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”

Random Poem: ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin

danny-the-champion-of-the-world
A good parent makes all the difference. In Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny the Champion of the World’, the close relationship between Danny and his father is an integral part of the story.

“Tell me about Danny,” (not his real name, obviously), the social worker said.

I smiled. “You know how we’re not supposed to have favourites?” I told her. “Well, he’s one of the favourites that I officially don’t have.”

Danny was a kid with a lot of challenges, but he was lucky: he had mum firmly on his side, determined to get him the help he needed. Not all kids are so fortunate, a subject which the social worker and I touched upon before she left. Modern British poet Philip Larkin captured this reality all too well in his funny, offensive (the f-word, so don’t click ‘Read More’ if that’s something that will offend you), and heart-wrenching poem ‘This Be The Verse.’ Continue reading “Random Poem: ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin”

Random Poem: The Journey of the Magi, by T. S. Eliot

This Sunday just passed marked Epiphany in the Christian calendar, the date when we remember the visit paid to Jesus by wise men from the East (the Magi, also known as the Three Kings) as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 2:1-12). Continue reading “Random Poem: The Journey of the Magi, by T. S. Eliot”

Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow

I first came across this poem as a Christmas carol adaptation by one of my favourite contemporary Christian bands, Casting Crowns (you can listen to their version here). Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote the original in 1863, in response to the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an intensely personal poem: Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the War in the Union cause without his father’s blessing, and had later been seriously wounded in Virginia.

sidney-e-king-capture-of-ricketts-battery
Sidney E King, ‘The Capture of Rickett’s Battery’

Although it has subsequently been adapted several times, with the more specific references to the War altered or omitted, the original runs as follows:

 

 

 

Continue reading “Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow”

Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

maya-angelouBest known for her 1969 autobiography ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, which detailed the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life as a Black woman in 20th-century America, Maya Angelou was deeply steeped in both the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition of the likes of John Donne and Shakespeare and the contemporary work of African-American women poets like Anne Spencer and Jessie Fauset, who are largely unknown today. Perhaps as a result of this, a woman who was an ‘outsider’ by race, sex, and class was able to speak in a way that could reach those who might otherwise have overlooked her, and those like her. In 1993 she recited one of her poems, ‘On The Pulse of Morning’ at the inauguration of US President Bill Clinton. Continue reading “Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)”