Out at sea the dawn wind Wrinkles and slides.
I am here Or there, or elsewhere.
In my beginning.
II What is the late November doing With the disturbance of the spring And creatures of the summer heat, And snowdrops writhing under feet And hollyhocks that aim too high Red into grey and tumble down Late roses filled with early snow? Thunder rolled by the rolling stars Simulates triumphal cars Deployed in constellated wars Scorpion fights against the Sun Until the Sun and Moon go down Comets weep and Leonids fly Hunt the heavens and the plains Whirled in a vortex that shall bring The world to that destructive fire Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory: A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle With words and meanings.
The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to, Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders, Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit? The serenity only a deliberate hebetude, The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets Useless in the darkness into which they peered Or from which they turned their eyes.
There is, it seems to us, At best, only a limited value In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies, For the pattern is new in every moment And every moment is a new and shocking Valuation of all we have been.
We are only undeceived Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble, On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold, And menaced by monsters, fancy lights, Risking enchantment.
Do not let me hear Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly, Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession, Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
The houses are all gone under the sea.
The dancers are all gone under the hill.
III O dark dark dark.
They all go into the dark, The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant, The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters, The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers, Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees, Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark, And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors, And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral, Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you Which shall be the darkness of God.
As, in a theatre, The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness, And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away— Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about; Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing— I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry, The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony Of death and birth.
You say I am repeating Something I have said before.
I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there, To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not, You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know And what you own is what you do not own And where you are is where you are not.
IV The wounded surgeon plies the steel That questions the distempered part; Beneath the bleeding hands we feel The sharp compassion of the healer's art Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease If we obey the dying nurse Whose constant care is not to please But to remind of our, and Adam's curse, And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital Endowed by the ruined millionaire, Wherein, if we do well, we shall Die of the absolute paternal care That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees, The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze And quake in frigid purgatorial fires Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink, The bloody flesh our only food: In spite of which we like to think That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood— Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
V So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years— Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres Trying to use words, and every attempt Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure Because one has only learnt to get the better of words For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which One is no longer disposed to say it.
And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion.
And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate—but there is no competition— There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious.
But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business.
Home is where one starts from.
As we grow older The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living.
Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment And not the lifetime of one man only But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight, A time for the evening under lamplight (The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers Here or there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and the empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.
Written by Rg Gregory | Create an image from this poem

from the Ansty Experience

 (a)
they seek to celebrate the word
not to bring their knives out on a poem
dissecting it to find a heart
whose beat lies naked on a table
not to score in triumph on a line
no sensitive would put a nostril to
but simply to receive it as an
offering glimpsing the sacred there

poem probes the poet's once-intention
but each time said budges its truth
afresh (leaving the poet's self
estranged from the once-intending man)
and six ears in the room have tuned
objectives sifting the coloured strands
the words have hidden from the poet
asking what world has come to light

people measured by their heartbeats
language can't flout that come-and-go
to touch the heartbeat in a poem
calls for the brain's surrender
a warm diffusion of the mind
a listening to an eery silence
the words both mimic and destroy
(no excuses slipping off the tongue)

and when a poem works the unknown
opens a timid shutter on a world
so familiar it's not been seen
before - and then it's gone bringing
a frisson to an altered room
and in a stuttering frenzy dusty
attributes are tried to resurrect
a glimpse of what it's like inside

a truth (the glow a glow-worm makes)
this is not (not much) what happens
there's serious concern and banter
there's opacity there's chit-chat
diversions and derailings from
a line some avalanche has blocked
(what a fine pass through the mountains)
poetry and fidgets are blood-brothers

it's within all these the cosmos calls
that makes these afternoons a rich
adventure through a common field
when three men moving towards death
(without alacrity but conscious of it)
find youth again and bubble with
its springs - opening worn valves
to give such flow their own direction

there's no need of competition
no wish to prove that one of us
holds keys the others don't to the
sacral chambers - no want to find
consensus in technique or drench 
the rites of words in orthodox 
belief - difference is essential
and delightful (integrity's all)

quality's a private quarrel
between the poem and the poet - taste
the private hang-up of receivers
mostly migrained by exposure
to opinions not their own - fed
from a culture no one bleeds in
sustained by reputations manured
by a few and spread by hearsay

