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One From the Archive: ‘The Oxford Book of War Poetry – edited by Jon Stallworthy *****

I always mark Remembrance Sunday by reading some semblance of war poems.  This year, I decided to read the marvellous Oxford Book of War Poetry for the umpteenth time, focusing solely upon those featured which were written during the First World War.  This book features some of my absolute favourite poets (Alfred Lord Tennyson, John McCrae, Wilfred Owen, etc.), and spans from battles outlined in the Bible and an extract from Homer’s Iliad, to present day conflicts.  It is, I think, the most marvellous and extensive collection of themed poetry which exists.

My favourite poems from the First World War in this collection are: ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, ‘Into Battle’ by Julian Grenfell, ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae, ‘All the hills and vales…’ by Charles Sorley, ‘Range-Finding’ by Robert Frost, ‘Calligram, 15 May 1915’ by Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘Reprisals’ by W.B. Yeats, ‘The Hero’ by Siegfried Sassoon, ‘Glory of Women’ by Siegfried Sassoon, ‘In Memoriam’ by Edward Thomas, ‘The Cherry Trees’ by Edward Thomas, ‘Rain’ by Edward Thomas, ‘As the team’s head brass’ by Edward Thomas, ‘To His Love’ by Ivor Gurney, ‘The Silent One’ by Ivor Gurney, ‘On Receiving News of the War’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Returning, We Hear the Larks’ by Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’by Wilfred Owen, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Exposure’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Insensibility’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘The Send-Off’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen, ‘Two Voices’ by Edmund Blunden, ‘Winter Warfare’ by Edgell Rickword, ‘My sweet old etcetera…’ by e.e. cummings, ‘next to of course god…’ by e.e. cummings, ‘i sing of Olaf’ by e.e. cummings, ‘In the Dordogne’ by John Peale Bishop, ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon and ‘Rouen’ by May Wedderburn Cannan.

I shall end with one of the poems I mentioned above, ‘Winter Warfare’ by Edgell Rickword.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men and lice.

Visited a forward post,
left them burning, ear to foot;
fingers stuck to biting steel,
toes to frozen boot.

Stalked on into No Man’s Land,
turned the wire to fleecy wool,
iron stakes to sugar sticks
snapping at a pull.

Those who watched with hoary eyes
saw two figures gleaming there;
Hauptmann Kalte, colonel old,
gaunt in the grey air.

Stiffly, tinkling spurs they moved,
glassy-eyed, with glinting heel
stabbing those who lingered there
torn by screaming steel.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men and lice.

Visited a forward post,
left them burning, ear to foot;
fingers stuck to biting steel,
toes to frozen boot.

Stalked on into No Man’s Land,
turned the wire to fleecy wool,
iron stakes to sugar sticks
snapping at a pull.

Those who watched with hoary eyes
saw two figures gleaming there;
Hauptmann Kalte, colonel old,
gaunt in the grey air.

Stiffly, tinkling spurs they moved,
glassy-eyed, with glinting heel
stabbing those who lingered there
torn by screaming steel.

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Poetry Picks: Where to Start, and Where to Continue

I have been speaking to a lot of English students about poetry of late, and it seems that they either adore it and cannot get enough, or really don’t know where to start.  I have been sharing weekly poems on the blog almost since its inception, and thought I would make a little guide of where to start with poetry, and where to continue with it if you are already a fan.  I have adored work by the poets below, and would highly recommend them, both for new and established readers of one of the most beautiful forms which literature has given us.

