Short but Effective Poetry

As an English professor, and as a technical writer, I love short poems. They are efficient; they are functional; yet they also manage to surprise, delight, and/or enlighten.
Just as a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, a few good lines of verse can pack as much emotional content as a whole paragraph of ordinary prose.

My point is not to say that short poems are better than long poems; rather, because some students assume that poetry is "easy" to write, and that short poems are therefore very easy, I want to call attention to the work that goes into crafting these exquisite little vessels of thought.

Poets generally tend to agonize over each and every word. When a poem only uses a few dozen words, each one becomes extremely important.


Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton's Wife

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died.

Sir Henry Wotton (1568–1639)


This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams (1934)


One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
     All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet --
     One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
     "My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
     One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
     One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah, no, it's always just my luck to get
     One perfect rose.

Dorothy Parker (1926)


The Cow

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

Ogden Nash (1931)

Reflections on Ice-breaking

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Ogden Nash (1931)


The Turtle

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Ogden Nash (1940)



Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

W. S. Merwin (1973)


You Fit into Me

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye

Margaret Atwood (1971)

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