So I decided I need a short post for the letter ‘S’ of my PoeticPotpourri to enable me to move from an amble to a brisk walk at the least in this AtoZ series! And I thought to myself, maybe it should be a short post about short poems. In a couple of hours or so after, I found myself right here, at the start of this post: with poetry books open next to me; multiple tabs on my laptop; and just the introductory part of the 10 Great Short Poems, & Contenders For the Shortest Ever post!! While I am not sure how short the post will be, it will be about the short(est) poems I enjoyed and hope you will too…
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10 Great Short Poems
I decided to stick with poems with a length of 14 lines and lesser; and also poems having lines of reasonably short lengths. In picking the poems, I also tried to have some amount of variance (when written, who wrote it et al). Also, I have consciously excluded a few that are considered among the shortest ever written (though I mention them separately later), and also classic nursery rhymes (many of which are of course, short, and yes, so very wonderful). But I do have a couple more contemporary children’s poems (I had to!)
Note that this is a purely subjective list; while many of these poems are on many lists, these are among the ones I treasured the most. And there are many more I (might) have not included here but mentioned in various ways earlier on my blog.
Poems that are already in the public domain are included in their entirety here, while I have linked to the complete poem for the others in sites with permission to use them.
NOTE: All these poems are perfect for poem in your pocket day!!
Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.
Hope by Emily Dickinson
HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.
This poem that tugs at heartstrings while consoling you at the same time has a heartwarming story behind it. Supposedly, Frye, who had never written any poetry, wrote this one on a brown paper grocery bag, in a burst of compassion. A Jewish girl whom Frye knew had just heard about her mother’s death in Germany, and was heartbroken that she could not visit her mother’s grave. This poem was the result of Frye trying to console the girl.
Harlem by Langston Hughes
This poem, that you can read in its entirety here is one that has stayed with me from the first time I heard it. I wrote about it earlier here.
In its first line, Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” And as he ponders some more through the rest, the readers reflect on it too, until that memorable last line, “or does it explode?“
Ozymandias by Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
My life has been the poem I would have writ by Henry David Thoreau
Two lines; and they say so much.
My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.
Hug O’ War by Shel Silverstein
The poem starts with these smile-inducing, endearing lines. I remember clearly that it was a tough choice for one of my kids to make between this poem and one of his giggle-inducing poems like Lazy Jane
I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
You can read the complete poem here.
Gitanjali 35 by Rabindranath Tagore
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action—
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
In the Land of Words by Eloise Greenfield
When I first read this poem in Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With A Beat, I immediately read it all over again. It simply delights the logophile in me to be able to “let the words / rain down on me”
You can read the poem in its entirety here.
Believe This by Wilhelmina Stitch
You’re winning. You simply cannot fail.
The only obstacle is doubt;
There’s not a hill you cannot scale
Once fear is put to rout.
Don’t think defeat, don’t talk defeat,
The word will rob you of your strength.
“I will succeed,” This phrase repeat
Throughout the journey’s length.
And Then Some More
Well, not all the poems in this ‘some more’ list are 14 lines or lesser, but they are close enough to that length
- The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear
- Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden. I of course, first heard this poem, in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. And I recall how the words moved me. Today as I mourn the death of one of my beloved uncles, these words
- Carol Ann Duffy’s poem titled Text
- I can easily add many more of both Dickinson and Frost’s poems here, but 10 was the limit after all . I don’t want to start listing them as there are way too many.
- The same with Shel Silverstein’s poems. His poems were the ones my teens used for poetry recitals at elementary school. The poems were easy to memorize, and always brought smiles all around.
- Ogden Nash’s poems..
The Contenders for the Shortest Poem Ever (Or Short Short Poems!)
So here are the contenders. I will hold my thoughts in reserve and let you, my dear readers, decide which one you think is the shortest poem (for what a poem constitutes might be different for each person!)
Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes (or also known simply as Fleas) by Strickland Gillilan
This two-line poem by Muhammad Ali
Me? / Whee!! [Many sources say it could also have been Me. We. ]
Bob Grumman‘s Visual Poem Titled ‘M’
This poem was at one point cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest poem. Grumman wrote these words about it: “The poem plays on formation of an alphabet, as if ‘m’ and ‘n’ are in the process of separating.”
