Best Famous Dead Poems

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12
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Ode To Silence

 Aye, but she?
Your other sister and my other soul
Grave Silence, lovelier
Than the three loveliest maidens, what of her?
Clio, not you,
Not you, Calliope,
Nor all your wanton line,
Not Beauty's perfect self shall comfort me
For Silence once departed,
For her the cool-tongued, her the tranquil-hearted,
Whom evermore I follow wistfully,
Wandering Heaven and Earth and Hell and the four seasons through;
Thalia, not you,
Not you, Melpomene,
Not your incomparable feet, O thin Terpsichore, I seek in this great hall,
But one more pale, more pensive, most beloved of you all.
I seek her from afar, I come from temples where her altars are, From groves that bear her name, Noisy with stricken victims now and sacrificial flame, And cymbals struck on high and strident faces Obstreperous in her praise They neither love nor know, A goddess of gone days, Departed long ago, Abandoning the invaded shrines and fanes Of her old sanctuary, A deity obscure and legendary, Of whom there now remains, For sages to decipher and priests to garble, Only and for a little while her letters wedged in marble, Which even now, behold, the friendly mumbling rain erases, And the inarticulate snow, Leaving at last of her least signs and traces None whatsoever, nor whither she is vanished from these places.
"She will love well," I said, "If love be of that heart inhabiter, The flowers of the dead; The red anemone that with no sound Moves in the wind, and from another wound That sprang, the heavily-sweet blue hyacinth, That blossoms underground, And sallow poppies, will be dear to her.
And will not Silence know In the black shade of what obsidian steep Stiffens the white narcissus numb with sleep? (Seed which Demeter's daughter bore from home, Uptorn by desperate fingers long ago, Reluctant even as she, Undone Persephone, And even as she set out again to grow In twilight, in perdition's lean and inauspicious loam).
She will love well," I said, "The flowers of the dead; Where dark Persephone the winter round, Uncomforted for home, uncomforted, Lacking a sunny southern slope in northern Sicily, With sullen pupils focussed on a dream, Stares on the stagnant stream That moats the unequivocable battlements of Hell, There, there will she be found, She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound.
" "I long for Silence as they long for breath Whose helpless nostrils drink the bitter sea; What thing can be So stout, what so redoubtable, in Death What fury, what considerable rage, if only she, Upon whose icy breast, Unquestioned, uncaressed, One time I lay, And whom always I lack, Even to this day, Being by no means from that frigid bosom weaned away, If only she therewith be given me back?" I sought her down that dolorous labyrinth, Wherein no shaft of sunlight ever fell, And in among the bloodless everywhere I sought her, but the air, Breathed many times and spent, Was fretful with a whispering discontent, And questioning me, importuning me to tell Some slightest tidings of the light of day they know no more, Plucking my sleeve, the eager shades were with me where I went.
I paused at every grievous door, And harked a moment, holding up my hand,—and for a space A hush was on them, while they watched my face; And then they fell a-whispering as before; So that I smiled at them and left them, seeing she was not there.
I sought her, too, Among the upper gods, although I knew She was not like to be where feasting is, Nor near to Heaven's lord, Being a thing abhorred And shunned of him, although a child of his, (Not yours, not yours; to you she owes not breath, Mother of Song, being sown of Zeus upon a dream of Death).
