As New Yorkers can attest, there’s a certain magnetic energy to our city that draws residents and visitors alike, inspiring creativity and awe. Though NYC’s allure has to be experienced to be truly understood, writers have a way of capturing the city’s magic in a way that can make even the most jaded New Yorker swoon. In anticipation of National Poetry Month in April, we wanted to celebrate by sharing some of our favorite poems about NYC.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the thick-stem’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.
Read full Crossing Brooklyn Ferry poem.
Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.
I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem’s heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day—
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.
Oh mighty City of New York! you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only thing that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.
And as for Central Park, it is lovely to be seen,
Especially in the summer season when its shrubberies and trees are green;
And the Burns’ statue is there to be seen,
Surrounded by trees, on the beautiful sward so green;
Also Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott,
Which by Englishmen and Scotchmen will ne’er be forgot.
Read full Jottings of New York poem.
(Fun fact: McGonagall claimed to have been given the title “Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant of Burmah” by the King of Burma.)
About me young careless feet
Linger along the garish street;
Above, a hundred shouting signs
Shed down their bright fantastic glow
Upon the merry crowd and lines
Of moving carriages below.
Oh wonderful is Broadway — only
My heart, my heart is lonely.
Desire naked, linked with Passion,
Goes trutting by in brazen fashion;
From playhouse, cabaret and inn
The rainbow lights of Broadway blaze
All gay without, all glad within;
As in a dream I stand and gaze
At Broadway, shining Broadway — only
My heart, my heart is lonely.
One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.
Read full Meditations in an Emergency poem.
Veiling the Woolworth, argently
Rising slender and stark
Mellifluous-shrill as a vender’s cry,
And towers squatting graven and cold
On the velvet bales of the dark,
And the Singer’s appraising
Indolent idol’s eye,
And night like a purple cloth unrolled –
Read full Manhattan poem.
Sometimes when my eyes are red
I go up on top of the RCA Building
and gaze at my world, Manhattan—
my buildings, streets I’ve done feats in,
lofts, beds, coldwater flats
—on Fifth Ave below which I also bear in mind,
its ant cars, little yellow taxis, men
walking the size of specks of wool—
Panorama of the bridges, sunrise over Brooklyn machine,
sun go down over New Jersey where I was born
& Paterson where I played with ants—
Read full My Sad Self poem.
Lines of lamp-light
Splinter the black water,
And all through
The dim park
Hanging among the trees.
But they are only like fire-flies
Pricking the darkness,
And I lean my body against it
And spread out my fingers
To let it drift through them.
I am a swimmer
In the damp night,
Or a bird
Floating over the sucking grasses.
I am a lover
Tracking the silver foot-prints
Of the moon.
I am a young man,
In Central Park,
Bursting over me.
The trees push out their young leaves,
Although this is not the country;
And I whisper beautiful, hot words,
Although I am alone,
And a few more steps
Will bring me
The glare and suffocation
Of bright streets.
Interested in reading more poetry?
Check out the upcoming New York City Poetry Festival in the fall, the Poetry in Motion collection of poems (which you may have seen on the subway), the Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.