Another Visual Contender: This one from J. W. Curry
which simply consists of the letter “i” with the tittle being his own fingerprint. By doing so, he marked this letter, used to represent oneself, to represent him and his individuality! Certainly clever (even if they stretch the ideas of a poem).
The Shortest And Sweetest of Songs by George MacDonald
Ogden Nash’s Further Reflections on Parsley
Further Notes on the Shortest Poem Ever
I am sure there are many more such contenders (like this one) but for now, which one did you think wins? Or do you have other contenders in mind? Do let me know.
h/t, References and Further Reading
- The Best Short Poems of All Time (Hypertexts): This includes so many wonderful entries; from the very short to some longer selections; silly verses to serious ones; from light to profound thoughts; and from the very well known poets to anon.
- Book Riot’s List of 43 Short Poems (each of which I can happily include on my list; well, some are on it!)
- More short poems here and here at Family Friendly Poems
- Easy Poems to memorize here
Title: Science Verse
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Length: 40 pages
Genre: Children’s Nonfiction in Verse (7 – 10 years)
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (September 23rd 2004)
Source: Library copy
Description: What if a boring lesson about the food chain becomes a sing-along about predators and prey? A twinkle-twinkle little star transforms into a twinkle-less, sunshine-eating-and rhyming Black Hole? What if amoebas, combustion, metamorphosis, viruses, the creation of the universe are all irresistible, laugh-out-loud poetry? Well, you’re thinking in science verse, that’s what. And if you can’t stop the rhymes … the atomic joke is on you.
While the story that starts it all kind of gets lost in the process of the poetry, the book does serve a cool purpose. It introduces science concepts that might be dull to some with humor and imagination. Clever twists on well known rhymes take young readers on a delightful scientific journey.
Some of the concepts might be difficult to understand, but I think it is one of those cases where you will learn without realizing it. Also, teachers and parents can use this in combination with regular lessons on the featured science concept to make lessons livelier! And, it is always a way to learn and understand different poetic forms (since these poems do use a few different forms). I love that the poems in this are based on classic poems; and readers will delight in recognizing the originals as they read these classic twists.
For example, learn the Water Cycle with a poem that begins with “It’s raining, it’s pouring, / for H2O is boring…”; or the Food Chain with verses like “I’ve been working in the food chain, all the livelong day. / In the middle of the food chain, I’ve got no time to play.”
And then there are the illustrations; fun and apt for a light-hearted approach to both poetry and science, and still with details and the little things that add to the narrative. Backmatter also provides additional information that will help in the reading of the book; as well as resources for curious readers.
With verse that plays and illustrations that are perfect complements to the text, this book is a fun way to learn – a lot!
Get It Here
Shaking Things Up
Title: Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World
Compiler: Susan Hood
Length: 40 pages
Genre: Children’s Women’s Biographies (4 – 8 years)
Publisher: HarperCollins (January 23rd 2018)
Source: Library copy
Description: Fresh, accessible, and inspiring, Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trail-blazers, and rabble-rousers. From the award-winning author of Ada’s Violin, Susan Hood, this is a poetic and visual picture book that celebrates persistent women throughout history.
A history lesson, women empowerment, poetry, art – this book is all these in one! Shaking Things Up is a book with poems and illustrations as unique and amazing as the women they feature. Each women is portrayed with a combination of a poem, an illustration, and a brief biography.
I loved that Susan Hood chose different poetic forms for each poem; for example, I loved the really cool shape poem for Mary Anning the paleontologist who I learned about only last year. And of course, the shape used – a dinosaur!
And I loved the diversity of the women featured; in their professions, the time and places they lived in, and race. From little Ruby Bridges to to Maya Lin, who was the architect for the Vietnam Memorial; and so many more women. Some of them I knew about already (and I learned surprising new facts about them as well) while there were a few I did not recognize. And that delighted and saddened me. Delighted, for I now know of them and learned new things about the others; saddened, for I should have known about them already. But that is the best part about these books – the discovery.
Last but not the least, the illustrations! 13 different artists have contributed to this book; and each one is simply beautiful, and perfectly complements the featured woman.
A book that is bound to get the readers to be inspired to shake things up… a must-read and a great gift for anyone.
Get It Here
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured books or any similar reads? Do you have a favorite short poem you love? What do you think is the shortest poem ever?
The AtoZ Challenges
You can find all my A2Z Challenge Posts here.