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Books Poetry

Ulysses and Crossing the Bar on Tennyson’s birthday

Alfred Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson

Today is the birthday of Lord Alfred Tennyson (August 6, 1809 – October 6,1892). He’s one of the most popular poets in the English language, and was one of the last poets to sell as many books as a novelist. At his peak, he was one of the most famous people in England — possibly behind only Queen Victoria and the prime minister. He was made a lord in 1884, when he was 75, and he was the only member of the House of Lords to be there solely on the basis of literary merit.

Tennyson gave us some of the most familiar lines in English poetry, including “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (In Memoriam) and “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.” (The Charge of the Light Brigade). I loved The Lady of Shalott in my schooldays and one of my all-time favourite poems is Ulysses. The older I grow, the more I love its closing lines:

…                                                        and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Categories
Books Poetry

On Julia’s Clothes and 99 other most popular poems

This must be one of the shortest, heavily anthologized poems in the English language. On Julia’s Clothes, by Robert Herrick, runs to only six lines. But, witty and playful, this 17th century poem is one of the 100 most anthologized poems in the English language, according to the Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry. Here are links to the top 100. But first…

On Julia’s Clothes
By Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!


Roguish but charming, isn’t it?

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Books

Poetry reading web site

Anyone in the mood to hear poetry readings should explore Poetry Archive. It contains recordings of poets reading their own poems. It’s a virtual who’s who of modern English and American poetry, ranging from Allen Ginsberg to Roger McGough. I even heard a scratchy recording of Tennyson reading The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Immigrants anywhere might appreciate Margaret Atwood’s The Immigrants. As an Indian, and a Hindu, I could easily relate to Sujata Bhatta reading her poem, A Different History:

Great Pan is not dead;
he simply emigrated
to India.
Here, the gods roam freely,
disguised as snakes or monkeys;
every tree is sacred
and it is a sin
to be rude to a book.
It is a sin to shove a book aside
with your foot,
a sin to slam books down
hard on a table,
a sin to toss one carelessly
across a room.
You must learn how to turn the pages gently
without disturbing Sarasvati,
without offending the tree
from whose wood the paper was made.

The poem ends with the Indians’ love for the English language.

There are also poems anyone could enjoy. For example, John Betjeman reading A Subaltern’s Love Song. He reads it with relish in his beautiful voice with a posh accent, and both he and his audience enjoy the humorous love poem. He jokes before the reading and there is laughter at the end. It begins:

Miss J.Hunter Dunn, Miss J.Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me.

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn

The young man gracefully loses the tennis match and they drive to dance at the golf club. The dance has already begun when they reach the club, but instead of hurrying inside, they sit in the car and love takes its course.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. 

I love this poem, it is one of my favourites. It reminds me of my wife and our wedding though it was a traditional Hindu ceremony preceded by no sitting in the car — still, it was, as we call it, a love marriage. We were classmates who went to the library and the movies. Oh well, those were the days.