1. Stella Benson (1892-1933; British feminist); begin with Twenty
2. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950; American lyrical poet and playwright); begin with Renascence and Other Poems

Edward Thomas

3. Edward Thomas (1878-1917; British poet, essayist, and novelist); begin with Collected Poems
4. Jo Shapcott (1953-; English poet, editor and lecturer); begin with Of Mutability
5. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926; Bohemian-Austrian poet); begin with Letters to a Young Poet
6. Ted Hughes (1938-1998; English poet and children’s author); begin with Birthday Letters
7. Ruben Dario (1867-1916; Nicaraguan poet); begin with Eleven Poems

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Classics Club #97: ‘Collected Poems’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson *****

Words cannot describe how much I absolutely adore the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson.  Ever since first coming across him in my teens, I have been struck by the beautiful images which he sculpts, the history and mythology which he weaves in, and the sheer power of the language choices which he makes.  Reading his Collected Poems for my Classics Club challenge this summer was the third time in which I have settled down to do so.  Whilst I sadly did not make it through the entire volume this time around due to time constraints, I loved the process, and re-reading his poems felt as though I was in the company of the oldest and most comfortable of friends.

Rather than wax lyrical about his poems too much, I thought I would just share a few of my favourite fragments with you.

From In Memoriam A.H.H.:
“Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp’d no more–
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day. ”


From Mariana:
“With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!””

And finally, from my absolute favourite, The Lady of Shalott:

“On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
       To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
       The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
       Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
       The Lady of Shalott?”

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Book Club (September 2014): ‘Poems’ by the Bronte Sisters ****

I have read these poems before, but I enjoyed them so much that I was thrilled when April chose them as our September book club read.  I already had a copy of them on my Kindle, and found myself reading them on Easter Sunday whilst in France – a perfect setting for such beautiful writing.

‘Selected Poems’ by the Bronte Sisters

Each one of these poems, without exception, is beautifully written.  I found myself enjoying those which are non-religious far more, but that is merely personal preference.  I love the way in which the sisters often use history as a backdrop to these works, along with a wealth of other themes, which stretch from life, nature, freedom, writing, philosophy and the changing seasons, to running away, grieving and death.

My favourite poems, split up according to the sister who penned them, along with an example of their work, are as follows:

Anne Bronte – ‘The Arbour’, ‘Home’, ‘Memory’, ‘The Consolation’, ‘Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day’ and ‘Views of Life’.

From ‘Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day’ (1842):
“My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.”

Charlotte Bronte – ‘Mementos’, ‘The Wood’, ‘Frances’, ‘The Letter’ and ‘The Teacher’s Monologue’.

From ‘Frances’:
“SHE will not sleep, for fear of dreams,
But, rising, quits her restless bed,
And walks where some beclouded beams
Of moonlight through the hall are shed.

Obedient to the goad of grief,
Her steps, now fast, now lingering slow,
In varying motion seek relief
From the Eumenides of woe.

Wringing her hands, at intervals­
But long as mute as phantom dim­
She glides along the dusky walls,
Under the black oak rafters, grim.”

Emily Bronte – ‘Faith and Despondency’, ‘Song’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘How Clear She Shines’, ‘Sympathy’, ‘Death’, ‘Honour’s Martyr’ and ‘Stanzas’.

From ‘How Clear She Shines’:

“How clear she shines! How quietly
I lie beneath her guardian light;
While heaven and earth are whispering me,
” Tomorrow, wake, but, dream to-night.”
Yes, Fancy, come, my Fairy love!
These throbbing temples softly kiss;
And bend my lonely couch above
And bring me rest, and bring me bliss.”

Y soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/lines_composed_in_a_wood_on_a_windy_day.html#puiEwmDIddJrwt6V.99
Y soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/lines_composed_in_a_wood_on_a_windy_day.html#puiEwmDIddJrwt6V.99
Y soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/lines_composed_in_a_wood_on_a_windy_day.html#puiEwmDIddJrwt6V.99

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Poem: ‘I Hear America Singing’ by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day — at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman

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Poem: ‘I Have Loved Hours At Sea’ by Sara Teasdale

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,
The fragile secret of a flower,
Music, the making of a poem
That gave me heaven for an hour;

First stars above a snowy hill,
Voices of people kindly and wise,
And the great look of love, long hidden,
Found at last in meeting eyes.

I have loved much and been loved deeply —
Oh when my spirit’s fire burns low,
Leave me the darkness and the stillness,
I shall be tired and glad to go.

Sara Teasdale

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Poem: ‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott