Featured Poem: New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge

A little belated but ‘Happy New Year’ to you all. Here is a short, life-affirming poem to take with you in to 2009. Enjoy.

New Every Morning

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
Troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.

Susan Coolidge, 1905

Featured New Year’s Poem: Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Due to a slight technical hitch on our blog, this Featured Poem, which was due to be published on New Year’s Eve, never quite made it. So, a few days late, here it is for you to enjoy…

— — —

We’re nearing the end of a cycle of another twelve months; as John Lennon would put it, another year over. The usual reflections, reminiscing and looking with a sense of anticipation – and sometimes, trepidation – to the future that this time of year brings about are somewhat stronger given that we’re also entering not just another year, but another decade. The ‘noughties’ have brought a lot of change, some for the better, some for the worse (have a look at this ‘portrait of the decade’ – interesting to see how the 2000s have been summed up). We can look back fondly at the things that made us smile, and be thankful that the things that didn’t are now consigned to the past.

The ringing in of a new decade makes this poem by Tennyson especially appropriate, as our collective hopes and wishes are amplified. Nothing can be done to alter the time that has passed, little to the time that is passing but what is to come can be shaped. The new year heralds a new start, a clean page. As the wild bells welcome in 2010, we should heed Tennyson’s words and even though it may seem difficult, let go of the old, look to the new and hope only for the best.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Featured Poem: I Stood on a Tower by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Although a few days early, here’s something to read as the New Year comes round. It was written on New Year’s Eve 1865 and encapsulates that tumultuous sense of ‘change’ – be it perceived good or bad – that often pervades this period. Standing on a tower, the poet speaker is given a vantage point that allows him to look to both the year that is ending and the one that is beginning. Time flows, things pass and there will always be questions left unanswered. The imagery in this poem is fairly rough; the winds of change are not gentle here but “roaring and blowing”, as life itself can be. Brace yourselves for 2009…

I Stood on a Tower

I stood on a tower in the wet,
And New Year and Old Year met,
And winds were roaring and blowing;
And I said, ‘O years, that meet in tears,
Have you all that is worth the knowing?
Science enough and exploring,
Wanderers coming and going,
Matter enough for deploring,
But aught that is worth the knowing?
Seas at my feet were flowing,
Waves on the shingle pouring,
Old year roaring and blowing,
And New Year blowing and roaring.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: King John’s Christmas by A. A. Milne

red-white

Chosen by Katie Peters, Project Worker, Get Into Reading

It’s a bit of fun that takes me back my childhood, when my mother read this to me. I love the rhythm of the poem, which seems to gather pace as you read it. I remember wanting a ‘big, red india-rubber ball’ myself after reading this, and feeling quite sorry for King John hanging his ‘hopeful stocking’ out. It works well alongside Good King Wenceslas in a reading group, and I usually find that although King John is ‘not a good man’, people feel affection for him and connect to something in this poem, perhaps his resilient hopefulness or the real anxiety which ‘bedews his brow’, or more likely the authentic lurching between these two states.

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his live aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. Christmas in particular.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to this room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now!”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —
The first I had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man,
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts!
And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red,
india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED,
INDIA-RUBBER
BALL!

A. A. Milne

Featured Poem: The Visionary by Emily Brontë

I have known this poem since I was fourteen, when I first performed it for my Poetry Society examination. The poem’s power and mystique has stayed with me ever since. I was surprised to learn at that time that Emily Brontë also wrote poetry. Everyone is so familiar with the tumultuous prose of Wuthering Heights and yet her equally turbulent poetry gets little or no recognition.

I felt that the subject matter was topical for a cold wintry day and shows the power of the elements within her poetry. The isolation of Haworth meant the freedom of the open moors. Emily Brontë seemed to experience the world in terms of elemental forces outside of conventional categories of good and evil. Her vision was essentially mystical, rooted in the experience of a supernatural power, which she expressed in her poems.

The Visionary

SILENT is the house: all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o’er the snow-wreaths deep,
Watching every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the ‘wildering drift, and bends the groaning trees.

Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Not one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far:
I trim it well, to be the wanderer’s guiding star.

Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame!
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame:
But neither sire nor dame, nor prying serf shall know
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.

What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare:
Who loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.

But then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear —
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air:
He for whom I wait thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.

Emily Brontë

It is interesting to note that Charlotte Brontë took lines 1-12 of Emily’s original poem, “Julian M. and A.G Rochelle,” and added 8 lines of her own to make the final version of the poem as it stands today.

