Yes, today is National Poetry Day, and to mark the occasion we at The Reader office have chosen a few of our favourites to share with you. So! pour yourself something lovely, sit back and soak up every syllable of their wordly wisdom. I mean, if you can’t do it today, when can you?
(Oh, and later this afternoon The Poetry Society is holding an event at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank, celebrating both National Poetry Day and its own centenary, with readings from Carol Ann Duffy, John Hegley and Roger McGough. They will also be showing off a giant knitted poem, the result of their ‘Knit a Poem’ project, and announcing the winner of the BBC’s ‘Nation’s Favourite Poet’ poll. For more details, take a look at The Poetry Society website.)
Chosen by Jen Tomkins, Communications Manager: “The colour, the motion, the atmosphere. A poem that’s about far more than a big fish…”
In the brown water,
Thick and silver-sheened in the sunshine,
Liquid and cool in the shade of the reeds,
A pike dozed.
Lost among the shadows of stems
He lay unnoticed.
Suddenly he flicked his tail,
And a green-and-copper brightness
Ran under the water.
Out from under the reeds
Came the olive-green light,
And orange flashed up
Through the sun-thickened water.
So the fish passed across the pool,
Green and copper,
A darkness and a gleam,
And the blurred reflections of the willows on the opposite bank
Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925)
Chosen by Katie Clark, Project Worker and Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence:
HOW fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasures bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivl’d heart
Could have recover’d greenness? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell.
We say amiss,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
O that I once past changing were,
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Off’ring at heav’n, growing and groaning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-shower,
My sins and I joining together:
But while I grow in a straight line,
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
George Herbert (1593 – 1633)
Chosen by Wendy Kay, Get Into Reading Project Worker:
‘He ate and drank the precious words’
He ate and drank the precious Words —
His Spirit grew robust —
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust —
He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book — What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings —
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
Chosen by Angela Macmillan, Co-Editor of The Reader magazine: “Hard to know what to choose but this one never fails to delight or fill me anew with the sense of wonder and astonishment in which it is written…”
These little limbs,
These eyes and hands which here I find,
These rosy cheeks wherewith my life begins,
Where have ye been? behind
What curtain were ye from me hid so long?
Where was, in what abyss, my speaking tongue?
When silent I
So many thousand, thousand years
Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie,
How could I smiles or tears,
Or lips or hands or eyes or ears perceive?
Welcome ye treasures which I now receive.
I that so long
Was nothing from eternity,
Did little think such joys as ear or tongue
To celebrate or see:
Such sounds to hear, such hands to feel, such feet,
Beneath the skies on such a ground to meet.
New burnished joys,
Which yellow gold and pearls excel!
Such sacred treasures are the limbs in boys,
In which a soul doth dwell;
Their organizèd joints and azure veins
More wealth include than all the world contains.
From dust I rise,
And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes,
A gift from God I take.
The earth, the seas, the light, the day, the skies,
The sun and stars are mine if those I prize.
A stranger here
Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange all and new to me;
But that they mine should be, who nothing was,
That strangest is of all, yet brought to pass.
Thomas Traherne (c. 1636 – 1674)
Chosen by Mark Till, Project Worker and Planning Assistant:
Spring and Fall
(to a young child)
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)