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Poems you have enjoyed

Guest Chris Sweeney

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Guest Chris Sweeney

John’s posting on the English: Curriculum Issues thread about the novels that have influenced us has got me thinking about the poems that we may have liked and enjoyed. I doubt many people have been influenced as such by poetry, but I would like to see us sharing our favourite poems; whether by naming, or linking to a copy of them on the Internet, or even posting them complete.

What poems have you enjoyed; albeit nursery rhymes or classics, and why? (I bet most of us remember at least one from our childhood!)

Poster first: ‘Night Train’ by John Betjeman. Just how cool was the rhythm in that poem? As a kid I loved the way it EXACTLY matched the steam trains that took me to my Yorkshire Granny’s house. (Adrienne Rich was also a great influence, of course, as I say in John's thread!).

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Guest Chris Sweeney

The lack of response is interesting and it got me thinking. At Primary level children are still very much enjoying poetry and they come into Secondary level enthused by it and interested in more poems. By the time they reach the end of their GCSEs their enjoyment has turned to active dislike in most cases. That is a great pity and a sad reflection on the way we treat poetry at schools. Even many English teachers are nervous about teaching poetry and few read it for pleasure. Novels, on the other hand, are accessible to most readers.

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I love teaching poetry and for 2 years taught in an all girls' high school where THEY all loved poetry. We have lots of very good modern Australian poets who probably don't get much exposure in the UK - Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, Kenneth Slessor, Les Murray (who wrote on of the best modern love poems I've read and I'll try to get it and put it on here for you) to name a few.

The Lady of Shallot had most influence on me because we had to learn the whole lot by heart and I can still recite it - a wonderful party trick for new classes!!

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What poems have you enjoyed?


by Leonard Cohen

There are some men

who should have mountains

to bear their names through time

Grave markers are not high enough

or green

and sons go far away to lose the fist

their father's hand will always seem

I had a friend he lived and died

in mighty silence and with dignity

left no book son or lover to mourn.

Nor is this a mourning song

but only a naming of this mountain

on which I walk

fragrant, dark and softly white

under the pale of mist

I name this mountain after him.

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What a coincidence? I was just about to post on this thread about great lyric writers such as Leonard Cohen.

I was going to make the point that I have found poetry fairly irrelevant to my life (I have to admit that I have been guilty of using Andrew Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress as one of my seduction techniques).

My generation was much more influenced by song writers such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Don McLean, Janis Ian, etc.


Like a bird on the wire,

like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free.

Like a worm on a hook,

like a knight from some old fashioned book

I have saved all my ribbons for thee.

If I, if I have been unkind,

I hope that you can just let it go by.

If I, if I have been untrue

I hope you know it was never to you.

Like a baby, stillborn,

like a beast with his horn

I have torn everyone who reached out for me.

But I swear by this song

and by all that I have done wrong

I will make it all up to thee.

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,

he said to me, "You must not ask for so much."

And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,

she cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?"

Oh like a bird on the wire,

like a drunk in a midnight choir have tried in my way to be free.

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Guest Andrew Moore

My choice from the wonderful Mr. C. would be Sisters of Mercy (If your life is a leaf/That the seasons tear off and condemn/They will bind you with love/That is graceful and green as a stem...)

All my favourite poets are blokes (I have a soft spot for Christina Rossetti, though). Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Coleridge, Tennyson, Yeats and Auden. Among many wonderful pieces I will suggest these:

Donne: A Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day

Herbert: The Flower

Marvell: The Garden

Coleridge: Frost at Midnight (see the link to this on my home page)

Tennyson: "Tears, idle tears" (one of the songs from The Princess)

Yeats: The Host of the Air and Sailing to Byzantium (tie)

Auden: Look, Stranger or Legend (another tie)

I might also slip in Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night and Thom Gunn's Sunlight.

Dame Helen Gardner reckoned that real poetic merit lies in longer pieces - she was championing T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets at the time. These tend to work more like novels or works of philosophy - as well as the Four Quartets, I rate Dante's Comedy (read in translation only) and Tennyson's In Memoriam.

For the improper purpose that John suggests, I would commend writing one's own. They won't be as good as the classics, but they may be more unique to the recipient...

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When pupils tell me they "don't like poetry" I tend to refer them to the index page of www.poetry.com which features over 5.1 million poets - you've read them all and none of them is good enough for you? That's a bit picky!

I would choose Common Denominator by Andrea R Taylor (which is available here)She writes the kind of poetry that just won't behave. A bit like John Lennon in that respect.

I do this despite the fact that I think it is dangerous to choose a living poet because I bitterly remember the fate of Roger McGough who accepted an MBE from Margaret Thatcher - thus spitting on everything his poetry was about. (spitting is slightly more polite than what I was going to say there).

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This is one of Les Murray's short poems. He's considered our best modern poet and is widely taught in Autralian schools. Haven't found the love poem I was looking for, but will keep trying.

The Meaning of Existence

Everything except language

knows the meaning of existence.

