99 Splendid Poems


Love the Wild Swan is an anthology of 99 great poems according to me, assembled for my students at Sarah Lawrence College. For the first version I made photocopies. For the second, I typed everything; every time I got bored typing, I ditched the poem. (As you'll see, all of "Song of Myself" still made it in.) The third version, 2013's, makes some changes on other bases, as my tastes have changed, and my sense of the needs of my students—especially of what I might trust that they'll find without me, vs. what I could include that they might not otherwise see.  I suspect that every attempt to assemble 99 great poems might produce a different version.

I tried to include the whole anthology here; twice, after extensive reformatting to reflect line breaks, the document disappeared. So here is a taste instead; for the full 99 you'll have to speak to a Sarah Lawrence student, or assemble your own.

Love the Wild Swan


1. “Lament to the Spirit of War,” Enheduanna (~2300 BCE), translated by Daniela Gioseffi, 1

2. from “The Shield of Achilles,” The Iliad, Homer (~7th-8th c. BCE), translated by Robert Fagles, 2

         Anonymous 1

                   3. Tablet IX from Gilgamesh (~2000 BC), version by David Ferry, 5

                   4. “The little sycamore...” (13th-10th c. BCE), Egypt, 10

                   5. “Eesha-Upanishad” (~600 BCE), translated by Shree Purohit Swami & WB Yeats, 11

6. “Amergin’s Charm,” Amergin (~5th c. BCE), translated by Robert Graves, 13

7. ”Some men say an army of horse...”, Sappho (~650 BCE), translated by Anne Carson,  14

8. “Song of Songs,” Anonymous (~3rd c. BCE), King James translation (1611), 16

9. “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” Li Po (701-762) via Ezra Pound (1885-1972), 22

10. Canto 1, Inferno, Dante (1265-1321), translated by Allen Mandelbaum, 23

11. “On the eve of Creation...”, Ghazal 26, Háfiz (1300-1389), translated by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., 28

12. “Cántico Espiritual,” “Soul-Song,” San Juan de la Cruz, St. John of the Cross (1549-1591), translated by Elaine Valby, 29

13. “When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes...”, Sonnet #29, William Shakespeare (1564- 1616), 43

14. “Batter my heart...”, #14 from Holy Sonnets, John Donne (1572-1631), 44

15. “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” Robert Herrick (1591-1674), 45

16. “When I consider how my light is spent...”, John Milton (1608-1674), 46

17. “Another year is gone...”, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), translated & transliterated by Makoto Ueda, 47

18. “Soneto CXLV, A su retrato,” "Sonnet," Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1652-1695), translated by Samuel Beckett, 48

19. From Fragment B, “Jubilate Agno,” Christopher Smart (1722-1771), 50

20. “All Religions Are One,” William Blake (1757-1827), 53

21. “Ode to a Nightingale,” John Keats (1795-1821), 55

22. “There is only one beloved face...”, Ghalib (1797-1869), translated by WS Merwin, 56

23. “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman (1819-1892), version by Galway Kinnell, 57

24. “To the Reader,” Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), imitation by Robert Lowell, 101

25. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes--”, #341, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), 102

         Anonymous 2

                            26. “Western Wind,” England, 103

                            27. “Donal Og” (8th c.), Ireland, 104

                            28. “Motherless Child,” USA, 106

29. “Afterwards,” Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), 107

30. “God’s Grandeur,” Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), 109

31. “The Song That I Came to Sing,” Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), translated by the author, 110

32. “The Bandaged Shoulder,” CP Cavafy (1863-1933), translated by Edmund Keeley &  Philip Sherrard, 111

33. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” WB Yeats (1865-1939), 112

34. “We Wear the Mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1938), 113

35. “After Apple-Picking,” Robert Frost (1874-1963), 114

36. “A Box,” from Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), 116

37. “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), translated by Stephen Mitchell, 117

38. “The Idea of Order at Key West,” Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), 120

39. “Zone,” Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), translated by Samuel Beckett, 123

40. “Pictures from Brueghel,” William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), 133

41. “Love the Wild Swan,” Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), 142

42. “The Burial of the Dead,” from The Waste Land, TS Eliot (1887-1965), 143

43. “By Way of Introduction,” from Requiem, Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), translated  by Robert Lowell, 145