(b)
these meetings are a modest vow
to let each poet speak uncluttered
from establishment's traditions
and conditions where passions rippling
from the marrow can choose a space
to innocent themselves and long-held
tastes for carlos williams gurney
poems to siva (to name a few)

can surface in a side-attempt 
to show unexpected lineage from
the source to present patterns
of the poet - but at the core
of every poem read and comment made
it's not the poem or the poet
being sifted to the seed but
poetry itself given the works

the most despised belittled
enervated creative cowcake
of them all in the public eye
prestigious when it doesn't matter
to the clapped-out powers and turned
away from when too awkward and 
impolitic to confront - ball
to be bounced from high art to low

when fights break out amongst the teachers
and shakespeare's wielded as a cane
as the rich old crusty clan reverts
to the days it hated him at school
but loved the beatings - loudhailer
broken-down old-banger any ram-it-
up-your-**** and suck-my-prick to those
who want to tear chintz curtains down

and shock the cosy populace to taste
life at its rawest (most obscene)
courtesan to fashion and today's 
ploy - advertisement's gold gimmick
slave of beat and rhythm - dead but
much loved donkey in the hearts of all
who learned di-dah di-dah at school
and have been stuck in the custard since

plaything political-tool pop-
star's goo - poetry's been made to garb
itself in all these rags and riches
this age applauds the eye - is one 
of outward exploration - the earth
(in life) and universe (in fiction)
are there for scurrying over - haste
is everything and the beat is all

fireworks feed the fancy - a great ah
rewards the enterprise that fills
night skies with flashing bountifuls
of way-out stars - poetry has to be
in service to this want (is fed
into the system gracelessly)
there can be no standing-still or
stopping-by no take a little time

and see what blossoms here - we're into
poetry in motion and all that ****
and i can accept it all - what stirs
the surface of the ocean ignores
the depths - what talks the hindlegs off
the day can't murder dreams - that's not
to say the depths and dreams aren't there
for those who need them - it's commonplace

they hold the keystones of our lives
i fear something else much deeper
the diabolical self-deceiving
(wilful destruction of the spirit)
by those loudspeaking themselves
as poetry's protectors - publishers
editors literature officers
poetry societies and centres

all all jumping on the flagship
competition's crock of gold
find the winners pick the famous
all the hopefuls cry please name us
aspiring poets search their wardrobes
for the wordy swimsuit likely
to catch the eyeful of the judges
(winners too in previous contests

inured to the needle of success
but this time though now they are tops
totally pissed-off with the process
only here because the money's good)
winners' middle name is wordsworth
losers swallow a dose of shame
organisers rub their golden hands
pride themselves on their discernment

these jacks have found the beanstalk
castle harp and the golden egg
the stupid giant and his frightened wife
who let them steal their best possessions
whose ear for poetry's so poor
they think fum rhymes with englishman
and so of course they get no prizes
thief and trickster now come rich

poetry's purpose is to hit the jackpot
so great the lust for poetic fame
thousands without a ghost of winning
find poems like mothballs in their drawers
sprinkle them with twinkling stardust
post them off with copperplate cheques
the judges wipe their arses on them
the money's gone to a super cause

everyone knows it's just a joke
who gets taken - the foolish and vain
if they're daft enough and such bad poets
more money than sense the best advice 
is - keep it up grannies the cause
is noble and we'll take your cheque
again and again and again
it's the winners who fall in the bog

to win is to be preened - conceit
finds a little fluffy nest dear
to the feted heart and swells there
fed (for a foetal space) on all 
the praisiest worms but in the nest 
is a bloated thing that sucks (and chokes)
on hurt that has the knack of pecking
where there's malice - it grows two heads

winners by their nature soon become
winged and weighted - icarus begins
to prey upon their waking dreams 
prometheus gnawed by eagles 
the tight-shut box epimetheus
gave pandora about to burst
apart - yeats's centre cannot hold
being poets they know the references

and they learn the lesson quickly
climb upon others as they would
climb on you - in short be ruthless
or be dead they mostly fade away
being too intact or too weak-willed
to go the shining way with light-
ning bolts at every second bend 
agents breathing fire up their pants

those who withstand the course become
the poets of their day (and every one
naturally good as gold - exceptions
to the rule - out of the hearing
and the judgment of their rivals)
the media covet the heartache
and the bile - love the new meteor
can't wait to blast it from the heavens

