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There is a scene near the end of the movie Contact where the astronaut played by Jodie Foster, sent to be the first human contact with the rest of the galaxy, is overwhelmed by what she sees and says, simply, "They should have sent a poet." Whether it is a description of some far off, unseen natural wonder, a detailed description of a city scene, or a simple way of seeing a familiar place, poetry provides us with a way of translating what we see (and hear and smell, and taste and touch) into something compact and transportable, that lets the experience be shared with others.
Some are as packed with information as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Belfrey of Bruges , others are as simple as Sara Teasdale's Imagist description of Evening: New York. Enjoy them, and see if there are some that stick with you. As I am writing this I have recently returned from Chicago, so Carl Sandburg's description is stuck in my head.
- Chartres by Edith Wharton
A stark, and startling description of the interior of Chartes Cathedral.
- The Florida Beach by Constance Fenimore Woolson
I have spent over ten years now in Florida, but still, like Woolson, I have not spent enough time on The Florida Beach.
- Omaha by Carl Sandburg
The city that "works to get the world a breakfast", according to Sandburg.
A very good example of Sandburg's ability to capture much about a place in very few words.
- Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Hopkins poem about the unspoiled countryside along the east bank of Loch Lomond in Scotland is full of alliterations that roll off your tongue (with
a little practice reading aloud).
- Bronx by Joseph Rodman Drake
I guarantee that Drake would not recognize his idyllic wilderness now; nevertheless, it must have been lovely then...
- Arabia by Walter De La Mare
Yes, there is at least one forest left in modern-day (Saudi) Arabia.
- Chicago by Carl Sandburg
Sandburg's famously explicit portrait of city's faults and possibilities "And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true..."
- On the Mississippi by Hamlin Garland
A short but very alliterative description.
- Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(No one said it had to be a REAL place)
- Yosemite by Joaquin Miller
Miller's words almost literally 'march' us out into the great West to see the valley's wonders
- On Broadway by Claude McKay
McKay pre-dates Leiber & Stoller by many years, but the mood is similar - focused on lack of love rather than lack of money.
- The Blue Ridge by Harriet Monroe
Mountains, personified and ennobled.
- The Belfry of Bruges by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Perhaps more than you want to know.
- Gloucester Moors by William Vaughn Moody
The poet uses the rolling moors that run parallel to the sea to set up a series of parallel metaphors.
- The Nile by James Leigh Hunt
Life flows as a river - but with pyramids, etc.
- London by William Blake
A VERY dark description of the city and its inhabitants. Not one for the tourist brochure.
- Evening: New York by Sara Teasdale
A much more endearing image if New York at night
- City Lyrics by Nathaniel Parker Willis
New York again, on a Hot Summer Night
- Sunset from Omaha Hotel Window by Carl Sandburg
Sandburg. In Nebraska.
- Localities by Carl Sandburg
This one could almost be by e.e. cummings
- Glasgow by Alexander Smith
A soot-streaked, but in the end affectionate portrait of an industrial town.
- Oxford by Lionel Johnson
Nothing but shine in this portrait of a college town.
- A Description of the Morning by Jonathan Swift
An excellent description of a city street in London.
- By Loe Pool by Arthur Symons
A pastoral counterpoint to balance out the city descriptions.
- Niagara by Lydia H. Sigourney
Sigourney works hard to describe hew awe at the Unfathom'd and resistless forces she sees.
- In Southern California by Joaquin Miller
A good recitation of the reasons people used to dream of going to California.
- On the Lighthouse at Antibes by Mathilde Blind
Where it seems to always be a Dark and Stormy Night.
- Midnight at Geneva by Francis Turner Palgrave
A portrait with 'azure' and 'argent'.
- Home Sweet Home by John Howard Payne
Arguably the most important 'place' of all.