44.  "The Tobacco Shop," Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), translated by Richard Zenith, 146

45. “The Stalin Epigram,” Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), translated by Clarence Brown & WS Merwin, 151

46. “Hoy Me Gusta La Vida Mucho Menos,” "Today I Like Life Much Less," César Vallejo (1892-1938), translated by SG, 152

47. “if there are any heavens...”, ee cummings (1894-1962), 154

48. “Freedom of Love,” André Breton (1896-1966), translated by Edouard Roditi, 155

49. “Questions from a Worker Who Reads,” Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), translated by Michael Hamburger, 157

50. “La Guitarra,” “The Guitar,” Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), translated by SG, 159

51. “To Brooklyn Bridge,” Hart Crane (1899-1932), 161

         Anonymous 3

                   52. from The Kumulipo, Hawai'i, 163

                   53. “The enemy has made me angry...”, Lakota, 165

                   54. “We shall whisper the origin...”, Mayan, from the Popul Vuh / Book of Counsel, 166

55. “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” Nazim Hikmet (1902-1967), translated by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk, 167

56. “Seven Moments of Love,” Langston Hughes (1902-1967), 171

57. “La Poesía,” “Poetry,” Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), translated by Alistair Reid, 175

58. “Lullaby,” WH Auden (1907-1973), 179

59. “Knowledge of Ambiguity” Yannis Ritsos (1909-1990), translated by ?, 181

60. “There was a Youth whose Name was Thomas Granger,” Charles Olson (1910-1970), 182

61. “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), 184

62. “Don’t Ask Me Now, Beloved,” Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), translated by Naomi Lazard, 185

63. “Phonograph Blues,” Robert Johnson (1911-1938), 186

64. from Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire (1913-2008), translated by Clayton Eshleman & Annette Smith, 187

65. “St. Roach,” Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), 191

66. “Snow Line,” #28 from The Dream Songs, John Berryman (1914-1972), 192

67. “I love those little booths at Benvenuti’s,” from Annie Allen, Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), 193

68. “NO MORE SAND ART,” Paul Celan (1920-1970), translated by John Felstiner, 195

69. “When I Banged My Head on the Door," Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), translated by Chana Bloch, 197

70.  “Elegy of Fortinbras,” Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), translated by Czeslaw Milosz & Peter Dale Scott, 198

71.  “Would You Wear My Eyes?”, Bob Kaufman (1925-1986), 199

72.  from Kaddish, Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), 200

73.  “The Day Lady Died,” Frank O’Hara (1926-1966), 203

74.  “Chord,” WS Merwin (1927-     ), 204

75.  “Tattered Kaddish,” Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), 205

76.  “The Visibility Trigger,” Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930-     ), 206

77.  Chapter LXIV from Omeros, Derek Walcott (1930-    ), 209

78.  “Ruiseñores de nuevo,” "More Nightingales," Juan Gelman (1930-     ), translated by SG, 213

79.  “Edge,” Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), 217

80.  “Power,” Audre Lorde (1934-1992), 218

81.  “The Dog’s Music,” Russell Edson (1935-         ), 220

82.   “i am accused of tending to the past...”, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010), 221

83.  “In the Morning,” Jayne Cortez (1936-2012), 222

84.  “beware : do not read this poem,” Ishmael Reed (1938-        ), 225

85.  “Guilty of Dust,” Frank Bidart (1939-      ), 227

86.  “A Woman Is Talking to Death,” Judy Grahn (1940-     ), 228

87.  From Memory for Forgetfulness, Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008), translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, 241

88.  “Eight Days in April,” Marilyn Hacker (1942-     ), 243

89.  “The Real Indian Leans Against,” Chrystos (1946-     ), 246

90.  “Changes; or, Reveries at a Window Overlooking a Country Road, with Two  Women Talking Blues in the Kitchen,” Yusef Komunyakaa (1947-     ), 247

91.  “i waz missin somethin...”, from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when  the rainbow is enuf, ntozake shange (1948-    ), 250

92.  “Book of Isaiah,” Anne Carson (1950-     ), 253

93.  From Blue Hour, Carolyn Forché (1950-        ), 262

94.  "Return," Dionne Brand, (1953-    ), 264

95. “Twenty-Five Haiku,” Marilyn Chin (1955-    ), 265

96.  from The Narrow Road to the Interior, "Compass," Kimiko Hahn (1955-     ), 267