Fearing to pass unvisited some place And later learn, too late, how all the while, With her still face, She had been standing there and seen me pass, without a smile, I sought her even to the sagging board whereat The stout immortals sat; But such a laughter shook the mighty hall No one could hear me say: Had she been seen upon the Hill that day? And no one knew at all How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away.
There is a garden lying in a lull Between the mountains and the mountainous sea, I know not where, but which a dream diurnal Paints on my lids a moment till the hull Be lifted from the kernel And Slumber fed to me.
Your foot-print is not there, Mnemosene, Though it would seem a ruined place and after Your lichenous heart, being full Of broken columns, caryatides Thrown to the earth and fallen forward on their jointless knees, And urns funereal altered into dust Minuter than the ashes of the dead, And Psyche's lamp out of the earth up-thrust, Dripping itself in marble wax on what was once the bed Of Love, and his young body asleep, but now is dust instead.
There twists the bitter-sweet, the white wisteria Fastens its fingers in the strangling wall, And the wide crannies quicken with bright weeds; There dumbly like a worm all day the still white orchid feeds; But never an echo of your daughters' laughter Is there, nor any sign of you at all Swells fungous from the rotten bough, grey mother of Pieria! Only her shadow once upon a stone I saw,—and, lo, the shadow and the garden, too, were gone.
I tell you you have done her body an ill, You chatterers, you noisy crew! She is not anywhere! I sought her in deep Hell; And through the world as well; I thought of Heaven and I sought her there; Above nor under ground Is Silence to be found, That was the very warp and woof of you, Lovely before your songs began and after they were through! Oh, say if on this hill Somewhere your sister's body lies in death, So I may follow there, and make a wreath Of my locked hands, that on her quiet breast Shall lie till age has withered them! (Ah, sweetly from the rest I see Turn and consider me Compassionate Euterpe!) "There is a gate beyond the gate of Death, Beyond the gate of everlasting Life, Beyond the gates of Heaven and Hell," she saith, "Whereon but to believe is horror! Whereon to meditate engendereth Even in deathless spirits such as I A tumult in the breath, A chilling of the inexhaustible blood Even in my veins that never will be dry, And in the austere, divine monotony That is my being, the madness of an unaccustomed mood.
This is her province whom you lack and seek; And seek her not elsewhere.
Hell is a thoroughfare For pilgrims,—Herakles, And he that loved Euridice too well, Have walked therein; and many more than these; And witnessed the desire and the despair Of souls that passed reluctantly and sicken for the air; You, too, have entered Hell, And issued thence; but thence whereof I speak None has returned;—for thither fury brings Only the driven ghosts of them that flee before all things.
Oblivion is the name of this abode: and she is there.
" Oh, radiant Song! Oh, gracious Memory! Be long upon this height I shall not climb again! I know the way you mean,—the little night, And the long empty day,—never to see Again the angry light, Or hear the hungry noises cry my brain! Ah, but she, Your other sister and my other soul, She shall again be mine; And I shall drink her from a silver bowl, A chilly thin green wine, Not bitter to the taste, Not sweet, Not of your press, oh, restless, clamorous nine,— To foam beneath the frantic hoofs of mirth— But savoring faintly of the acid earth, And trod by pensive feet From perfect clusters ripened without haste Out of the urgent heat In some clear glimmering vaulted twilight under the odorous vine .
Lift up your lyres! Sing on! But as for me, I seek your sister whither she is gone.
Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem

