Yesterday, we began the exciting discovery and journey into the world of Children’s Poetry, the forerunner of a continued love of poetry into the world of adult verse.
This next section looks at some of our favourite general poetry books, of which I only possess two, and specific poets including Wordsworth and fellow Romantic Poets, as well as John Masefield, Rupert Brookes, WB Yeates, Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas.
General Poetry Books for Adults
I don’t have many general poetry books, but here are two of my favourites from either end of the scale time-wise! Remember that, as in Part One, many of the poems mentioned can be accessed online through sites like:
The Open Road: A Little Book for Wayfarers 1899/ 1948 (45th edition), compiled by EV Lucas
I treasure my little thin copy of this delightful anthology, as well as its premise:The Table of Contents is divided into:
Farewell to Winter and the Town;
Spring and the Beauty of the Earth;
The Lover Sings;
Sun and Cloud, and the Windy Hills;
Birds, Blossoms and Trees;
Summer Sports and Pastimes;
Refreshment and the Inn;
Garden and Orchard;
Music Beneath a Branch;
The Sea and the River;
The Reddening Leaf;
Night and the Stars;
A Little Company of Good Country People;
A Handful of Philosophy; and The Return.
As you can see, all the good important things of life!
I particularly loved:
In City Streets by Ada Smith;
The Early Morning by Hilaire Belloc;
The Joys of the Road by Bliss Carman;
A number of poems simple titled ‘Song’:
Song (also known as Pippa’s Song) and Home Thoughts From Abroad by Robert Browning;
Song (from Arcadia poem) by Sir Philip Sidney; and
Song by James Thomson;
The Lady of the Lambs by Alice Meynell;
She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron;
Beauty by John Masefield, a particular favourite!;
The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley;
Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats;
Ruth by Thomas Hood;
Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose epic poem, The Ancient Mariner, we had to learn by heart at school;
The Brook by Alfred, Lord Tennyson;
Night by William Blake; and finally,
Henry VI’s Pastoral Wish by William Shakespeare, the famous bard himself!
All the poems mentioned can be accessed online. I have generally not included old favourites, which appear in other books in this post eg The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats or The Vagabond by RL Stevenson. I could not find JW Mackail’s translation of Laus Veneris by Ascepiades, so am reproducing it here:
‘Sweet is the snow in summer for the thirsty to drink, and sweet for sailors after winter to see the garland of spring; but most sweet when one cloak shelters two lovers, and the tale of love is told by both’.
The passage below was another favourite, which exemplified the feeling of joy, freedom and exhilaration felt by my seven year-old son on his conquest of the high sand-dunes at Cloudy Bay at the southern end of Bruny Island, Tasmania on World Environment Day 1992, when we went searching for the extremely rare forty-spotted pardalotes!I also enjoyed the little introductory spiels, including quotes, at the start of each section; the super-thin paper pages and the beautiful green front and back papers of the book, showing the daytime (sun) at the start and the nighttime (moon) at the end.For more ‘modern’ poetry, we have this small paperback, though it is now over fifty years old!:
The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse 1918-1960 Edited by Kenneth Allott 1950/1974
This collection contains 175 poems by 86 poets and divides the poems chronologically by their creators. They include , and please note that I have only mentioned particularly favourites, and more specifically, only those favourites, where I could provide an example of their poems.
: WB Yeats (1865-1939) eg A Prayer for my Daughter, which reminds me of Laurie Lee’s beautiful short story, The Firstborn, in his book, I Can’t Stay Long, in which he expresses his hopes and fears for his newborn daughter. Incidentally, Laurie Lee (1914-1997) is also included in this anthology, with his poem, April Rise;
: War Poets: Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) eg The Child at the Window; and
Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) eg The Pike;
WH Auden (1907-1973) eg Chorus from The Dog Beneath the Skin (Happy the hare at morning, for she cannot read); though I would have also included his poem, Two Songs for Hedli Anderson, immortalized in the film, Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Stephen Spender (1909-1995) eg The Landscape near an Aerodrome;
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) eg Poem in October– more later! and
Philip Larkin (1922-1985) eg Church Going;
Kenneth has a very interesting discussion about the poetry of this time period in the introduction, as well as biographical notes at the start of each grouping of poems. General poetry books are very useful, in that they point you in the right direction for finding your favourite poets.