97.  "Delenda Undone," Patrick Rosal, (1969-    ), 268

98.  "Ballad in O," Cathy Park Hong, (1976-     ), 270

99.  "Crescendo," Rickey Laurentiis, (1989-    ), 271




         In the village of poetry there is a custom of segregation; the foreign are often separated from the native-born, the lyric from the epic, the named from the unnamed, the living from the dead. A heedless lover has to search among the fences to find those poems that for all their surface differences do what great poems have always done: make communion between strangers, writer and reader, and between this new pair and what torments and sustains them, dancing always just beyond reach, what Robinson Jeffers called "this wild swan of a world."

         This anthology is an attempt to tear down the fences, so the village inhabitants can mingle and quarrel and embrace in all their diversity. When I compiled it for my classes at Sarah Lawrence College, it was to attempt a reunion among these scattered voices, and to spare the students the spinal and financial burden of bringing to each class the score of books that contained them. Every year I ask my students to compile a ten-page anthology of splendid poems, with copies for us all--to try to catch, in Jeffers’ words again, “one color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.” This is my own slightly expanded version.

         Of the ninety-nine poems here, thirty-eight appear in translation, for the satisfaction of the reader thirsty enough for great poetry that s/he does not mind exulting over two arts--the poet's and the translator's--at once; in several cases I couldn’t bear to part with the originals, the ones whose sounds I can stumble through, so I have included these as well. Several are excerpts from much longer poems, included in the hope that the tantalized reader will seek out the complete text; some much longer poems are included in their entirety, like “Song of Myself.” Of the poets, four-fifths are dead, one-fifth alive, which seemed a just proportion, breaking the anthology habit of including only a token sprinkling of the living or excluding the dead entirely. The poems are arranged in the chronological order of their authors' birthdates, to hear the sound of the collective conversation unfolding over the centuries. Also included are small, peripheral notes. Every poem included carries the secret companions of the others the number limit made me rule out; the only poet permitted more than one entry is my favorite, Anonymous, who may be the author of all the others, wearing various disguises along the way.

         Among the many biases here, mostly invisible to me, is one visible, toward my own country:  forty-three of the ninety-nine selections come from the United States. Some of this is no doubt due to my own ignorance, some perhaps due to fewer contemporary poets taking on the labor of translation; of the last twenty-five selections, only two were originally written in a language other than English, a much smaller proportion than prevails earlier in the list. Some of my leaning toward the Usahn* comes from tremendous excitement over the diversity--both technical and demographic--of the voices constituting our literature over the past thirty years, calling across internal and external borders. And some no doubt comes simply from a love for this land and its languages and the poets who speak them--for my mother tongue(s), for home.

         A canon is "sacred writings admitted to the catalog according to the rule," so in a sense every anthology is a canon, including this one. A canon is a useful thing; I am not among those who would abolish them, calling off the party just when the interesting people are showing up. A canon is useful because life is short and every book lifted leaves another untouched; all poetry is not equal in its ability to raise the hair on the back of your neck, and I want to pass my little time here on earth in the company of what does, leaning inevitably in the direction of my taste but also leaning against its limitations. A canon is also "a polyphonic composition in which there are repetitions of a preceding part in the same or related keys"--so let there be a canon but polyphony. Let all the repetitions of the great preceding part be heard without prejudice. And let there be constant doubting and revision: the reason there are not one hundred poems here but ninety-nine (not including the irresistible postlude). You add the last one yourself.

Suzanne Gardinier

*Usahn Of or pertaining to the USA.


Ruiseñores de nuevo
Juan Gelman

a la payita

en el gran cielo de la poesía/mejor dicho/
en la tierra o mundo de la poesía que incluye cielos/astros/dioses/mortales/
está cantando el ruiseñor de keats/siempre
pasa rimbaud empuñando sus 17 años como la llama de amor viva de san juan/

a la teresa se le dobla el dolor y su caballo triza
el polvo enamorado de francisco de quevedo y villegas/
el dulce garcilaso arde en los infiernos de john donne/
de césar vallejo caen caminos para que los pies de la poesía caminen/

