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Good poetry says much in few words - this is especially true in descriptions of people. Whether they evoke fondness, dislike, or simply a fascination with the people around us, these poems make excellent reading. Longfellow's The Village Blacksmith is a favorite of many. Robinson and Masters wrote many compact verse portraits, though cummings wins the prize for brevity.
Poems are also frequently a means of delivering an opinion on someome or their behavior - generally a negative opinion. Belloc and Bierce were masters of this, though in the case of The Mayor of Gary, Indiana, Sandburg proves he can throw punches with the best of them.
Note that most of these (with the exception of Buffalo Bill) are not descriptions of famous people. Often the most striking are about anonymous figures - The Chimney Sweeper or The Man with the Hoe for example. Some, like Tommy are stand-ins for 'everyman'; others, like Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair are people you cannot forget. Wilcox, as she often does, takes a step back and points out there are two kinds of people, and asks, Which are You?
- To Mistress Margaret Hussey by John Skelton
A rolling string of accolades that tumbles easily off lips - five centuries after they were written.
- Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson
One of Robinson's many portraits - this tale of a man who can definitely take the bitter with the sweet.
- Lucinda Matlock by Edgar Lee Masters
One of the many character portraits from Master's Spoon River Anthology, in a short soliloquy from the grave on living a full life.
- The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Longfellow's classic portrait of a hard working teaching by his example.
- Rudkin by Kenneth Ashley
One of the best character sketches you'll ever read; and a statement on how people leave their mark in seen and unseen ways.
- Charles Augustus Fortescue by Hillaire Belloc
From Belloc's Cautionary Tales, "The nicest child I ever knew"
- Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Another excellent portrait by Robinson - there is just no pleasing some people.
- Which are You? by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
According to Wilcox there are two kinds of people in the world, but perhaps not the kinds you were thinking of.
- Mrs. Kessler by Edgar Lee Masters
The village laundress - and keeper of secrets - another portrait from Spoon River.
- Alfonso, Dressing to Wait at Table by Claude McKay
Portrait of a waiter (and would be singer) in Harlem of the 1920's.
- The Legatee by Ambrose Bierce
Bierce was never a fan of the Judiciary.
- Nell Barnes by W. H. Davies
Davies brief portrait of a woman who couldn't live with her husband, and literally couldn't live without him.
- Old Susan by Walter De La Mare
A loving portrait drawn from memory
- Buffalo Bill's by e.e. cummings
As always, cummings says so much in so few words.
- Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair by Stephen Foster
Foster's popular song lyrics, still very recognizable after a century and a half.
- Schoolboys in Winter by John Clare
So what did you do on your way to school?
- An Anarchist by Ambrose Bierce
Bierce does not appear too fond of bad musicians either.
- Forefathers by Edmund Blunden
A good ubi sunt poem about those that went before.
- The Ploughman by George Bottomly
Both a portrait and a statement of time and mortality.
- The Chimney Sweeper
Autobiography and dreams of an indentured child laborer, two centuries ago.
- Uncle Ananaias by Edwin Arlington Robinson
storytellers are among the best remembered people from childhood.
- Tommy by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling's archetypal British enlisted soldier.
- The Mayor of Gary, Indiana by Carl Sandburg
The classic portrait of a politician and his disconnect from the world that surrounds him.
- The Man with the Hoe by Edwin Markham
While most poet descriptions of rustic, rural characters are sympathetic - this one is decidedly not; based on a well-known painting.
- Do You Ever Feel Like God? by Christopher Morley
Morley's comments on people watching in the city.
- Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Pick your cliche' -- thay money isn't everything, or that things aren't always as they seem...
- The Andalusian Sereno by Francis Saltus
A Spanish Night Watchman