Short Poems: Little Exquisite Vessels of Thought

Jerz > Writing > General Creative Writing TipsPoetry | Fiction ]

As an English professor who teaches literature and professional writing, 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; however, because the general public often assumes that poetry is “easy” to write, so short poems must be very easy to write.

Far from it! Poets generally tend to agonize over the selection and deployment of 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)

18 thoughts on “Short Poems: Little Exquisite Vessels of Thought

  1. I just read a lot of the comments posted by Dennis, Ted, Elizabeth, Amy and others and I think you guys are great. I love the verbal gymnastics. Very cool heady stuff. Always makes me feel good to see smart open minded Earth People chopping it up without being all catty. Thanks. Keep up the good talks. I write lyrical poetry myself, however, am not sure on how to get in the conversation with the group other than what I’m doing now. Duh. (smile) but yeah. Anyhow may many blessings befall you…

  2. Ezra Pound’s words not here, see!
    Prob’ly ‘cos in jail he be,
    and ’45 to ’57; madhouse, unfree.

    Seems to me in Italy, his mind did soar.
    Unlike Ogden’s lines that bore
    reader’s minds (times four)!

    “Let us get our Pound’s worth!”
    (After all he’s free).
    Do us a favour will-ya,
    (Like if you agree)!

  3. My loving life is loving the material cycle of the virgin mother that proceeds my passion of life’s interesting puzzles that complete the fabric of the universe.

  4. The word of these poems were quite captivating, thought provoking and some just downright funny. appreciated it.

  5. I found your page when looking for Merwins poem on separation. I wanted to use it for its stripped down beauty but I find myself cynically seduced by Attwood instead. Thank you

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