It is not likely true that Robbie Burns was the first to write a rose poem. It hasn’t even been 300 years since he wrote “A Red, Red Rose,” and surely many a poet wrote of the exquisite rose long before then. But the word luve as he writes to his bonnie lass gives the poem an other world, other time quality, and even if he wasn’t the first, he could very well be the best. With this fresh bouquet of a dozen (minus two) rose poems, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Perhaps you can take them all and arrange them in a vase.
1. A Red, Red Rose
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
2. The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart
All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew and sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water, re-made, like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
3. Had I not been awake, that
then whispered in the night, humbly
of a rose—a little rose asleep
in the meadow amid the lupine—of
a shooting-star beyond the daystar, keeping
at the horizon:
kindly, the faint star wanders—
and time, perceptibly
beyond her breath; time, the edge
of its light, a ghost
I am within her eyes, and from my hands
rendered unable to reach for her, she, too, a ghost.
I had loved flowers that faded, these
rose petals had I placed
gently on her closed eyes, upon her eyelids touched
the edge of a cool petal, near
until it would be felt cool in time no longer, this
under one small star wandering, perhaps
romance of bones kept as relics—after
faith and plighted troth has faded—but kept
the scent of rosebuds from the dust.
— John Daniel Thieme, appeared at Every Day Poems
4. The News
The big country beat the little country up
like a schoolyard bully,
so an even bigger country stepped in
and knocked it on its ass to make it nice,
which reminds me of my Uncle Bob’s
philosophy of parenting.
It’s August, I’m sitting on the porch swing,
touching the sores inside my mouth
with the tip of my tongue, watching the sun
go down in the west like a sinking ship,
from which a flood of stick orange bleeds out.
It’s the hour of meatloaf perfume emanating from the houses.
It’s the season of Little League practice
and atonal high school band rehearsals.
You can’t buy a beach umbrella in the stores till next year.
The summer beauty pageants are all over,
and no one I know won the swimsuit competition.
This year illness just flirted with me,
picking me up and putting me down
like a cat with a ball of yarn,
so I walked among the living like a tourist,
and I wore my health uneasily, like a borrowed shirt,
knowing I would probably have to give it back.
There are the terrible things that happen to you
and the terrible things that you yourself make happen,
like Frank, who gave his favorite niece
a little red sports car
for her to smash her life to pieces in.
And the girl on the radio sings,
You know what I’m talking about. Bawhoop, awhoop.
This year it seems like everyone is getting tattoos—
Great White sharks and Chinese characters,
hummingbirds and musical notes—
but the only tattoo I would want to get
is of a fist and a rose.
But I can’t tell how they will fit together on my shoulder.
If the rose is inside the fist, it will be crushed or hidden;
if the fist is closed, as a fist by definition is,
it cannot reach out to the rose.
Yet the only tattoo I want this year
is of a fist and rose, together.
Fist, that helps you survive.
Rose, without which
you have no reason to live.
5. Nightstand with Roses
They weren’t red nor was I angry,
but with something five shades lighter
than passion, I plucked the roses bald.
Anyway, they were sorry things.
Their nodding heads on such long stems
reminded me how tiring it is,
always trying to forgive.
And besides, I did it gently, pulling petals
the way one tugs off an insect’s wings,
by twos. What my thumb and fingertips
began to hear—yes, they listened for it—
was the shaggy center’s thick dribble,
the tiny rip of dismemberment,
and, in between, the moment of small panic
that comes before—as just before withdrawing
a mouth from another mouth there comes
that in-suck, that sudden taking back although
you’ve already given it up, given up
to it—the letting go. I couldn’t stop
until I had the whole drawer full
of floating pink on pink.
6. Here’s a blush rose,
with raspberry scent.
Here’s a pink,
come taste the edge.
And here, my dear,
upon the stair,
is simply the hip
of a white-blue rose
I’ve carried up
—L.L. Barkat, from Love, Etc.
7. Gloire de Dijon
When she rises in the morning
I linger to watch her;
She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
And the sunbeams catch her
Glistening white on the shoulders,
While down her sides the mellow
Golden shadow glows as
She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
Sway like full-blown yellow
Gloire de Dijon roses.
She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
Glisten as silver, they crumple up
Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
For the sluicing of their rain-dishevelled petals.
In the window full of sunlight
Concentrates her golden shadow
Fold on fold, until it glows as
Mellow as the glory roses.
— D.H. Lawrence
8. Fire Roses
Today you grasped
the stars as
they were slipping off
the edge of my horizon
and shook them back
into the sky.
can leave me
My skin is alive
with the soft imprint
of your mouth.
How many miracles
can there be?
As I burnt your letters
the pages spread and curled
like fire roses.
— Cynthia Fuller, in Virago Book of Love Poetry
9. 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, for more see Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems
10. Hope in Elizabeth
From the train
it’s a city of roses
and rose keepers,
bald men in spectacles
and torn shirts.
There are miles of roses
in Elizabeth, New Jersey,
shadowed by refineries
and the turnpike,
jungles of scrap,
still brown water, and poisoned marsh.
None of this matters
to the rose keepers of Elizabeth.
From the backyards of row houses
they bring forth pink roses, yellow roses
and around a house on its own
green plot, a hedge of roses, in red and white.
Surely faith and charity
are fine, but the greatest of these
Photo by Cream Rose. Creative Commons license via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland