Poems You Should Know: The Man From Snowy River

First published in 1890, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Patterson’s ‘The Man From Snowy River’ is the breathless, action-packed story of a group of riders attempting to recapture an escaped horse. The late 1800s was a time when Australia, like many British colonies, was in the process of forming a sense of national identity, and poets like Patterson and Henry Lawson played a pivotal role in placing the image of the ‘rugged bushman’ at the heart of that image. The poem is a great read, and a particular favourite, and it seems I’m not alone in my love – over the years it’s inspired several movies and a television series. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: The Man From Snowy River”

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Poems You Should Know: The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde

In 1895, Irish novelist, essayist, and playwright Oscar Wilde was riding high on the success of his latest play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and his relationship with young aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie). But the good times were not to last. Douglas’ furious father, the Marquis of Queensberry, left a calling-card at Wilde’s club inscribed ‘for Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite’ [sic]. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde”

Poems You Should Know: ‘The Maori Jesus’ by James K. Baxter

Mid-twentieth century poet James K. Baxter was a complicated man with a certain prophetic bent. A number of his poems, like this one, challenged contemporary social assumptions. In ‘The Maori Jesus’, the Christ is depicted as a somewhat down-and-out member of New Zealand’s indigenous people who pays a heavy price for living outside comfortable White social norms. For me as a Christian, Baxter captures something in this poem which is too easily forgotten in our ‘nice’ White, middle class religion.

Māori_Jesus_at_Te_Papa
Excerpt from ‘The Maori Jesus’ on display outside Te Papa museum in Wellington. In my student days I often used to walk past this but it took me years to look up the poem it came from.

Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: ‘The Maori Jesus’ by James K. Baxter”

Poems You Should Know: ‘The Windhover’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I profiled Hopkins (1844-1889), who is one of my favourite poets, ages ago. Although written during the Victorian era, his poems are Romantic in their emphasis on nature and spirituality, and were published (posthumously) during the Modern period. ‘The Windhover’ describes the flight of a falcon as it hovers and then drops, but also captures the spiritual ecstasy inspired by associating this sight with the sigh of Christ returning in majesty. However, the language – Hopkins’ ‘sprung verse’ – and the imagery is so evocative and captivating that the poem seems to transcend any religious framework to touch the hearts of people from many different backgrounds and beliefs.

To Christ our Lord
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: shèer plòd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold vermilion.

Poems You Should Know: Still I Rise

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

The 20th century was a time of tremendous social change as people began to question, and then challenge, the hierarchical concepts which had previously shaped the social order. From the suffragettes of the early 20th century to the mid-century Civil and Women’s Rights movements to the LGBT activism of the late 20th century ideas about who should have power, and why, have changed in ways that our great-grandparents would probably have struggled to imagine. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: Still I Rise”

Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry

American FlagOkay, I’ll be honest, I tried to research and write a detailed history of American poetry, but I decided I couldn’t be bothered, so here instead is a selection of the really important bits. Continue reading “Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry”

Poems You Should Know: ‘Ode To A Nightingale’ by John Keats

John Keats (1795-1821) was one of the most innovative poets of the Romantic movement, and ‘Ode To A Nightingale’ is filled with the things the Romantics loved best: emotion, nature, death, and, in this case, drug use. It’s one of six ‘Odes’ composed by Keats in 1819 as a new variety of short(ish) lyric poem. Of the other five the best known today are probably ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’ and one of my personal favourites, ‘To Autumn’. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: ‘Ode To A Nightingale’ by John Keats”

Poems You Should Know: ‘Remember Me’ by Christina Rossetti

Written during the Victorian period, the combination of realism (death is sometimes described as the ultimate reality), intellect (‘remember’, ‘tell’, ‘counsel’, ‘pray’, ‘thoughts’), emotion (the poem is permeated by the melancholy which accompanies the death of a loved one), and symbolism (referring to death as ‘the silent land’) in ‘Remember Me’ is all characteristic of the writing of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which Christina Rossetti (1830-1864) was arguably one of the foremost poets. ‘Remember Me’ speaks from the point of view of a person contemplating their own death and exhorting their loved one to remember them after death – but not at the cost of their own continued life and happiness. It’s apparently a favourite at funerals.

Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.

New Zealand Literature

mapofnewzealand.jpgThus far in this project I’ve rather neglected New Zealand literature, so I thought I should pay it some attention. Doubly rooted in the rich oral tradition of the indigenous Maori people and the equally rich literary tradition of Britain and Europe, New Zealand offers a great deal that is worth paying attention to. The following is little more than a taster of works by some of our most celebrated writers, arranged in chronological order. Continue reading “New Zealand Literature”

Poems You Should Know: ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliot

Following my recent post on the history of poetry I’m starting a new series of posts along the same lines as my Paintings You Should Know series – ‘Poems You Should Know’. Much like the painting series I’m not planning on following a particular chronology or providing deep analysis; I’ll simply be sharing significant poems.

So here’s my first offering, ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). It’s a Modernist work full of literary allusions. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliot”