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.    

'Ulysses' by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This is one of the great dramatic monolgues in English. It’s easy to be carried along by the speaker’s undimmed enthusiasm for exploration (mental or physical) and his reluctance to give into old age. The last two lines are justly famous. But in this poem, as in the best of Browning’s, what is being said is undercut by how it is said. If you pay attention, the poem is having its cake and eating it; admiring the exuberant old explorer, while allowing you to see his arrogance and selfishness.

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.

T.S.Eliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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. .