universities will start the cult
with-it secondary teachers catch
the name on fast - magazines begin
to taste the honey on the plate
and soon another name is buzzing 
round the bars where literary pass-
ons meet to dole out bits of hem
i accept it all - it's not for me

above it all the literary lions
(jackals to each other) stand posed
upon their polystyrene mountains
constructed by their fans and foes
alike (they have such need of them)
disdaining what they see but terror-
stricken when newcomers climb up 
waving their thin bright books

for so long they've dubbed themselves
the intellectual cream - deigning
to hand out poems when they're asked
(for proper recompense in cash
or fawning) - but well beyond the risk
of letting others turn the bleeders
down so sure they are they're halfway
to the gods (yet still need preening)

a poem from one of them is like 
the loaves and fishes jesus touched
and rendered food for the five thousand
they too can walk on water in
their home - or so the reviewers say
poetry from their mouths is such a gift
if you don't read or understand it
you'll be damned - i accept all that

but what i can't accept is (all 
this while) the source and bed of what
is poetry to me as cracked and parched -
condemned ignored made mock of 
shoved in wilderness by those 
who've gone the gilded route (mapped out 
by ego and a driving need to claim
best prick with a capital pee)

it's being roomed with the said poem
coming back and back to the same
felt heartbeat having its way with words
absorbing the strains and promises
that make the language opt for paths
no other voice would go - shifting
a dull stone and knowing what bright
creature this instinct has bred there

it's trusting the poet with his own map
not wanting to tear it up before
the ink is dry because the symbols
he's been using don't suit your own
conception of terrain you've not
been born to - it's being pleased
to have connections made in ways
you couldn't dream of (wouldn't want to)
Written by Dejan Stojanovic | Create an image from this poem

Dancing of Sounds

There is a moonlight note
In the Moonlight Sonata; 
There is a thunder note
In an angry sky.
Sound unbound by nature Becomes bounded by art.
There is no competition of sounds Between a nightingale and a violin.
Nature rewards and punishes By offering unpredictable ways; Art is apotheosis; Often, the complaint of beauty.
Nature is an outcry, Unpolished truth; The art—a euphemism— Tamed wilderness.
Written by Ruth Padel | Create an image from this poem

TRIAL

 I was with Special Force, blue-X-ing raids 
to OK surfing on the Colonel's birthday.
Operation Ariel: we sprayed Jimi Hendrix loud from helis to frighten the slopes before 'palming.
A turkey shoot.
* The Nang fogged up.
The men you need are moral and kill like angels.
Passionless.
No judgement.
Judgement defeats us.
You're choosing between nightmares all the time.
My first tour, we hissed into an encampment early afternoon, round two.
The new directive, polio.
Inoculating kids.
It took a while.
As we left, this old man came up, pulled on our back-lag jeep-hoods, yacking.
We went back.
They'd come behind us, hacked off all the inoculated arms.
There they were in a pile, a pile of little arms.
* Soon after, all us new recruits turned on to angel-dust like the rest.
You get it subsidized out there.
The snail can' t crawl on the straight razor and live.
I'm innocent.
(This poem was Commended in the 1992 National Poetry Competition)
Written by Rudyard Kipling | Create an image from this poem