In chronological order!
Wordsworth: Selected Poems Edited by HM Margoliouth 1959/ 1980
William Wordworth (1770-1850) An English romantic poet and Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1843-1850, whose house we visited at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in the Lake District on our 1983 trip. I love his romantic uplifting nature-inspired poetry, including:
Lines: Written at a small distance from my house and sent by my little boy to the person to whom they are addressed (It is the first mild day of March);
To Sleep (A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by, One after one; the sound of rain, and bees Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas, Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky; I’ve thought of all by turns; and still I lie Sleepless…), a perfect poem for my husband at 3am, the witching hour of the Whale of Doom!
The Solitary Reaper (Behold her, single in the field, Yon solitary Highland Lass),
And, of course, the poem, for which he is most famous: Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud).
As with most of these books devoted to one poet, the next one being the exception, there are extensive biographical notes and critiques of their works. But before I progress to WB Yeates, a nod to a few other poets, whose works I do not possess.
Other English Romantic poets:
John Keats (1795-1821), whose poetry I also love, but alas do not have any books! I didn’t realize that he died of tuberculosis when he was only 25 years old, nor that he was a licensed, but non-practising apothecary for that matter! Luckily, I can access his beautiful poems on: http://keats-poems.com/. Among my favourites are: Ode to a Nightingale 1819 and To Autumn 1820.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892): The Brook; Charge of the Light Brigade; Crossing the Bar; and The Eagle. See: https://www.poemhunter.com/alfred-lord-tennyson/ and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861): https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/how-do-i-love-thee-sonnet-43.
John Masefield (1878-1967)
I should also have a copy of John Masefield poetry, as I love so many of his poems, including: Sea Fever; Cargoes; A Wanderer’s Song; The West Wind; Trade Winds; Roadways and Beauty, one of my favourites:
I HAVE seen dawn and sunset on moors and windy hills
Coming in solemn beauty like slow old tunes of Spain:
I have seen the lady April bringing the daffodils,
Bringing the springing grass and the soft warm April rain.
I have heard the song of the blossoms and the old chant of the sea,
And seen strange lands from under the arched white sails of ships;
But the loveliest thing of beauty God ever has shown to me,
Are her voice, and her hair, and eyes, and the dear red curve of her lips.
They all have such a lovely rhythm, as well as beautiful imagery. For more of his poetry, see: https://www.poemhunter.com/john-masefield/poems/.
Rupert Brookes (1887-1915)
Another later poet, whose poems I admire, but also do not possess a copy, is the First World War poet, Rupert Brookes. Like Keats and Dylan Thomas, he died far too young, from an infected mosquito bite, while on a French hospital ship off the coast of Greek island, Skyros. His most famous and much-loved poems include: The Great Lover and The Soldier. See: https://interestingliterature.com/2016/02/16/the-best-rupert-brooke-poems-everyone-should-read/.
WB Yeats: Selected Poems 1992 Selected by Ian Hamilton for Bloomsbury Poetry Classics
I love my little hardback Bloomsbury Poetry Classic edition, which I bought at the delightful café-bookshop, The Islandman, Dingle, Kerry, back in 1994!
Irish-born WB Yeats (1865-1939) is one of my favourite poets and I love a number of his poems, including:
When You Are Old, the poem I read at my Dad’s funeral (Dad’s choice), though I would have also loved to have read his famous poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, as it reminds me so much of Dad, his self-sufficiency ideals, his beekeeping and his love of nature, books, silence and a peaceful life! Funnily enough, both poems are from The Rose 1893 and appear next to each other in my little book:
An Irish Seaman Foresees his Death (From The Wild Swans at Coole 1919) (I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above);
And Sailing to Byzantium (From The Tower 1928) (That is no country for old men…), though I would have loved to have seen A Coat and He Wishes For the Cloths if Heaven included:
A Coat by WB Yeates
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.
