The Saddest Poem?



Chris lives in Austin, TX, where he once shook Willie Nelson's hand.

Related Post Roulette

31 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Hemingway’s saddest story, and his shortest:

    “For sale: baby shoes. Never used.”Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Saddest song is Bob Dylan’s If You See Her, Say Hello.

    I see a lot of people as I make the rounds
    And I hear her name here and there as I go from town to town
    And I’ve never gotten used to it, I’ve just learned to turn it off
    Either I’m too sensitive or else I’m gettin’ soft

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      “The Patriot Game” and “The Parting Glass” are both pretty sad, one for tragedy and one for bittersweetness.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Dulce et Decorum Est
        sad trending towards bitter, with a good bit of horrorReport

      • Avatar Chris says:

        World War I gave us a bunch of them. In a sense those poems are beyond sadness, though, not to anger — though that’s there — but an extreme disillusionment:

        Never such innocence,
        Never before or since,
        As changed itself to past
        Without a word–the men
        Leaving the gardens tidy,
        The thousands of marriages
        Lasting a little while longer:
        Never such innocence again.


        These fought, in any case,
        and some believing, pro domo, in any case ..

        Some quick to arm,
        some for adventure,
        some from fear of weakness,
        some from fear of censure,
        some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
        learning later …

        some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
        Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor” ..

        walked eye-deep in hell
        believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
        came home, home to a lie,
        home to many deceits,
        home to old lies and new infamy;

        usury age-old and age-thick
        and liars in public places.

        Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
        Young blood and high blood,
        Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

        fortitude as never before

        frankness as never before,
        disillusions as never told in the old days,
        hysterias, trench confessions,
        laughter out of dead bellies.

        There died a myriad,
        And of the best, among them,
        For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
        For a botched civilization.

        Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
        Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

        For two gross of broken statues,
        For a few thousand battered books.

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    The poems that inspired Mahler’s Songs on the Death of Children

    For the political idealist, Communist by John Berryman

    ‘O tell me of the Russians, Communist, my son!
    Tell me of the Russians, my honest young man!’
    ‘They are moving for the people, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘But what of the Pact, the Pact, Communist, my son?
    What of the Pact, the Pact, my honest young man?’
    ‘It was necessary, mother; let me alone,
    For I am worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘Why are they now in Poland, Communist, my son?
    Why are they now in Poland, my honest young man?’
    ‘For the people of Poland, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘But what of the Baltic States, Communist, my son?
    What of the Baltic States, my honest young man?’
    ‘Nothing can be proven, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m worn out with reading and want to lie down.’

    ‘O I fear for your future, Communist, my son!
    I fear for your future, my honest young man!’
    ‘I cannot speak or think, mother; let me alone,
    For I’m sick at my heart and I want to to lie down.’Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Ugh, those Rückert poems are absolutely heartbreaking. They were common material in our little game.

      When your mother
      steps into the doorway
      and I turn my head
      to see her,
      my gaze does not alight
      first on her face,
      but on the place
      nearer to the threshhold;
      there, where
      your dear face would be
      when you would step in
      with bright joy,
      as you used to, my little daughter.

      When your mother steps
      into the doorway
      with the gleam of a candle,
      it always seems to me as if
      you came in as well,
      slipping in behind her,
      just as you used to come into the room!
      O you, a father’s cell,
      alas! how quickly
      you extinguish the gleam of joy!


      Often I think that they have only stepped out –
      and that soon they will reach home again!
      The day is fair – O don’t be afraid!
      They are only taking a long walk.

      Yes: they have only stepped out
      and will now return home!
      O don’t be anxious – the day is fair!
      They are only taking a walk to those hills.

      They have simply gone on ahead:
      they will not wish to return home.
      We’ll catch up to them on those hills
      in the sunshine!
      The day is fair on those hills.

      Poems about the death of the poets children are pretty much a guarantee. “My Boy Jack,” for example.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The poetry that spoke to me most when I was a teen strikes me as horribly maudlin now. (Stuff like Stephen Donaldson’s stuff from the various Covenant books. Sigh.)

    At the same time, stuff that struck me as obviously maudlin then is much sadder to me today (songs like Danny Boy used to be unlistenable… now, I wonder who in the hell I was that I couldn’t sing along with voice breaking).