Mulhollands Contract

 The fear was on the cattle, for the gale was on the sea,
An' the pens broke up on the lower deck an' let the creatures free --
An' the lights went out on the lower deck, an' no one near but me.
I had been singin' to them to keep 'em quiet there, For the lower deck is the dangerousest, requirin' constant care, An' give to me as the strongest man, though used to drink and swear.
I see my chance was certain of bein' horned or trod, For the lower deck was packed with steers thicker'n peas in a pod, An' more pens broke at every roll -- so I made a Contract with God.
An' by the terms of the Contract, as I have read the same, If He got me to port alive I would exalt His Name, An' praise His Holy Majesty till further orders came.
He saved me from the cattle an' He saved me from the sea, For they found me 'tween two drownded ones where the roll had landed me -- An' a four-inch crack on top of my head, as crazy as could be.
But that were done by a stanchion, an' not by a bullock at all, An' I lay still for seven weeks convalessing of the fall, An' readin' the shiny Scripture texts in the Seaman's Hospital.
An' I spoke to God of our Contract, an' He says to my prayer: "I never puts on My ministers no more than they can bear.
So back you go to the cattle-boats an' preach My Gospel there.
"For human life is chancy at any kind of trade, But most of all, as well you know, when the steers are mad-afraid; So you go back to the cattle-boats an' preach 'em as I've said.
"They must quit drinkin' an' swearin', they mustn't knife on a blow, They must quit gamblin' their wages, and you must preach it so; For now those boats are more like Hell than anything else I know.
" I didn't want to do it, for I knew what I should get, An' I wanted to preach Religion, handsome an' out of the wet, But the Word of the Lord were lain on me, an' I done what I was set.
I have been smit an' bruis]ed, as warned would be the case, An' turned my cheek to the smiter exactly as Scripture says; But following that, I knocked him down an' led him up to Grace.
An' we have preaching on Sundays whenever the sea is calm, An' I use no knife or pistol an' I never take no harm, For the Lord abideth back of me to guide my fighting arm.
An' I sign for four-pound-ten a month and save the money clear, An' I am in charge of the lower deck, an' I never lose a steer; An' I believe in Almighty God an' preach His Gospel here.
The skippers say I'm crazy, but I can prove 'em wrong, For I am in charge of the lower deck with all that doth belong -- Which they would not give to a lunatic, and the competition so strong!
Written by Ogden Nash | Create an image from this poem

Will Consider Situation

 There here are words of radical advice for a young man looking for a job;
Young man, be a snob.
Yes, if you are in search of arguments against starting at the bottom, Why I've gottem.
Let the personnel managers differ; It,s obvious that you will get on faster at the top than at the bottom because there are more people at the bottom than at the top so naturally the competition at the bottom is stiffer.
If you need any further proof that my theory works Well, nobody can deny that presidents get paid more than vice-presidents and vice-presidents get paid more than clerks.
Stop looking at me quizzically; I want to add that you will never achieve fortune in a job that makes you uncomfortable physically.
When anybody tells you that hard jobs are better for you than soft jobs be sure to repeat this text to them, Postmen tramp around all day through rain and snow just to deliver other people's in cozy air-conditioned offices checks to them.
You don't need to interpret tea leaves stuck in a cup To understand that people who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up.
Another thing about having a comfortable job is you not only accommodate more treasure; You get more leisure.
So that when you find you have worked so comfortably that your waistline is a menace, You correct it with golf or tennis.
Whereas is in an uncomfortable job like piano-moving or stevedoring you indulge, You have no time to exercise, you just continue to bulge.
To sum it up, young man, there is every reason to refuse a job that will make heavy demands on you corporally or manually, And the only intelligent way to start your career is to accept a sitting position paying at least twenty-five thousand dollars annually.
Written by Arthur Hugh Clough | Create an image from this poem

The Last Decalogue

 Thou shalt have one God only;—who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency:
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When 'tis so lucrative to cheat:
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:
Thou shalt not covet, but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.
Written by Ogden Nash | Create an image from this poem

The Joyous Malingerer

 Who is the happy husband? Why, indeed,
'Tis he who's useless in the time of need;
Who, asked to unclasp a bracelet or a neckless,
Contrives to be utterly futile, fumbling, feckless,
Or when a zipper nips his loved one's back
Cannot restore the zipper to its track.
Another time, not wishing to be flayed, She will not use him as a lady's maid.
Stove-wise he's the perpetual backward learner Who can't turn on or off the proper burner.
If faced with washing up he never gripes, But simply drops more dishes than he wipes.
She finds his absence preferable to his aid, And thus all mealtime chores doth he evade.
He can, attempting to replace a fuse, Black out the coast from Boston to Newport News, Or, hanging pictures, be the rookie wizard Who fills the parlor with a plaster blizzard.
He'll not again be called to competition With decorator or with electrician.
At last it dawns upon his patient spouse He's better at his desk than round the house.
Written by Emily Dickinson | Create an image from this poem

I send Two Sunsets

 I send Two Sunsets --
Day and I -- in competition ran --
I finished Two -- and several Stars --
While He -- was making One --

His own was ampler -- but as I
Was saying to a friend --
Mine -- is the more convenient
To Carry in the Hand --
Written by Emily Dickinson | Create an image from this poem

I cannot meet the Spring unmoved --

 I cannot meet the Spring unmoved --
I feel the old desire --
A Hurry with a lingering, mixed,
A Warrant to be fair --

A Competition in my sense
With something hid in Her --
And as she vanishes, Remorse
I saw no more of Her.
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