He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven (From The Wind among the Reeds, 1899)
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Robert Frost: Selected Poems Edited by Ian Hamilton (yes, the same editor as the previous book!) 1969/1973
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was one of America’s best-known poets and a favourite poet of my generation, as many of us studied his poems at school. Here are some of my favourites:
From North of Boston 1914:
Mending Wall (Something there is that doesn’t love a wall);
After Apple-Picking (My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree Toward heaven still);
From Mountain Interval 1916:
The Road Not Taken (Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..). Possibly THE most famous Robert Frost poem, it is a tricky poem to learn by heart, but we did it! The problem is that you really need to recite it often to retain the correct order of the words, but it is a beautiful poem and so succinct about the choices we make, that influence and determine the direction of our lives and how really, no choice is necessarily the right one, only different.
From New Hampshire 1923:
Fire and Ice (Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice), an even more succinct little poem of only nine lines!
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (Whose woods these are I think I know) Another poem with tricky word order, it is so easy to start: Whose woods are these I think I know! I love the last verse and its repetition:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
From West-Running Brook 1928
The Rose Family, very pertinent to a rose lover like myself and a lovely little dig at scientific classification:
The Rose Family
The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose-
But were always a rose.
And finally, from A Witness Tree 1942:
The Gift Outright (The land was ours before we were the land’s).
His poems are just so lovely and have such a great sound when read out loud.
The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: The New Centenary Edition Edited by John Goodby 2014
Born in Wales, the intense and passionate Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) burned with a fierce light and he died far too young at the age of 39 years old, but he left us some wonderful poems.
For years, I survived with my battered old Everyman’s Library 1978 paperback copy from schooldays, Dylan Thomas: Collected Poems 1932-1952, but it has now been supplanted with a beautiful birthday hardback book (photo at bottom of post). Here is my original copy:
I love Dylan Thomas’s poetry, as so many of my generation do. I love his imagery, his phraseology and his use of invented words, and his stringing together of normally-unrelated words to create perfect visual images eg:
‘In the mustardseed sun, By full tilt river and switchback sea’ and ‘palavers of birds’, ‘the congered waves’ and ‘the thistledown fall’ in Poem on His Birthday; and
‘the mussel pooled and the heron priested shore’ and ‘the sea wet church the size of a snail With its horns through mist’, both from Poem in October.
I love his repetition, used to such devastating effect in And Death Shall Have No Dominion and Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night; his rhythm in Lament and The Hand That Signed The Paper; and his use of tempo to create the required effect.
Fern Hill literally sings and trips like a burbling brook or a child on the run from dawn till dusk, ‘before the children green and golden Follow him (time) out of grace’, when the tempo slows.
I also love his use of allusion, often quite elusive and well hidden by context. Here is an obvious one! ‘Incarnate devil in a talking snake’ in Incarnate Devil.
Obscure at times, and often quite bleak, these poems are so richly layered and sensuous, that if you haven’t had the fortune of encountering Dylan Thomas, definitely make the effort! All poems are online.
The appendices in the Centenary edition, contain extracts from letters and interviews and some very helpful notes for a full understanding of his poems, especially the more obscure ones!
My favourites are, in order of publication:
From 18 Poems 1934: Especially When the October Wind (1932) ;
From Twenty-Five Poems 1936: And Death Shall Have No Dominion (1933); and The Hand That Signed The Paper (1935);
From Deaths and Entrances 1946: Poem in October (1944) and Fern Hill (1945); and
From In Country Sleep 1952: Poem on His Birthday (1949); Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (1951); and Lament (1951).
Tomorrow, I will be looking at two specific genres of poetry, which are favourites of mine: Australian Poetry and Nonsense Verse.