 Posted by Alison Walters

Featured Poem: from Paradise Lost by John Milton

To celebrate the 400th birthday of John Milton tomorrow, we offer (not only an issue of The Reader dedicated to him but also) the great closing lines of Paradise Lost. The Serpent has beguiled Eve . She has eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge and given it to Adam. God has cursed them and now they are sent forth from Eden (here’s William Blake’s illustration of the expulsion).

Paradise Lost Book 12

So spake our Mother Eve, and Adam heard
Well pleased, but answered not; for now too nigh
The Archangel stood, and from the other hill
To their fixed station, all in bright array?
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as evening mist?
Risen from a river o’er the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the labourer’s heel
Homeward returning. High in front advanced,?
The brandished sword of God before them blazed?
Fierce as a comet; which with torrid heat,?
And vapour as the Libyan air adust
Began to parch that temperate clime; whereat?
In either hand the hastening Angel caught?
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate?
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast?
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They looking back, all the eastern side beheld?
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,?
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate?
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:?
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose?
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:?
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,?
Through Eden took their solitary way.

John Milton

Angels, Archangels, Cherabim’s, flaming swords, meteors: the picture, bathed in mighty, terrible light, is at once terrifying and beautiful. The angel, presumably holding Adam and Eve by the hand, abandons the weeping, fallen couple at the gate of Paradise. With something like childlike wonder their tears are short lived when as one, they turn to face forwards and hand in hand take their first tentative steps into a brand new world in which together they will remain forever and separately, lost .

Featured Poem: A Shropshire Lad LXII by A.E. Housman

At about this time of year I seem to get in the mood for a little Housman. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe the lack of light, but Housman’s fatalistic attitude seems a good fit for the season. This poem is part of Housman’s major series, A Shropshire Lad; The lines “And malt does more than Milton can/
To justify God’s ways to man.” are among his best known. While it has on old-fashioned feel the poem is rather modern in its attitude to the idea that drink and other distractions are necessary to avoid having to feel or experience in any real sense. Housman is by no means a fashionable poet now, but he has a lot to say to us nevertheless.

A Shropshire Lad LXII

Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
‘Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem ‘Piping down the valleys wild’ by William Blake

William Blake’s complementary collections of poems Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are brilliantly ambiguous. This introduction is on the face of it a celebration of innocence and of the need to capture it in art. Yet the moment at which the piper sits down to write his song in a book the child angel disappears and the clear water is ‘stain’d’. In other words the poem, the song, the work of art, is incapable of communicating innocence as such, but it is all we have. Is this a song of innocence or of experience?

 

Introduction to Songs of Innocence

 

   Piping down the valleys wild,

     Piping songs of pleasant glee,

   On a cloud I saw a child,

     And he laughing said to me:

 

   “Pipe a song about a Lamb!”

     So I piped with merry cheer.

   “Piper, pipe that song again;”

     So I piped: he wept to hear.

 

   “Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;

     Sing thy songs of happy cheer!”

   So I sang the same again,

     While he wept with joy to hear.

 

   “Piper, sit thee down and write

     In a book, that all may read.”

   So he vanish’d from my sight;

     And I pluck’d a hollow reed,

 

   And I made a rural pen,

     And I stain’d the water clear,

   And I wrote my happy songs

     Every child may joy to hear.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: Great Things by Thomas Hardy

In the aftermath of Shipping Lines Liverpool Literary Festival (reviews and stories will be coming up during the week), The Reader Organisation office is in quite a state of chaos. It is also in a state of utter exultation: the festival was a great success; everyone (audience, writers, staff, volunteers) thoroughly enjoyed themselves and although we’re exhausted, it is brilliant to feel that all the hard, hard work paid off. We’re all relishing in a sense of great achievement and, although in the need of a lot of sleep and some clearing-up, we’re still standing and still smiling. So, understandably, we’re in celebration mode:

Great Things

 

Sweet cyder is a great thing,

A great thing to me,

Spinning down to Weymouth town

By Ridgway thirstily,

And maid and mistress summoning

Who tend the hostelry:

O cyder is a great thing,

A great thing to me!

 

The dance it is a great thing,

A great thing to me,

With candles lit and partners fit

For night-long revelry;

And going home when day-dawning

Peeps pale upon the lea:

O dancing is a great thing,

A great thing to me!

 

Love is, yea, a great thing,

A great thing to me,

When, having drawn across the lawn

In darkness silently,

A figure flits like one a-wing

Out from the nearest tree:

O love is, yes, a great thing,

A great thing to me!

 

Will these be always great things,

Great things to me? . . .

Let it befall that One will call,

“Soul, I have need of thee”:

What then? Joy-jaunts, impassioned flings,

Love, and its ecstasy,

Will always have been great things,

Great things to me!

 

Thomas Hardy