Yesterday was National Poetry Day. I always consider myself a big poetry fan but, if I’m honest, I don’t read a lot of it these days. I have too many novels that need reading. Although I do try. After Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace were all over Bookstagram a few years ago, I decided it was worth giving them a try. After all, everyone I saw was talking about how life-changing they were. I read them. I didn’t get it. Anyone who read my ramble about poetry last year will remember, I got quite angry about them. I don’t get it. It’s not poetry. It’s formating. But, that’s not the point. I want to reconnect with poetry by celebrating some of my favourite poems. I’ll be honest, as a lover of all things Romantic, most of these will probably be pretty obvious but there’s got to a reason we’re still talking about them after all these years, right?
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
Hands down, my favourite poem. I cannot even begin to go into how great this poem is. I studied this at university and it was so fantastic. There are so many fantastic layers to this poem and every reading of it brings something new. This is a poem of regret and feeling stuck. Prufrock is haunted by his past, worried about the future, sexually frustrated, embarrassed, and aware of his mortality. It’s a very human and understandable poem so it’s no wonder it’s a favourite of so many.
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.”
This is the poem that got me to fall in love with Romantic literature. I’d never read a poem like it before and I was obsessed. The dark gothic elements really got me going and it’s had such an influence on me since. And it’s not just me. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner changed poetry. I know I know. Lyrical Ballads was both Coleridge and Wordsworth but it was Coleridge doing the most exciting stuff. The way Coleridge writer evokes the tone of the poem perfectly. The use of repetition, the change in style, and the imagery all work together to alter the mood. It’s a fantastic poem. And one I included in my 30 Books For My 30th series.
- Don Juan by Lord Byron
“Tis strange, – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!”
Had I been around in the Romantic period, I would definitely have been one of those crazy women who thought Byron was secretly writing poems for her. The guy was a rock star and I adore him for it. He didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought about. He didn’t even really give a shit about poetry. Don Juan is, arguably, his most famous poem and it’s easy to see why. It’s a satirical epic poem based on the legend of Don Juan. Byron flips the legend and shows Don Juan as a man who is seduced by women rather than a seducer. It’s a funny and complex poem. Long, yes, but important and worth it.
- Paradise Lost by John Milton
“…Here at least
we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
Paradise Lost is the greatest epic poem ever written. It’s huge and it deals with one of the biggest stories of all time. Milton uses his blank verse poem to look at The Fall of Man so he may “justify the ways of God to men”. I’ll be honest, probably didn’t appreciate this as much as I should have done when, in my second year of university, I had to read the whole thing. I’d done sections before but the whole thing? There was no way I was getting that finished in time. But, now, I can say that I have a certain love for this poem. Is it something I’m going to read again and again? No, I’ve got a life. Well, not a life but I’ve got a huge TBR pile. Do I remember it fondly? Yes.
- Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”
There are plenty of First World Warm poems that I could have singled out for this feature and, indeed, plenty of Wilfred Owen poems too. However, this poem encapsulates everything that is so powerful about this poetry. The poem is beautifully written and shows how great Owen was as a writer. Yet, it is describing such a horrific event and speaking out against the war with such honest hatred. It conveys the feelings of betrayal and regret that many of the soldiers had after they rushed to sign up. Owen is always able to describe events with such raw honesty and never lets his emotions get the better of him. He holds back and is truthful. That’s the reason his poems are so powerful.
- Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle-
Why not I with thine?”
The cynic in me hates that I love this poem so much. I find it a little embarrassing to be so taken in by a love poem. But it’s sweet. And Shelley brings together so many aspects of Romanticism that I love. The poem delights in the idea that all things are connected. There is unity all around. So, it only makes sense that Shelley and his love should be united too. It’s quite a pick-up line. This is by far the simplest poem of the ones I have chosen but there is a lot of beauty and emotion in Shelley’s writing. I’ve never really understood people’s obsession with Keats. It’s Shelley who was the hopeless Romantic off the era.
- The Flea by John Donne
“It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead”
I love John Donne. In that, the guy was an absolute player. Well, before he got all religious and boring on us. But in the early days, Donne was a total fuckboi. He’s a bro. My friends and I had a blast studying Donne at school. Why wouldn’t we? We were teenagers studying the poems of a man trying to have sex with every woman he met. And The Flea is by far his greatest argument. Telling a woman they are as a good as married so it’s their duty to consummate their relationship. All because a flea bit them both? Genius! Then, when that doesn’t work, completely flips his argument. The man did not give up. My god, if Donne had been a teenager in 2019, I would not like his chances with the #MeToo movement.