pies que pisan callados como un burrito andino/
baudelaire baja un albatros de su reino celeste/
con el frac del albatros mallarmé va a la fiesta de la nada posible/
suena el violín de verlaine en la fiesta de la nada posible/recuerda

que la sangre es posible en medio de la nada/
que girondo liublimará perrinunca lamora/y
girarán los barquitos de tuñon
contra el metal de espanto que obusó a apollinaire/

oh lou que desamaste la eternidad de viaje/
el palacio de exceso donde entró la sabiduría de blake /
el paco urondo que forraba en lamé la felicidad
para evitarle fríos de la época

roque dalton que trepaba por el palo mayor de su alma y gritaba «Revolución»
y veía la Revolución y la Revolución era la sola tierra firme que veía
y javier heraud que fue a parar tiernísimo a la selva/
y abrió la selva de la boca con su torrente claro/

y el padre darío que a los yanquis dijo no/
como sandino dijo no/
y el frente amplio de la poesía y de la guerra les volvió a decir no/
y nicaragua brilla en su ejercicio de amar/

martí yendo viniendo por el aire con los muertos queridos
que vio volar como una rosa blanca/
 ¿no ves a mis compañeros volar por el aire ochenta años después?
 ¿estás despierto para que sigamos diciendo no?/

los muertos se ponen pálidos como magdalena cuando amasaba
sus panes con más lágrimas que harina?/¿hasta que venga el día?
 ¿día en que toda américa latina subirá lentamente?
 ¿amorosamente?/¿navegando como hacen mis planetas del sur?

ahora canta el ruiseñor del griego al fondo de los siglos/
pasa walt whitman con el ruiseñor al hombro cantando en paumanok/
pasa el comandante guevara a hombros del ruiseñor/
pasa el ruiseñor que se alejó de la vida callado como burrito andino

en representación de los que caen por la vida/
pasa la luna de rosados dedos/
pasa safo abrigando al ruiseñor
que canta/canta/canta



More Nightingales
Juan Gelman / Translated by SG

to my angel

in the great heaven of poetry/in other words
in the land or world of poetry that includes     heavens/stars/gods/mortals
keats's nightingale is singing/always
rimbaud goes by holding his 17 years in his fist like san juan's living flame of love

teresa is doubled over with pain and her horse tramples
the lovesick dust of francisco de quevedo y villegas/
the gentle garcilaso burns in the infernos of john donne/
from césar vallejo footsteps fall for the the feet of poetry to walk in

feet that step silent like a little andean burro/
baudelaire sends down an albatross from his celestial kingdom/
in an albatross tailcoat mallarmé goes to the party of nothing-is-possible
verlaine's violin plays at the party of nothing-is-possible/remember

that blood is possible in the middle of nothing/
that girondo will bookforgetsea butanever loveywill/and
tuñon's little boats will turn
against the shock shrapnel that shelled apollinaire/

oh lou who stopped loving the eternity of the journey/
the palace of excess where blake's wisdom came in/
and paco urondo who lined happiness with lamé
to avoid the cold of the season

roque dalton who climbed the main-mast of his soul and shouted Revolution
and saw the Revolution and the Revolution was the only terra firma he saw
and javier heraud who ended up stopping so tenderly in the forest/
and opened the forest of his mouth with its clear torrent/

and father darío who said no to the yanquis/
as sandino said no/
and the broad front of poetry and of the war said no to them again/
and nicaragua shines in the exercise of its love/

martí coming and going through the air with the beloved dead
whom he saw fly like a white rose/
can't you see my compañeros fly through the air eighty years later?
are you awake so we can keep saying no?/

the dead turn pale like magdalene when she was kneading
her bread with more tears than flour?/until the day comes?
the day when all latin america will slowly rise?
lovingly?/flying like my planets of the south?

now the nightingale sings who belongs to the greek at the bottom of the centuries/
walt whitman goes by with the nightingale on his shoulder singing in paumanok/
comandante guevara goes by on the nightingale's shoulders/
the nightingale goes by who left this life silent like a little andean burro

to stand for those who fall for life/
the moon goes by with rosy fingers/
sappho goes by with a warm coat for the nightingale
who sings/sings/sings/




Here's the irresistible postlude mentioned in the Introduction:  a manuscript that arrived from Samuel Beckett in 1989, when I was reading poetry for Ben Sonnenberg's Grand Street magazine