Monday, 7 February 2011

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted

So said Percy Bysshe Shelley in his Defence of Poetry written in 1921.

I'm inclined to agree with him.  I can't say anything other than I love reading poetry.  I love the way the words roll over you as you read, I love the rhythm and (sometimes) the rhyme.  I think sometimes there are times when only reading poetry will do - and much like with my fiction reading habits I love to revisit my old friends.

Inspired by a lovely friend, who wrote a post on her gorgeous blog about her Top 10 poems - which is well worth a visit - I thought I would do mine and see how they compare!  So, in no particular order her are those poems which make me happy - nothing more, nothing less

This was a poem I first discovered when I was tiny.  My Grandmother used to read it to me whilst she looked after me before I started school.  I love the images that the poem conjures - totally ridiculous, but so right somehow.  I am going to introduce my little girl to the poem when she gets home from school today and hope she shares the same enjoyment.

Another poem I discovered in a book at my Grandmother's house.  Slightly older this time but I remember sitting in her spare bedroom memorising this poem so I could say it to myself over and over again.  As I have got older it has come to hold an even more special meaning - the lines "And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying/And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying" really evokes memories of Whitby to me - probably my favourite place in the world.  On a holiday with my then fiance I remember sitting in our hotel room, looking out over the sea and reading this poem and it was so, so apt.

The first of two Tennyson poems I have chosen - this invokes memories of very happy school days.  Sitting in Mrs Severn's English class reading the poem, acting the poem out, making it into a graphic novel.  How can you not love this poem when you have played the Lady of Shalott, smashed a mirror and frightfully dramatically, as is the wont of an twelve year old schoolgirl, died in a boat made of cardboard boxes! A poem that never fears to make me cry - but cry in a good way.

The Things That Cause a Quiet Life - Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

I fell in love with Henry Howard at some point in my third year at Grammar school - in an amalgamation of a history lesson and an English literature lesson.  I love his work - I find them so gentle,, which is at odds in my mind to the period in which they were written.  I struggled to narrow it down to just one poem to include here but I just love this one.  I also used to find it so tragic that he wrote about yearning for a quiet life when in reality he was quite bombastic and destined for an early grave courtesy of Henry VIII - with the dubious honour of being his last victim.

Dulce et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen

Another poem I discovered courtesy of school.  I have come to believe this is a poem that every child should read in secondary school.  It is so evocative, so thought provoking.  "Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling/Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time" how can that not fail to make you understand just part of what the horrors of war can be.   I think the poignancy of this poem also comes from the fact that Wilfred Owen did not live the war out did not live to see the impact his poem would have on future generations.

The Highwayman - Alfred Noyes

I admit I have a penchant for dramatic, long poems that can be read out loud with gusto!  Poems that make you breathless as you get faster and faster as the words come tripping out of your mouth as the rhythm takes you over! I just think this poem has everything, fantastic imagery, star-crossed lovers and a ghost - what more can you want from a poem?!  This poem should be read in winter, when the wind and rain are lashing and you're warm inside of an evening.  Just wonderful

The Supply Teacher - Allan Ahlberg

I defy anyone to read this poem and not instantly laugh out loud at the aptness of the words.  How easily Allan Ahlberg transports one back to the classroom and to the excitement of finding out you have a supply teacher for the day! How true the last verse - when you know that anything that went on in the classroom can be blamed on the Supply Teacher.  A more modern poem than I usually like and a very simple one but so sweet that I can't omit it! Probably less well know than the famous "Please Mrs Butler" but I love this one so much more.

The Charge of the Light Brigade - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Another poem devoted to the glory of war and the utter tragedy of war.   How 600 men can simply be destroyed in the blink of an eye.   But somehow the poignancy is heightened by images the first verses convey.  They conjure for me images of young men, eager to be heroes, dressed in their regimental finery.  Ready to go to glory that was in fact their death.   I love, yet again, that you can read this aloud so fervently, so passionately.  That it is a story, not in prose.

Hope - Emily Bronte

Haworth does that to you!  I have a daughter named after her.  I think there is such an oxymoron that she wrote about hope when her life - and that of her siblings - was so tragically short.

And because I couldn't leave this one out, I'm going for an eleventh poem!

Love That Doth Reign and Live - Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

In the end it turns out I can't make the choice between this and the previous Henry Howard poem.  I love how sweetly he talks about love. I just have such a weakness for poems about the chivalry and passion of love.  This to me evokes just everything about the Tudor period.  I always feel sad that these poems aren't more well known - I discovered the poems quite by accident at school and they have brought me so much joy since.

So there we are - my favourite poems.  Probably quite a cliched choice but they are poems that speak to me and that, after all, is what poetry should be about.


  1. I adore Owen -- I think my favourite is Strange Meeting; the "vain citadels that are not walled" sticks with me over ten years after I first read it. Not sure why that line is so significant but it appears to represent so much, and is so very melancholy and evocative.

  2. I love Owen too - Dulce + Decorum Est always makes me tear up. So nearly had it on my list!! Am impressed that you stuck much more closely to 10 than I did LOL. PS Thanks for the link :)

  3. Love OATPC. Prefer Byron to Shelley from my sad Romantic teens! x