Archive for category Favourite Poems
An Old Man’s Winter Night
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can’t fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.
— Robert Frost (1920)
To a Locomotive in Winter
Thee for my recitative,
Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining,
Thee in thy panoply, thy measur’d dual throbbing and thy beat convulsive,
Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel,
Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides,
Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering in the distance,
Thy great protruding head-light fix’d in front,
Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with delicate purple,
The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack,
Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle of thy wheels,
Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following,
Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering;
Type of the modern—emblem of motion and power—pulse of the continent,
For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here I see thee,
With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow,
By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.
Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps at night,
Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all,
Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding,
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,)
Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return’d,
Launch’d o’er the prairies wide, across the lakes,
To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.
— Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass
Now Winter Nights Enlarge
Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours,
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze,
And cups o’erflow with wine;
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love,
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.
This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights
— Thomas Campion (1617)
Two poems on the theme of Autumn.
In May my heart was breaking-
Oh, wide the wound, and deep!
And bitter it beat at waking,
And sore it split in sleep.
And when it came November,
I sought my heart, and sighed,
“Poor thing, do you remember?”
“What heart was that?” it cried.
— Dorothy Parker
*** *** *** *** ***
O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.
‘The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.
‘The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.’
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load
— William Blake
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
— Byron (1815)
For the fortieth poem in the series, something a little different. Okay, not seasonal, but what the hell. (The Simpsons’ classic version can be found here.)
The story of how Coleridge came to write this famous poem is probably too well known to bear repeating (but nonetheless
is found here, for example.) I have sometimes wondered if one could write a poem considered (maybe) one of the ten or twenty greatest in the English language intoxicated with opium; I know there many other examples of such thing occurring, but the results have been, well, often disappointing.
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
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.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
— Samual Taylor Coleridge
Because everyone, even nurses, deserve poetry.
Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,–
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
‘Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:–
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.
— Dante Gabriel Rossetti
By a poet hostile to her reign. “Good, you were good, we say,” he writes. “You had no wit to be evil.” Probably worth remembering on the commemoration of her birthday Victoria herself was not immune from controversy, and that debate on the value of monarchy is very old indeed. (No nursy or any other blog posts today — doing things traditionally associated with the holiday — planting the garden, a barbeque and maybe fireworks later.)
TO QUEEN VICTORIA IN ENGLAND.
An address on her jubilee year.
Madam, you have done well! Let others with praise unholy,
Speech addressed to a woman who never breathed upon earth,
Daub you over with lies or deafen your ears with folly,
I will praise you alone for your actual imminent worth.
Madam, you have done well! Fifty years unforgotten
Pass since we saw you first, a maiden simple and pure.
Now when every robber landlord, capitalist rotten,
Hated oppressors, praise you—Madam, we are quite sure!
Never once as a foe, open foe, to the popular power,
As nobler kings and queens, have you faced us, fearless and bold:
No, but in backstairs fashion, in the stealthy twilight hour,
You have struggled and struck and stabbed, you have bartered and bought and sold!
Melbourne, the listless liar, the gentleman blood-beslavered,
Disraeli, the faithless priest of a cynical faith out-worn,
These were dear to your heart, these were the men you favoured.
Those whom the People loved were fooled and flouted and torn!
Never in one true cause, for your people’s sake and the light’s sake,
Did you strike one honest blow, did you speak one noble word:
No, but you took your place, for the sake of wrong and the night’s sake,
Ever with blear-eyed wealth, with the greasy respectable herd.
Not as some robber king, with a resolute minister slave to you,
Did you swagger with force against us to satisfy your greed:
No, but you hoarded and hid what your loyal people gave to you,
Golden sweat of their toil, to keep you a queen indeed!
Pure at least was your bed? pure was your Court?—We know not.
Were the white sepulchres pure? Gather men thorns of grapes?
Your sons and your blameless spouse’s, certes, as Galahads show not.
Round you gather a crowd of bloated hypocrite shapes!
Never, sure, did one woman produce in such sixes and dozens
Such intellectual canaille as this that springs from you;
Sons, daughters, grandchildren, with uncles, aunts, and cousins,
Not a man or a woman among them—a wretched crew!
Madam, you have done well! You have fed all these to repletion—
You have put a gilded calf beside a gilded cow,
And bidden men and women behold the forms of human completion—
Albert the Good, Victoria the Virtuous, for ever—and now!
But what to you were our bravest and best, man of science and poet,
Struggling for Light and Truth, or the Women who would be free?
Carlyle, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Arnold? We know it—
Tennyson slavers your hand; Argyll fawns at your knee!
Good, you were good, we say. You had no wit to be evil.
Your purity shines serene over Floras mangled and dead.
You wasted not our substance in splendour, in riot or revel—
You quietly sat in the shade and grew fat on our wealth instead.
Madam, you have done well! To you, we say, has been given
A wit past the wit of women, a supercomputable worth.
Of you we can say, if not “of such are the Kingdom of Heaven,”
Of such (alas for us!), of such are the Kingdom of Earth!
— Francis Adams
Roald Dahl’s poem is probably not suitable for children, despite the deceptive, rollicking verse; hell, it’s hardly suitable for adults either, but still, it’s pretty funny.
In England once there lived a big
A wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn’t read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn’t puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, “By gum, I’ve got the answer!”
“They want my bacon slice by slice
“To sell at a tremendous price!
“They want my tender juicy chops
“To put in all the butcher’s shops!
“They want my pork to make a roast
“And that’s the part’ll cost the most!
“They want my sausages in strings!
“They even want my chitterlings!
“The butcher’s shop! The carving knife!
“That is the reason for my life!”
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great peace of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor. . .
Now comes the rather grizzly bit
So let’s not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
“I had a fairly powerful hunch
“That he might have me for his lunch.
“And so, because I feared the worst,
“I thought I’d better eat him first.”
— Roald Dahl