I have loved Bob Dylan from the time I heard Blowin’ in the Wind way back in the Sixties. But Bob Dylan Nobel laureate! Winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature! Call me old-fashioned. I prefer to read literature and listen to music. Dylan’s songs may be poems set to music. But I would rather read the poems of WH Auden and Dylan Thomas, neither of whom won the Nobel Prize. Dylan I will listen to.
I just can’t get Anne Sexton out of my head after reading her poem, For My Lover, Returning to His Wife. Written from the mistress’s point of view, it stays in your mind because of its unusual perspective.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments”, is the most popular poem for reading or reciting at weddings in Britain, said the Guardian in 2011. The Poetry Foundation website has a list of wedding poems chosen by its editors, a list that includes poems like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways, John Donne’s The Good Morrow and Anne Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband. My own favourites include more recent poems.
I just came across a poem called Sleeping with a Dictionary. I can’t recall sleeping with but have dozed with a dictionary.
The Norton Anthology of Poetry is one of the best and most comprehensive collections of English poems from Old English to the present day. I was going through the poems after reading about the death of the literary critic MH Abrams.
Abrams, who died on April 21 at the age of 102 in Ithaca, New York, was the founding editor of the Norton Anthology of Literature, first published in 1962. He was also an adviser to the editors of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy acknowledge his contributions in the preface to the book.
Today is the birthday of William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850), a poet who grows on you. He strikes a deeper chord in me now than when I was young. Many of his poems, of course, can be appreciated at any age. For example, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
There is romance and freedom in the first two lines – wandering lonely as a cloud – and then follows the exultation of catching a glorious view of daffodils dancing in the breeze.
Today is the birthday of TS Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965). I still remember how strange and romantic it felt when I first read The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock in my last or penultimate year in high school.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table…
I just came across this poem by Coleridge explaining metrical feet, the unit of measurement in poetry. He wrote it for his son, Derwent.
A metrical foot is a set of syllables, usually two or three, only one of which is normally stressed, as in the words, po´-em and po´-et-ry. The first syllable is stressed in both these words when we say them. Poetry was meant to be recited, read aloud, so syllables count. A set of two syllables is called a trochee when the first syllable is stressed, as in po´-em. A set of three syllables is called a dactyl when the first syllable is stressed, as in po´-et-ry. The words come from Latin and Greek, like poem and poetry.
Here is Coleridge’s poem.
Here are the top 10 on Poetry Please, the 10 most popular poems on the longest running poetry programme broadcast anywhere in the world, according to the BBC. Started in 1979, the BBC 4 programme presents poems requested by listeners. It reaches two million listeners a week. The top 10 list is from the book, Poetry Please. The poet Roger McGough, who presents the weekly programme, says in his foreword to the book: “The 350 poems here have all been asked for more than once in the programme’s history…” The top 10 includes some of my own favourites. (See also Selected Poems)
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry. The title made me pick up the book. And it was revealing. It brings together poems which have made writers cry.
So we have Salman Rushdie confessing he is moved to tears by the last lines of WH Auden’s famous poem, In Memory of WB Yeats.
Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong and the James Bond sequel Devil May Care, names Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight, adding: “I read this poem at my daughter’s christening.”
The former Times and Sunday Times editor Harold Evans says he could not hold back his tears when he read Wordsworth’s Character of the Happy Warrior at his predecessor, Sir Denis Hamilton’s funeral service.
The writer Melvyn Bragg mentions Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXX. “I have never been able to read this sonnet without stumbling and then stopping. It is the final couplet that finishes me off,” he says.