Last night I had a dream

Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle.
For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast, man,
I can run through a hurricane and don't get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.
Written by William Shakespeare | Create an image from this poem

Sonnet 71

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse When I perhaps compounded am with clay, Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay, Lest the wise world should look into your moan And mock you with me after I am gone
Written by Charles Baudelaire | Create an image from this poem

THE DANCE OF DEATH

 CARRYING bouquet, and handkerchief, and gloves, 
Proud of her height as when she lived, she moves 
With all the careless and high-stepping grace, 
And the extravagant courtesan's thin face.
Was slimmer waist e'er in a ball-room wooed? Her floating robe, in royal amplitude, Falls in deep folds around a dry foot, shod With a bright flower-like shoe that gems the sod.
The swarms that hum about her collar-bones As the lascivious streams caress the stones, Conceal from every scornful jest that flies, Her gloomy beauty; and her fathomless eyes Are made of shade and void; with flowery sprays Her skull is wreathed artistically, and sways, Feeble and weak, on her frail vertebrae.
O charm of nothing decked in folly! they Who laugh and name you a Caricature, They see not, they whom flesh and blood allure, The nameless grace of every bleached, bare bone, That is most dear to me, tall skeleton! Come you to trouble with your potent sneer The feast of Life! or are you driven here, To Pleasure's Sabbath, by dead lusts that stir And goad your moving corpse on with a spur? Or do you hope, when sing the violins, And the pale candle-flame lights up our sins, To drive some mocking nightmare far apart, And cool the flame hell lighted in your heart? Fathomless well of fault and foolishness! Eternal alembic of antique distress! Still o'er the curved, white trellis of your sides The sateless, wandering serpent curls and glides.
And truth to tell, I fear lest you should find, Among us here, no lover to your mind; Which of these hearts beat for the smile you gave? The charms of horror please none but the brave.
Your eyes' black gulf, where awful broodings stir, Brings giddiness; the prudent reveller Sees, while a horror grips him from beneath, The eternal smile of thirty-two white teeth.
For he who has not folded in his arms A skeleton, nor fed on graveyard charms, Recks not of furbelow, or paint, or scent, When Horror comes the way that Beauty went.
O irresistible, with fleshless face, Say to these dancers in their dazzled race: "Proud lovers with the paint above your bones, Ye shall taste death, musk scented skeletons! Withered Antino?s, dandies with plump faces, Ye varnished cadavers, and grey Lovelaces, Ye go to lands unknown and void of breath, Drawn by the rumour of the Dance of Death.
From Seine's cold quays to Ganges' burning stream, The mortal troupes dance onward in a dream; They do not see, within the opened sky, The Angel's sinister trumpet raised on high.
In every clime and under every sun, Death laughs at ye, mad mortals, as ye run; And oft perfumes herself with myrrh, like ye And mingles with your madness, irony!"
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

