#NationalPoetryDay is even trending on Twitter today. That's how important poetry is. So, to celebrate, here are five of the first verses from my favourite poems of all time (and a link in case you want to read on).
1. The Heart's Desire is Full of Sleep - Ruth Pitter
The heart's desire is full of sleep,
For men who have their will
Have gained a good they cannot keep,
And must go down the hill
Where I found it: I first read this one in Ruth Pitter's Daily Telegraph obituary notice, and at once I got that kick in the stomach which good poetry gives.
What I like: that you have to work for the meaning of it, and that it doesn't say what you think it does at first reading. This is the one I keep in my wallet and will have read at my funeral. I am with her "true emperors of desire, true heirs to all regret..."
2. The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage - Sir Walter Raleigh
GIVE me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage ;
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.
Where I found it: I first read this as a teenager in Elizabeth Goudge's Towers in the Mist (one of my all time favourite books). Raleigh appears in it as a student at Oxford University.
What I like: Raleigh the courtier, the bringer of tobacco, the adventurer--these are the usual pictures we have of him. But Raleigh the yearning, passionate man of faith? Poetry reveals things about the poet and this showed me a man who felt the beauty of the soul at the deepest level and was prepared to sacrifice himself for his beliefs.
3. The Lake Isle of Innisfree - William Butler Yeats
I will 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.
Where I found it: surprisingly, I first came across this as a song, performing it with the school choir, so that's how I hear it in my head.
What I like: As a writer, I often want to get away from it all, live alone, concentrate on nothing but words and lapping waters and the song of bees. This poem sums up that unattainable desire perfectly.
4. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Where I found it: I was in a dusty classroom, at the front, on the left when I read this for the first time--it was part of my 'O' level English literature syllabus. I cried then. I do now.
What I like: My own father was a man who fought against many things--his family, the expectations of society, illness and disability. So it reminds me of him. But this was the first of Thomas's poems I read. The way he used language made poetry real and relevant for the first time in my life. I felt as if I wanted to lick his poems, to gobble them up, to rub myself against them. I still do.
5. To Be Called a Bear - Robert Graves
Bears gash the forest trees
To mark the bounds
Of their own hunting grounds;
They follow the wild bees
Point by point home
For love of honeycomb;
They browse on blueberries.
Where I found it: in a shiatsu practitioner's treatment room.
What I like: in my shamanic life, my totem animal is bear. This poem sums up that part of my character beautifully--sometimes I am 'unkept and surly with a sweet tooth'. Graves is one of my favourite writers anyway--I refer to him on an almost daily basis for mythological knowledge.
That's just five of my poetry loves--I have many more. I hope you enjoy these. Happy reading! Happy National Poetry Day!