    Of course, stuff like “the rainbow bridge poem” can still leave me in moist pile. I mean, if you read it knowing that it’s not real, it might be even sadder.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Louise Gluck’s “Mock Orange” is the next poem I want to read for the poetry reading thing I do from time to time. It might also do well to be included in the discussion.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I was hoping for, “Here I sit, all broken hearted…”Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    In the City of Slaughter by Hayyim Nahman Bialik.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:


      The last stanzas are incredibly powerful:

      Those martyred bones that issue from your bags, And sing, with raucous voice, your pauper’s ditty! So will you conjure up the pity of the nations, And so their sympathy implore. For you are now as you have been of yore And as you stretched your hand So will you stretch it, And as you have been wretched So are you wretched!

      What is thy business here, O son of man?
      Rise, to the desert fee!
      The cup of affliction thither bear with thee!
      Talc thou thy soul, rend it in many a shred!
      With impotent rage, thy heart deform!
      Thy tear upon the barren boulders shed!
      And send thy bitter cry into the storm!

      Thank you.Report

  7. Avatar dhex says:

    When, when we were young
    We had no history
    So nothing to lose
    Meant we could choose
    Choose what we wanted then
    Without any fear
    Or thought of revenge
    But then you grew old
    And I lost my ambition
    So I gained an addiction
    To drink and depression
    (they are mine
    My only true friends
    And I’ll keep them with me
    Until the very end)
    I’d choose not to remember
    But I miss your arrogance
    And I need your intelligence
    And your hate for authority
    But now you’re gone
    I read it today
    They found you in spain
    Face down in the street
    With a bottle in your hand
    And a wild smile on your face
    And a knife in your back
    You died in a foreign land
    And they found my letter
    Rolled up in your pocket
    Where I said I’d kill myself
    If she left me again
    So now she’s gone
    And you’re both in my mind
    I’ve got one thing to say
    Before I am drunk again:
    God damn the sun
    God damn the sun
    God damn anyone
    That says a kind word
    God damn the sun
    God damn the sun
    God damn the light it shines
    And this world it shows
    God damn the sunReport

  8. Avatar Glyph says:

    Seen at the preschool: A symbolic and surprisingly profound tale of the innocence of childhood games; maturing, sexual neurosis, loss of innocence and sexual blossoming; marriage, infidelity, divorce, reconciliation with a new extended family; struggles with the ever-increasing pace of technology, and the resulting alienation, and transcending those struggles to a place of peace and shelter; and the inevitable death of the protagonist (and all things) at the hands of a cruel, random universe.


    • Avatar Chris says:

      Reminds me of the scene in Six Degrees of Separation:

      I remembered asking my kids’ second-grade teacher: ‘Why are all your students geniuses? Look at the first grade – blotches of green and black. The third grade – camouflage. But your grade, the second grade, Matisses, every one. You’ve made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?’ ‘I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.’Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I’m pretty sure the story was collaborative/iterative (different kids contributing the next line/event).

        But I’m only half-kidding about how the symbolic/Freudian interpretation hit me when I saw it, which is why I snapped the photo.

        I mean, Billy gets *stuck* in pants, then escapes them to a *bed*?

        Hooks up with Spider (with the well-known sexual/slang connotations of “boots” and “bumping”), who ends up with the interloper Cat (though at least Billy is eventually able to overcome his pain and bitterness, and share a meal of apple with his former lover and her new paramour)?

        Stuck in a computer, escaping only via an “umbrella”, well-known symbol of protection, imagination and whimsy?

        And then, as it is for all of us in the end: some random goddam bear comes along.

        The End.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The kid who wrote the last part is a Cormack McCarthy fan.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        The first two sentences evoke :Report

  9. Avatar Pinky says:

    I’m going to dig out my books of 19th / early 20th century Russian poetry tonight.Report

  10. Avatar JG New says:

    These lines have always struck me as inconsolably sad

    Like the dew on the mountain,
    Like the foam on the river,
    Like the bubble on the fountain,
    Thou art gone, and forever

    From Coronach, by Sir Walter ScottReport