The Break Away

 Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce:
the courtroom a cement box,
a gas chamber for the infectious Jew in me
and a perhaps land, a possibly promised land
for the Jew in me,
but still a betrayal room for the till-death-do-us—
and yet a death, as in the unlocking of scissors
that makes the now separate parts useless,
even to cut each other up as we did yearly
under the crayoned-in sun.
The courtroom keeps squashing our lives as they break into two cans ready for recycling, flattened tin humans and a tin law, even for my twenty-five years of hanging on by my teeth as I once saw at Ringling Brothers.
The gray room: Judge, lawyer, witness and me and invisible Skeezix, and all the other torn enduring the bewilderments of their division.
Your daisies have come on the day of my divorce.
They arrive like round yellow fish, sucking with love at the coral of our love.
Yet they wait, in their short time, like little utero half-borns, half killed, thin and bone soft.
They breathe the air that stands for twenty-five illicit days, the sun crawling inside the sheets, the moon spinning like a tornado in the washbowl, and we orchestrated them both, calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.
There was a song, our song on your cassette, that played over and over and baptised the prodigals.
It spoke the unspeakable, as the rain will on an attic roof, letting the animal join its soul as we kneeled before a miracle-- forgetting its knife.
The daisies confer in the old-married kitchen papered with blue and green chefs who call out pies, cookies, yummy, at the charcoal and cigarette smoke they wear like a yellowy salve.
The daisies absorb it all-- the twenty-five-year-old sanctioned love (If one could call such handfuls of fists and immobile arms that!) and on this day my world rips itself up while the country unfastens along with its perjuring king and his court.
It unfastens into an abortion of belief, as in me-- the legal rift-- as on might do with the daisies but does not for they stand for a love undergoihng open heart surgery that might take if one prayed tough enough.
And yet I demand, even in prayer, that I am not a thief, a mugger of need, and that your heart survive on its own, belonging only to itself, whole, entirely whole, and workable in its dark cavern under your ribs.
I pray it will know truth, if truth catches in its cup and yet I pray, as a child would, that the surgery take.
I dream it is taking.
Next I dream the love is swallowing itself.
Next I dream the love is made of glass, glass coming through the telephone that is breaking slowly, day by day, into my ear.
Next I dream that I put on the love like a lifejacket and we float, jacket and I, we bounce on that priest-blue.
We are as light as a cat's ear and it is safe, safe far too long! And I awaken quickly and go to the opposite window and peer down at the moon in the pond and know that beauty has walked over my head, into this bedroom and out, flowing out through the window screen, dropping deep into the water to hide.
I will observe the daisies fade and dry up wuntil they become flour, snowing themselves onto the table beside the drone of the refrigerator, beside the radio playing Frankie (as often as FM will allow) snowing lightly, a tremor sinking from the ceiling-- as twenty-five years split from my side like a growth that I sliced off like a melanoma.
It is six P.
M.
as I water these tiny weeds and their little half-life, their numbered days that raged like a secret radio, recalling love that I picked up innocently, yet guiltily, as my five-year-old daughter picked gum off the sidewalk and it became suddenly an elastic miracle.
For me it was love found like a diamond where carrots grow-- the glint of diamond on a plane wing, meaning: DANGER! THICK ICE! but the good crunch of that orange, the diamond, the carrot, both with four million years of resurrecting dirt, and the love, although Adam did not know the word, the love of Adam obeying his sudden gift.
You, who sought me for nine years, in stories made up in front of your naked mirror or walking through rooms of fog women, you trying to forget the mother who built guilt with the lumber of a locked door as she sobbed her soured mild and fed you loss through the keyhole, you who wrote out your own birth and built it with your own poems, your own lumber, your own keyhole, into the trunk and leaves of your manhood, you, who fell into my words, years before you fell into me (the other, both the Camp Director and the camper), you who baited your hook with wide-awake dreams, and calls and letters and once a luncheon, and twice a reading by me for you.
But I wouldn't! Yet this year, yanking off all past years, I took the bait and was pulled upward, upward, into the sky and was held by the sun-- the quick wonder of its yellow lap-- and became a woman who learned her own shin and dug into her soul and found it full, and you became a man who learned his won skin and dug into his manhood, his humanhood and found you were as real as a baker or a seer and we became a home, up into the elbows of each other's soul, without knowing-- an invisible purchase-- that inhabits our house forever.
We were blessed by the House-Die by the altar of the color T.
V.
and somehow managed to make a tiny marriage, a tiny marriage called belief, as in the child's belief in the tooth fairy, so close to absolute, so daft within a year or two.
The daisies have come for the last time.
And I who have, each year of my life, spoken to the tooth fairy, believing in her, even when I was her, am helpless to stop your daisies from dying, although your voice cries into the telephone: Marry me! Marry me! and my voice speaks onto these keys tonight: The love is in dark trouble! The love is starting to die, right now-- we are in the process of it.
The empty process of it.
I see two deaths, and the two men plod toward the mortuary of my heart, and though I willed one away in court today and I whisper dreams and birthdays into the other, they both die like waves breaking over me and I am drowning a little, but always swimming among the pillows and stones of the breakwater.
And though your daisies are an unwanted death, I wade through the smell of their cancer and recognize the prognosis, its cartful of loss-- I say now, you gave what you could.
It was quite a ferris wheel to spin on! and the dead city of my marriage seems less important than the fact that the daisies came weekly, over and over, likes kisses that can't stop themselves.
There sit two deaths on November 5th, 1973.
Let one be forgotten-- Bury it! Wall it up! But let me not forget the man of my child-like flowers though he sinks into the fog of Lake Superior, he remains, his fingers the marvel of fourth of July sparklers, his furious ice cream cones of licking, remains to cool my forehead with a washcloth when I sweat into the bathtub of his being.
For the rest that is left: name it gentle, as gentle as radishes inhabiting their short life in the earth, name it gentle, gentle as old friends waving so long at the window, or in the drive, name it gentle as maple wings singing themselves upon the pond outside, as sensuous as the mother-yellow in the pond, that night that it was ours, when our bodies floated and bumped in moon water and the cicadas called out like tongues.
Let such as this be resurrected in all men whenever they mold their days and nights as when for twenty-five days and nights you molded mine and planted the seed that dives into my God and will do so forever no matter how often I sweep the floor.
Written by Billy Collins | Create an image from this poem

