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Old 1st Aug 2007, 13:53   #1
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Default Favourite Poems

I've been quoting from Keats and Whitman everywhere so I thought I might start a list (in no particular order) of poems that mean something to me with a poet I think I have never mentioned here. Although Patrick McGrath seems to make no mention of him in the book we're reading in the book group at the moment, in all his mentions of Keats and bodily passion, I keep finding myself thinking of this, too;

I Knew a Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing did we make.)

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)

Theodore Roethke
For those intrigued by such things there's a close(ish) reading teasing out some of the wordplay here

More poems will follow. Perhaps a list of ten.
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 12:49   #2
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

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.


God's Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

(that second one being -- almost -- enough to make a believer of me)

Last edited by Kimberley; 3rd Aug 2007 at 13:04.
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 12:55   #3
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Default Re: Favourite Poems


That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; FrÃ* Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"FrÃ* Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
the curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
FrÃ* Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or, "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat." Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart--how shall I say--too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace--all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men--good! but thanked
Somehow--I know not how--as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech--which I have not--to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark"--and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse--
E'en that would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

-Robert Browning
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 13:17   #4
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

Kimberley, I love Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I think that the poem you have chosen is also my favourite, though I hold a soft spot for As Kingfishers Catch Fire... too, and The Windhover:

I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom
of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, o my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

I'll add this, which is another favourite, from Elizabeth Bishop.

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
I'm now planning a top ten list for the afternoon!
Reading: the Decameron - Boccaccio
2009 charlieledweaning
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 15:27   #5
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

Becca what I love most about Hopkins is his perfect control over the tempo of language. I love how in God's Grandeur the reader is forced to slow down over lines such as seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil but then the tempo picks up as soon as Hopkins returns to nature and its capabilities, for all this, nature is never spent.

And whenever I look at a flower bud I think of that line, there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

It's hard to think of a poet more in tune with the way the sounds of words and their arrangement can carry as much meaning (or more) as their dictionary definitions.
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 16:10   #6
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

Anthologised nearly to death, I know, but I've always liked Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
A Passion for Killing, Barbara Nadel
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 21:08   #7
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

One of my favourites:

by: Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
currently reading: The Secret History, Donna Tartt
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 22:19   #8
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

I'm not very familiar with English poetry. It's been always to me, with a couple of exceptions, English prose and Polish poetry (English meaning English-language, including American etc.) So I'll be taking hints from this thread...

But I have a couple of favourites too. This Lunar Beauty by Auden is one of my earliest discoveries, and I'm still not sure what it is really about. And I like that, although usually my attitude to poetry is rather analytical. At school I always chose "interpretations of poems" as writing assignments because it was much easier for me than reviews, essays or reports. And this one is a bit of mystery. I think it seduced me with its hypnotic rythm...

W. H. Auden

This Lunar Beauty

This lunar beauty
Has no history
Is complete and early;
If beauty later
Bear any feature
It had a lover
And is another.

This like a dream
Keeps other time
And daytime is
The loss of this;
For time is inches
And the heart's changes
Where ghost has haunted
Lost and wanted.

But this was never
A ghost's endeavor
Nor finished this,
Was ghost at ease;
And till it pass
Love shall not near
The sweetness here
Nor sorrow take
His endless look.

edit: I'm not completely sure about the punctuation, 'cause I found different versions on the web.

Last edited by m.; 3rd Aug 2007 at 22:31.
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 23:29   #9
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Default Re: Favourite Poems

I have to admit that I know as much about poetry as I do about cooking or American football but this one kind of moved me a few years ago:

Lament III

Lay the cold boys in the earth
At Mons and Hartlepool:
Prove to anyone who doubts
That blood and iron rule.
Let the river thickly speak
In tongues of silt and lead.
Teach us our impediment:
We cannot face the dead.
Run the waters furnace-red,
Afire all night long.
If we're to live then we've to make
An elemental song:
The object of the exercise
Is furnishing the world
With battleships, and thunderbolts
The gods would once have hurled.
How shall we know ourselves except
As sparks on blood-red streams,
Where fire-tongued our utterance
Incinerates our dreams?
Lay the cold boys in the earth
At Loos and Stockton town.
Still the blazing river mouth
And shut the engines down.

Sean O'Brien

I guess it's a pretty left wing thing about how the working classes are used and cast aside as war or the economy dictate. But I would love to know what classically trained people think.
Reading: Apathy For the Devil - Nick Kent
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Old 3rd Aug 2007, 23:33   #10
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Many of these poems will be very anthologised -- they touch common nerves in people and are beautiful. Which is why I'm going to confess a real fondness for this one;

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference

--Robert Frost
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