#NationalPoetryDay

Today is Day 4 of #blogtober and it is also #NationalPoetryDay

I love poetry. Since I was a small child I have been learning poems off by heart. I always tell my students that for me poetry is like the fast-food of literature, as it can convey a feeling or a theme in a very short space of time.

fire and ice by robert frost
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When I was about three or four, my brother taught me a very dirty rhyme and sent me to my mother to show her what I had learned. He made me vow not to reveal that he had taught it to me and then he promised that she would be ‘amazed by my intelligence.’ Of course, I did this and even a smacked bottom and a good telling-off from my Mum, didn’t make me realise the cruel trick my brother had played on me.

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At Primary School, we spent two years being taught by an incredible teacher who was very strict, but we had a great deal of respect for her. She made us learn the poem by Walter de la Mare, Some One. I can still remember most of it now and I can recall our teacher acting it out for us to understand. It goes like this.

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Some one came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Someone came knocking;
I’m sure-sure-sure;
I listened, I opened,
I looked to left and right,
But nought there was a stirring
In the still dark night;
Only the busy beetle
Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech-owl’s call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking,
At all, at all, at all.

One Christmas, I recall being given a beautiful collection of poetry called A Child’s Treasury of Verse that I would regularly take down and read. This exposed me to some of our greatest poets such as Emily Bronte, Wordsworth and Byron. From an early age, I loved poems that had a message in them about life and how to live. Rudyard Kipling’s If is still one of my favourites.

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If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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I have always loved the poetry of the Bronte sisters and as an ardent Bronte lover these two poems are my favourites. The first is by Charlotte and the second is by Emily.

Life

Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily
Enjoy them as they fly!
What though Death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

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Emily Bronte

Love and Friendship

Love is like the wild rose-briar,

Friendship like the holly-tree—

The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms

But which will bloom most constantly?

The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,

Its summer blossoms scent the air;

Yet wait till winter comes again

And who will call the wild-briar fair?

 

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now

And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,

That when December blights thy brow

He still may leave thy garland green.

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I also love poems that tell a story. The Poem Richard Cory by Edward Arlington Robinson was eventually made into a song by Simon and Garfunkle. It teaches us about the destructive power of envy and the belief that not all is what it seems.

 

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

 

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

 

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

 

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

 

gun metal barrel
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I went to Hull University as an undergraduate and I developed an interest in Philip Larkin’s poetry. Larkin had been the librarian at Hull and his poetry is often perceived as being incredibly pessimistic about the human condition. This poem was recently rediscovered and I found that I could identify with it as it talks about meeting someone later in life.

We met at the end of the party
When all the drinks were dead
And all the glasses dirty:
‘Have this that’s left’, you said.
We walked through the last of summer,
When shadows reached long and blue
Across days that were growing shorter:
You said: ‘There’s autumn too’.
Always for you what’s finished
Is nothing, and what survives
Cancels the failed, the famished,
As if we had fresh lives
From that night on, and just living
Could make me unaware
Of June, and the guests arriving,
And I not there.

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Noone who loves poetry can not fail to be moved by the verse of Sir John Betjeman. My favourite of his is about Slough and its industrialisation in the late 1930s.

Slough

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.

It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

dirty industry stack factory
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Yet one of my favourite poets must be Pam Ayres. In the seventies she seemed to appear on a multitude of shows. My Dad had a collection of her poetry and I would often read and reread the verse. I even tried to write my own in her style as a teenager.

Here is one of my favourites. Although Pam Ayres writes with humour, she also adds poignancy.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL … THERE’S A SOBBING RELATION
All the family was gathered
To hear poor Grandad’s will,
Fred was watching Alice,
And she was watching Bill,
He was watching Arthur,
Everywhere he went,
But specially at the cupboard,
Where Grandad kept the rent.

Outside on the patio,
The sliding door was closed,
And sitting in a chair
Was nephew John, his face composed.
He said “Me dear old Grandad,
I shall never see you more’
And his sheets of calculations
Were spread across the floor.

