Zbigniew Herbert's 'The Envoy of Mr. Cogito'.

It’s hard to assess poems by a poet who writes in a language that isn’t your own. It’s easy to miss the poetry and be seduced by the content or the attitude. But Herbert is arguably one of the great poets of the twentieth century and by the time he died he was revered in his own country.

 This is taken from The Collected Poems, 1956-1998, translated by Alissa Valles and published by Atlantic books. It is probably essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth century European poetry.

 I’m apologetic about the way I pronounce his first name, but more of his poems will inevitably appear in later podcasts. Meeting Mr. Cogito is good for you.    

Louis MacNeice 'Cradle song for Eleanor'

This is one of the first poems I memorised, a very long time ago. Louise MacNeice is often overlooked or undervalued in histories of English poetry where he is overshadowed by his friend W. H. Auden. But he was one of the great lyric poets writing in English in the twentieth century. To mark the centenary of his birth in 2007 Peter McDonald edited a beautiful collected for Faber. McDonald also contributed an excellent discussion of Cradle song to 'Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and his legacy' essays edited by Fran Brearton and Edna Longley (Carcanet 2012). (An essay is excellent when it makes you revist a poem you’ve known for forty years and see things you hadn’t previously noticed…)

Robert Service's 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'.

This is from ‘Songs of a Sourdough’. Robert Service made his name writing poems about the Yukon Goldrush in the 1890s. ‘The shooting of Dan McGrew’ is best heard around a campfiire, or in a mini bus stuck in a snow storm. Best recited from memory.

Service was once very popular, especially with people who ‘didn’t like poetry’: these days he may be almost forgotten.

Evan Boland's 'Quarantine'

This poem is from the title sequence of Boland’s 2001 collection ‘Against Love Poetry’. Her book makes a case for a poetry that deals with human relationships as they are, rather than the kind of ‘love’ that poetry so often seems concerned with. ‘Quarantine’ flatly relates an incident. But it’s one that’s difficult to forget.