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Reader’s Den, Poetry Month

The Reader's Den: Discussing Don Marquis


Final Week of National Poetry Month

Reader’s Den friends, we’ve come to the fourth and final installment of our month-long celebration of verse. I give you a poem from fellow New Yorker Don Marquis, originally published in 1915. Check out discussion questions after the break, and post comments!


by Don Marquis

So let them pass, these songs of mine,
Into oblivion, nor repine;
Abandoned ruins of large schemes,
Dimmed lights adrift from nobler dreams,

Weak wings I sped on quests divine,
So let them pass, these songs of mine.
They soar, or sink ephemeral--
I care not greatly which befall!

For if no song I e'er had wrought,
Still have I loved and laughed and fought;
So let them pass, these songs of mine;
I sting too hot with life to whine!

Still shall I struggle, fail, aspire,
Lose God, and find Gods in the mire,
And drink dream-deep life's heady wine--
So let them pass, these songs of mine.

Questions to Inspire Discussion:

1. What is the speaker’s attitude toward poetry?
2. Who are the gatekeepers? Who decides which songs or poems can “pass”?
3. How does this poem compare with the first poem we tackled during National Poetry Month, Keats’s When I Have Fears?

I was surprised to learn that Don Marquis possessed a very curmudgeonly view of free verse. This was a man who, despite being a sometime poet, was more famous for being an American humorist who poked fun at poets in the pages of the New York Sun in the early 20th century. He invented a character named archy, a cockroach who also happened to be a free-verse poet, in order to satirize that which he considered an epidemic of bad American free verse poetry. Or as The Economist put it in their review of the Marquis collection entitled archyology ii, “all those endless poor imitators of e e cummings and Walt Whitman--excesses which continue to blight American poetry to this day.”

Ouch! You have to wonder if Marquis would have been a fan of National Poetry Month. All the more reason to drag him into the fray, if you ask me.

If you’d like to read the full review of archyology ii in the pages of the June 10, 2000 issue of The Economist, you can access that content through the Business Source Premier database from any internet computer with your NYPL library card.

For more information about the life and times of Don Marquis, check out

Thanks for joining the Reader’s Den during National Poetry Month. Stay tuned for next month’s discussion of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

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endless, nameless

had I the skill I would storm your heart with verse but you would not like my poems, for even though I made you laugh all my poems are sorrow had I the will I would play for you a song but you would not know the words for even though my heart poured out all my rhymes are sorrow had I the chance I would renew our romance but you would still not care for me for even though you warmed my bed all your poems ring hollow

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