The first few lines of a poem are important ones. They have to arouse our interest and curiosity so that we want to read on. This introductory line or two may shock, and grab us by the throat; alternatively, it may seduce and captivate us in more subtle and gentle ways.
Some favourite first lines come immediately to mind. How about the stunning start to Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Let us go then, you and I,
When evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table . . .
Like a patient etherised upon a table! This must be one of the most original and daring similes in any poem ever written.
I've always loved the sonnets of Shakespeare and the poems of Keats. Who could resist: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate . . . or When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past . . . or My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense as though of hemlock I had drunk . . . or Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun . . .
The opening to Coleridge's Kubla Khan thrilled me from an early age: In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran / Through caverns measureless to man / Down to a sunless sea . . .
I defy anyone not to read further when Patrick Kavanagh writes: On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew / That her dark hair would weave a snare that I would one day rue . . .
Adrian Mitchell has wonderful, attention-grabbing first lines, including this one from To Whom It May Concern: I was run over by the truth one day . . .
Finally, has anyone composed a more sensational and apocalyptic beginning to a poem than this: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by / madness, starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn / looking for an angry fix, / angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly / connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night . . .
These are, of course, the first few lines of Allen Ginsberg's Howl.
I would be fascinated to know any of your own favourite poetic first lines . . .