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…)
Anon may well be the greatest poet in any language. This short lyric from the 15th century belongs to the medieval tradition of celebrating Mary.
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.
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.
Although this is one of the great poems of the Twentieth century it’s interesting to note how much trouble Eliot had getting it published. Extracts from Pound’s correspondence on his behalf can be read here https://ladygodivaandme.blogspot.com/2013/06/pound-and-publication-of-prufrock.html It seems that Harriet Munroe wanted Eliot to revise the poem and give it a more uplifting ending.
Eliot’s control of his line is enviable and perhaps not noticeable until the poem is read aloud. It swings, ebbs and flows. It’s too easy to chant the whole thing in a sing song, which I’ve tried to avoid. .
John Hewitt was an Ulsterman who came to Coventry to be Art Director of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. His poem is enthusiastic about the city itself, which is rare, but also deals with the complicated ambiguities that Irish history evokes. The last two lines are both beautiful and particularly effective as an image of displacement.
This isn’t one of Kipling’s best poems, but it’s fun to read, and the punchline should be recited regularly by all those who write poems and write about them.
Laȝamon is one of the first English poets to step forward and claim a text as his own. The poem itself is over 16,000 lines. Written after 1155, the ‘prologue’ tells us his name, where he lived, what he did, and why he started writing.