Poetry: an eccentric list of ten

Classes begin tomorrow. I’m teaching two sections of a first-year (college) core course, an introduction to literature. So, my brain is crowded with the logistics of the syllabus. I decided to focus on close reading rather than comprehensiveness this year. That means only six short stories, only one play, and, most strange, heartbreaking and painful of all, only ten poems. We end with Mrs. Dalloway and a bunch of related secondary readings. I spent a lovely Friday in the main reading room at the New York Public Library going through my anthology (R.S. Gwynn’s Literature: A Pocket Anthology: only thirty dollars and full of good old stuff, not the typical, heavily contemporary short anthology) and picking twenty poems. Pulling it together today, I realized that, as usual, I had about a week less than I thought. That means, only ten poems. What an odd list that makes. Not at all what I would have expected, but I think a fun and formally, thematically diverse selection of tough poems worthy of intense thought. Here they are:
  1. John Donne, “The Canonization,” 1633
  2. Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” 1881
  3. Emily Dickinson, “I felt a funeral in my brain,” 1896
  4. William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” 1807
  5. Gwendolyn Brooks, “the mother,” 1945
  6. Seamus Heaney, “Digging,” 1980
  7. George Herbert, “Easter Wings,” 1633
  8. John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” 1819
  9. Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish,” 1946
  10. Frank O'Hara, “The Day Lady Died,” 1964

It’s weird and heartbreaking to leave off Yeats and Eliot. I feel bad that there is not a sonnet in the bunch but we are doing Othello so don’t despair of Shakespeare’s absence. Strangely, this does not look anything like what my top ten favorite poem list would look like (not that that does—or will—exist). What do you think?