Trees, planets, rivers, time

know nothing else. They express it

moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body

lives it in part, and would

have full dignity within it

but for the ignorant freedom

of my talking mind.


Poems the Size

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Guest Chris Sweeney

Sometimes it is a good idea not to worry about what a poem is supposed to mean, but to just enjoy whatever it is that the sensation it creates in us is.

I would really love it if this thread could be some continuous process where members of this forum just post up whatever felt good to them (poem or songm or prose extract) - with no thought about its supposed educational value.

As educators, do we not do more for our charges than meet some sort of of political or social imperative? We should surely give experience to the child?

And so to ourselves, I would argue.

Let us nurture each other. In these times of stress, let us give each other a boost - a connection - and post a poem, or an extract of prose - all without long-winded explanations - as a simple offering, if we are capable of that - of something that affects us in some way.

Without any need to explain ourselves.

I for one, enjoy the poems that members have already posted and I thank you.

I would like to share this poem with you. I haven't experienced what it talks of, but I do know that this is one hell of a strong woman. If you want to give it real effect (and can do it), read it aloud in a Southern USA woman's voice.

And Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

PS Andrew, would you post your first choice for us to read?

Edited by Chris Sweeney
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I agree about just sharing what you love. I found the one I was looking for - it just appeals to me as a modern love poem

Definition of Loving

Thank you for love, no matter what its outcome,

that leads us to the window in the dark,

that adds another otherness to others,

that holds out stars as if they were first diamonds

found in a mine that had been long closed down,

that hands out suns and makes us ask each morning:

What else do we need, picnickers in time?

Thank you for love that does not hang on answers,

that says, " Enough's enough, to love is plenty...."

- by such signs do we know the world exists,

amo ergo sum, thank you for that.

The miles, the years, the lives that lie beween,

- they always lay there, and they always will,

but look, the loved one spans that dizzy distance

by the act of being, and we lovers turn

our faces steadily thou-wards as a field

of sunflowers like a tracking station turns,

charting its meaning by the westering sun.

Bruce Dawes (another fine Australian poet)_

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I would have thought this song/poem by Janis Ian could be used in the classroom.

I leaned the truth at seventeen

that love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles

who married young and thenretired.

The valentines I never knew,

the Friday night charades of youth

Were spent on one more beautiful.

At seventeen I learned the truth.

And those of us with ravaged faces,

lacking in the social graces,

Desperatly remained at home,

inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say, "Come dance with me,"

and murmured vague obscenities.

It isn't all it seems at seventeen.

A brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs

whose name I never could pronounce

Said, "Pity, please, the ones who serve;

they only get what they deserve.

The rich relationed hometown queen

marries into what she needs.

A guarantee of company

and haven for the elderly."

So remember those who win the game

lose the love they sought to gain.

In debentures of quality and dubious integrity.

Their small-town eyes will gape at you

in dull surprise when payment due

Exceeds accounts received at seventeen.

To those of us who know the pain

of valentines that never came,

And those whose names were never called

when choosing sides for basketball.

It was long ago and far away;

the world was much younger than today

And dreams were all they gave away for free

to ugly duckling girls like me.

We all play the game and when we dare

to cheat ourselves at solitaire.

Inventing lovers on the phone,

repenting other lives unknown

That call and say, "Come dance with me,"

and murmur vague obscenities

At ugly duckling girls like me at seventeen.

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I became familiar with these two poems on a visit to Middlebury, Vermont. Robert Frost used to have a summer cabin near Middlebury, which my wife and I visited. There's a restaurant called "Fire and Ice" in Middlebury. Nice memories!

Fire and Ice

Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire;

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To know that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Click here to here the poem read:


Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound's the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

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Another favourite of mine of (naturally) of my Irish wife:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

William Butler Yeats

I shall arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon's a purple glow,

And evening's full of the linnet's wings

I shall arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or in the pavement's gray,

I hear it in the deep heart's core.

It's a lovely place!

In contrast, not far from where I live - in the land of Paul Brent (Ricky Gervais):


John Betjeman

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!

It isn't fit for humans now,

There isn't grass to graze a cow.

Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens

Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,

Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,

Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town -

A house for ninety-seven down

And once a week a half a crown

For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin

Who'll always cheat and always win,

Who washes his repulsive skin

In women's tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak

And smash his hands so used to stroke

And stop his boring dirty joke

And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add

The profits of the stinking cad;

It's not their fault that they are mad,

They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know

The birdsong from the radio,

It's not their fault they often go

To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars

In various bogus-Tudor bars

And daren't look up and see the stars

But belch instead. (YUP, THAT SUMS UP WHERE I LIVE!)

In labour-saving homes, with care

Their wives frizz out peroxide hair

And dry it in synthetic air

And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough

To get it ready for the plough.

The cabbages are coming now;

The earth exhales.

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I love the pictures that Wordsworth creates in 'The daffodils' and in this one here, 'Upon Westminster Bridge'

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This city now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky:

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifuly steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

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