Downstairs in the kitchen,
Sister Alice blew her nose,
Saying, ‘He always was my favourite,
You knew that I suppose?
You couldn’t have found a nicer man,
I’ve never loved one dearer,
I’d have come round much more often,
If I’d lived just that bit nearer.’

Cousin Arthur sat alone,
His eyes were wild and rash,
And desperately he tried to think
Where old folks hid their cash.
He’d thought about the armchair,
And the mattress on the bed,
And he’d left his car at home,
And booked a Pickfords van instead.

Then there were the bedroom floorboards,
He’d studied every crack,
And twice, while dusting the commode,
He’d rolled the carpet back.
But he knew the others watched him,
‘You scavengers’ he cursed,
And every night he prayed,
‘Don’t let the others find it first’.

The day that Grandad’s will was read,
It came up bright and clear,
The solicitor looked round,
And said ‘Now then, are we all here?’
Someone shouted ‘Yes’
And someone else unscrewed his pen,
And someone sat upon his coat,
So he could not stand up again.

He carefully unfolded it
And wonderingly said,
‘This is the shortest will
I have ever read’.
He rolled a fag and carefully
Laid in a filter tip,
While beads of sweat they gathered
On Cousin Arthur’s lip.

It says: ‘Me dear relations,
Thank you for being so kind,
And out beside the lily pond
You will surely find,
The half a million pounds
With which I stuffed me garden gnome,
Which I leave, with great affection,
To the Battersea Dogs’ Home.’

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The new GCSE English literature examinations now require students to study fifteen poems on a theme of either power and conflict or love and relationships. My favourite poem from both collections is Singh Song by Daljit Nagra. It is such a beautiful poem about Punjabi immigrants.

I run just one ov my daddy’s shops
from 9 O’clock to 9 O’clock
and he vunt me not to hav a break
but ven nobody in, I do di lock –

cos up di stairs is my newly bride
vee share in chapatti
vee share in di chutney
after vee hav made luv
like vee rowing through Putney –

ven I return vid my pinnie untied
di shoppers always point and cry:
hey Singh, ver yoo bin?
yor lemons are limes
yor bananas are plantain,
dis dirty little floor need a little bit of mop
in di worst Indian shop
on di whole Indian road –

above my head high heel tap di ground
as my vife on di web is playing wid di mouse
ven she netting two cat on her Sikh lover site
she book dem for di meat at di cheese ov her price –

my bride
she effing at my mum
in all di colours of Punjabi
den stumble like a drunk
making fun at my daddy

my bride
tiny eyes ov a gun
and di tummy ov a teddy

my bride
she hav a red crew cut
and she wear a Tartan sari
a donkey jacket and some pumps
on di squeak ov di girls dat are pinching all my sweeties –

ven I return from di tickle ov my bride
di shoppers always point and cry:
hey Singh, ver yoo bin?
di milk is out ov date
and di bread is alvays stale,
the tings yoo hav on offer yoo hav never got in stock
in di worst Indian shop
on di whole Indian road –

late in di midnight hour
ven yoo shoppers are wrap up quiet
ven di precinct is concrete-cool
vee cum down whispering stairs
and sit on my silver stool,
from behind di chocolate bars
vee stare past di half-price window signs
at di beaches ov di UK in di brightey moon –

from di stool each night she say,
how much do yoo charge for dat moon baby?

from di stool each night I say,
is half di cost ov yoo baby,

from di stool each night she say,
how much does dat come to baby?

from di stool each night I say,
is priceless baby –

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What are your favourite poems? I’d love to hear from you.

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2 thoughts on “#NationalPoetryDay

  1. Hi, thank you for all these lovely poems, I learned the Walter de la Mare poem at school, but have been unable to remember the words or the poet, I am happy you have returned it to me. I have spent the morning hosting Poetry Corner at our local Libraries Fun Palace, where I was encouraging people to write a short poem on a paper sweetie jar to stick on my board. 15 people did. One lady who swore she couldn’t possibly write poetry – wrote thee and may join our poetry group.

    Liked by 1 person

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