Don't Know Much

Don’t Know Much About® Poetic First Lines


“April,” as T.S. Eliot told us, “is the cruellest month.”

It is also National Poetry Month. That idea was inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. So to test your poetic wits, a quick Pop Quiz on some famous first poetic lines… Then go read the whole poems.

“Let us go then, you and I.”  With this opening line, T.S. Eliot invites his reader into the mind of his uninspired, indecisive narrator in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” A poem’s first line can set a scene, as Walt Whitman’s “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed” does.  Or it might intrigue the reader, as when Emily Dickinson writes, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died” (Poem 465).

Who opened their poems with the famous lines below?  See how many poets you can identify.


1.    How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

2.    anyone lived in a pretty how town

3.    Take up the White Man’s burden–

4.    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

5.    In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn

6.    It so happens I am sick of being a man.

7.    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

This quiz is adapted from Don’t Know Much About Literature


1.    Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet 43.”

2.    e.e. cummings, “anyone lived in a pretty how town.”

3.    Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden.”  This 1899 poem encouraged Americans to colonize the Philippines and other former Spanish colonies.

4.    Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky” from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

5.    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Kahn.”

6.    Pablo Neruda, “Walking Around” (trans. Robert Bly).

7.    Allen Ginsberg, “Howl.”

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