Nostalgia

 Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade, and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular, the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon, and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow.
" Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet marathons were the rage.
We used to dress up in the flags of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.
The 1790's will never come again.
Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment, time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps, or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me recapture the serenity of last month when we picked berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past, letting my memory rush over them like water rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine, a dance whose name we can only guess.
Written by Walt Whitman | Create an image from this poem

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack, 
the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, 
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart! 
O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for you the bugle trills, For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding, For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head! It is some dream that on the deck, You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will, The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won; Exult O shores, and ring O bells! But I with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
Written by Edgar Allan Poe | Create an image from this poem

The City In the Sea

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West 
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers (Time-eaten towers that tremble not!) Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around by lifting winds forgot Resignedly beneath the sky The melancholy waters lie.
No rays from the holy heaven come down On the long night-time of that town; But light from out the lurid sea Streams up the turrets silently- Gleams up the pinnacles far and free- Up domes- up spires- up kingly halls- Up fanes- up Babylon-like walls- Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers- Up many and many a marvellous shrine Whose wreathed friezes intertwine The viol the violet and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there That all seem pendulous in air While from a proud tower in the town Death looks gigantically down.
There open fanes and gaping graves Yawn level with the luminous waves; But not the riches there that lie In each idol's diamond eye- Not the gaily-jewelled dead Tempt the waters from their bed; For no ripples curl alas! Along that wilderness of glass- No swellings tell that winds may be Upon some far-off happier sea- No heavings hint that winds have been On seas less hideously serene.
But lo a stir is in the air! The wave- there is a movement there! As if the towers had thrust aside In slightly sinking the dull tide- As if their tops had feebly given A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow- The hours are breathing faint and low- And when amid no earthly moans Down down that town shall settle hence Hell rising from a thousand thrones Shall do it reverence.
Written by Rabindranath Tagore | Create an image from this poem

The Journey

 Anghiari is medieval, a sleeve sloping down
A steep hill, suddenly sweeping out
To the edge of a cliff, and dwindling.
But far up the mountain, behind the town, We too were swept out, out by the wind, Alone with the Tuscan grass.
Wind had been blowing across the hills For days, and everything now was graying gold With dust, everything we saw, even Some small children scampering along a road, Twittering Italian to a small caged bird.
We sat beside them to rest in some brushwood, And I leaned down to rinse the dust from my face.
I found the spider web there, whose hinges Reeled heavily and crazily with the dust, Whole mounds and cemeteries of it, sagging And scattering shadows among shells and wings.
And then she stepped into the center of air Slender and fastidious, the golden hair Of daylight along her shoulders, she poised there, While ruins crumbled on every side of her.
Free of the dust, as though a moment before She had stepped inside the earth, to bathe herself.
I gazed, close to her, till at last she stepped Away in her own good time.
Many men Have searched all over Tuscany and never found What I found there, the heart of the light Itself shelled and leaved, balancing On filaments themselves falling.
The secret Of this journey is to let the wind Blow its dust all over your body, To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly All the way through your ruins, and not to lose Any sleep over the dead, who surely Will bury their own, don't worry.
Written by James Tate | Create an image from this poem

Dream On

 Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don't hesitate to cut somebody's heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns that have absolutely no poetry in them and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night, lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations, croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets, their cocktails on the balcony, dog races, and all that kissing and hugging, and don't forget the good deeds, the charity work, nursing the baby squirrels all through the night, filling the birdfeeders all winter, helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there's that disagreeable exhalation from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn't: "And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times, learn to yodel, shave our heads, call our ancestors back from the dead--" poetrywise it's still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven't scribbled a syllable of it.
You're a nowhere man misfiring the very essence of your life, flustering nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart, secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow, fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids: all day, all night meditation, knot of hope, kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life seeking, through poetry, a benediction or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal, explore, to imbue meaning on the day's extravagant labor.
And yet it's cruel to expect too much.
It's a rare species of bird that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream-- here, then there, then here again, low-flying amber-wing darting upward then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart the wonders of which are manifold, or so the story is told.
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