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Poetry Review – One Hundred and One Famous Poems

One Hundred and One Famous Poems compiled by Roy Cook

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)


Christmas 1989.  I received the anthology One Hundred and One Famous Poems for Christmas from my brother (even though my wisdom tells me my mom bought it for my brother to give to me, that’s what mom’s do).  I still have this book and it has its permanent position on my bookshelf dedicated to classics.

While this anthology includes works by the big names in poetry (Longfellow, Emerson, Burns, Wordsworth, and Tennyson), I prefer the poetic gems from less recognizable names like Cooke, Masefield, and Bennett.

Upon receiving this anthology, I discovered the poem How Did You Die? by Edmund Vance Cooke. People are quite often taken aback slightly when I tell them the title of my favorite poem; I admit it sounds morbid but it’s not morbid at all, it’s all about living!  This poem speaks to me in a way no other poem ever has and it really is my life mantra, my internal reminder to always move forward. My copy of this book almost opens to the page with this poem on its own, I’ve been to it so many times. To this day, I feel the emotions of the lines in my gut and I usually can’t recite it without getting tears in my eyes.  It’s hard for me not to have a strong response to these wonderful lines by Cooke:

And though you be done to death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?

I simply love this stanza.  For some of us, our legacies are all we have to leave behind and I’m determined to leave a positive one!  With this poem, Cooke put together words that have given me inspiration to live a better life for almost thirty years!

There are so many other wonderful poems in this anthology (including a couple of my favorites from Poe) and most of them are short, so people who don’t consider themselves huge fans of poetry won’t get bogged down in pages and pages of stanzas.  And the best part: there are multiple copies available through PBS, so order your copy today!  You could discover a poem that can impact you the way How Did You Die? impacted my life when I was just thirteen years old.







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