In case you’ve miraculous missed it on the news, the BBC, news websites, or Twitter, today is National Poetry Day. I will be the first to admit that, despite being a literature student, my poetry knowledge is shamefully limited at best. Let alone modern poetry or, worse still, performance poetry – a whole world that I just haven’t explored enough to form an opinion either way. However, I thought I’d stick to my guns and share some of my favourite poems, the majority of which were written in the early modern or Romantic era, with no apology to be found since I happen to think they are crafted beautifully.
The Canonization – John Donne [full poem]
“We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love;”
To His Coy Mistress – Andrew Marvell [full poem]
“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.”
Holy Sonnet X – John Donne
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and souls deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
Sonnet 116 – William Shakespeare
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
La Belle Dame Sans Merci – John Keats [full poem]
“She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’”
Remember – Christina Rossetti
“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”
In Memory of W.B. Yeats – W.H. Auden [full poem]
“He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.[…]
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living.”
Those were some of my favourite poems that I must admit I have basically only come across thanks to being a literature student!
Aside from that I have a few more recommendations of contemporary poets that I know of thanks to the Internet – Elisabeth Hewer (this is probably my favourite of hers) and Jen Campbell (who has just completed an impressive 100 poems in 48 hours!).
On the other hand, sometimes brevity really is the soul of wit and along that theme I would also recommend this poem by Wendy Cope as performed by the lovely justkissmyfrog/Leena and this poem by George MacDonald aptly titled ‘The Shortest And Sweetest Of Songs’ and performed by a differently lovely Tom Hiddleston – let’s face it, half of why I love both of those poems is entirely the delivery. Beautiful!
Although I’m not a poetry buff when it comes to (for example) freer forms of poetry (performance poetry included), I would like to experience more than my current limited set of favourite poems so if you have any recommendations I’d love to check them out!