Five Poems That Pulled Me Into Poetry

Do you remember which poems pulled you into poetry? The ones that dazzled and beguiled you? I was given a book of poems very early by my grandmother and grew fascinated by the rhythm and the words. I was lucky enough to have elementary school teachers that emphasized poetry in their literature lessons. Memorizing a poem gave me a friend to recite in my head whenever I needed. Of course, a steady diet of Shakespeare in high school helped me fall in love with poetry also. Here are the five poems, in no particular order.

First Poem

My grandfather gave me a book that had the following poem in it. Among all the others it stood out. I didn’t live near the ocean, just visited it on vacations, but the poem has such longing and romanticism in it I couldn’t help but be enraptured. I was always reading history and historical novels in school, so this one captured my imagination.

    Sea Fever
    by John Masefield

    I must go down to the seas again, to the
          lonely sea and the sky,
    And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer
          her by;
    And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and
          the white sail’s shaking,
    And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey
          dawn breaking.
    I must go down to the seas again, for the call
          of the running tide
    Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be
    And all I ask is a windy day with the white
         clouds flying,
    And the flung spray and the blown spume, and
          the sea-gulls crying.
    I must go down to the seas again, to the
          vagrant gypsy life,
    To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where
          the wind’s like a whetted knife;
    And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing
    And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the
          long trick’s over.

Second Poem

I have a very old copy of the Complete Poems of Robert Frost. I don’t know where it came from or how long I’ve had it, but this poem is bookmarked. It is very evocative and reminds me of Christopher Marlowe’s poems. Of course I love all the classic Frost poems, “The Road Not Taken”, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “Birches”, “Mending Wall”, and “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.

    A Line-storm Song
    by Robert Frost

    The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift, 
      The road is forlorn all day, 
    Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift, 
      And the hoof-prints vanish away. 
    The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
      Expend their bloom in vain. 
    Come over the hills and far with me, 
      And be my love in the rain. 

    The birds have less to say for themselves 
      In the wood-world’s torn despair
    Than now these numberless years the elves, 
      Although they are no less there: 
    All song of the woods is crushed like some 
     Wild, easily shattered rose. 
    Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
      Where the boughs rain when it blows. 

    There is the gale to urge behind 
      And bruit our singing down, 
    And the shallow waters aflutter with wind 
      From which to gather your gown.    
    What matter if we go clear to the west, 
      And come not through dry-shod? 
    For wilding brooch shall wet your breast 
      The rain-fresh goldenrod. 

    Oh, never this whelming east wind swells   
      But it seems like the sea’s return 
    To the ancient lands where it left the shells 
      Before the age of the fern; 
    And it seems like the time when after doubt 
      Our love came back amain.      
    Oh, come forth into the storm and rout 
      And be my love in the rain.

Third Poem

Then there’s Emily Dickinson. She wove in and out of my early poem reading, and I fell in love with her succinct style that said so much. She’s still one of my favorite poets. Setting Sail, as it got titled somewhere along the way, is one poem I memorized because it speaks to me as a landlubber who finally went out to sea.

    Emily Dickinson



    Exultation is the going
    Of an inland soul to sea, —
    Past the houses, past the headlands,
    Into deep eternity!

    Bred as we, among the mountains,
    Can the sailor understand
    The divine intoxication
    Of the first league out from land?

Fourth Poem

I stumbled across High Flight while reading some WWII history. Our family has close ties to aviation, my father worked in the industry. Some vacations we’d drive out to that city’s airport and watch the planes take off and land. There were pilgrimages to the Air and Space Museum. In the Army I even put in to fly helicopters. Alas, my eyesight wasn’t good enough. 

John Gillespie Magee Jr., the RAF poet, wrote very few poems during WWII but sent them to his parents in letters. He was killed in a training accident on December 11, 1941. I think of this poem whenever I hear one of my favorite songs – Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly. Both speak to pilots, astronauts, and wanna be flyers everywhere.

    High Flight
    by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air ....

    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
    And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Learning to Fly video


    Learning to Fly

    Into the distance, a ribbon of black
    Stretched to the point of no turning back
    A flight of fancy on a wind swept field
    Standing alone my senses reeled
    A fatal attraction is holding me fast
    How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

    Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
    Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything
    No navigator to find my way home
    Unladened, empty, and turned to stone

    A soul in tension that's learning to fly
    Condition grounded but determined to try
    Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Friction lock, set
    Mixtures, rich
    Propellers, fully forward
    Flaps, set - 10 degrees
    Engine gauges and suction, check

    Above the planet on a wing and a prayer
    My grubby halo, a vapor trail in the empty air
    Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
    Out of the corner of my watering eye
    A dream unthreatened by the morning light
    Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

    There's no sensation to compare with this
    Suspended animation, a state of bliss
    Can't keep my mind from the circling sky
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Songwriters: Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne
    For non-commercial use only.

Last but not least

Of course, no influence of mine would ever be complete without the main man himself, William Shakespeare. I ran into Shakespeare in high school English class, first in plays we acted out, then through the sonnets. There are many sonnets I like, sometimes it depends on the day and how I’m feeling. But if I had to choose just one, this would be it.

    William Shakespeare
    Sonnet 14: Not From The Stars Do I My Judgement Pluck

    Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
    And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
    But not to tell of good or evil luck,
    Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
    Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
    Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
    Or say with princes if it shall go well
    By oft predict that I in heaven find:
    But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
    And, constant stars, in them I read such art
    As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
    If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
    Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
    Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

You may sense a theme in all these poems. I never realized until I started keeping track of all the poems that moved me. I have a folder, My Great Big Pile O’Inspiration, for when I just need to immerse myself in words I love. How about you? Any poems that have wended their way into your heart?

Other Essays on Poetry

Poetry Submissions for the Rest of Us

Why I Don’t Write Political Poetry

What I Learned From Editing

Outside Links

The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language

Poetry Foundation


One comment

  1. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

    Ah, the sea, the stars! I veer toward more modern verse as inspiration, although Shakespeare was certainly an early influence. But what influenced me most when I was a kid stumbling into poetry were rock lyrics, Dr. Seuss, Jack Kerouac, and Eastern philosophy, as well as Catholic prayer. Interesting to think of that now and pinpoint where these influences show up in my work. Specific poems would take me a while to unearth.

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