As it’s National Poetry Day we thought we’d take a quick break from beavering away to share a few of the Bookswarm team’s favourite poems.
Simon has always really liked Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias – and since it lent its name and themes to a heart-stopping episode of Breaking Bad a couple of weeks ago, hopefully a few more people will have discovered it.
Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
There’s something about the arrogance of the “Look on my works, ye Mighty” contrasted with the evident destruction of those works that’s very compelling, a timeless statement about the fate of empires. Simon also has a soft spot for sillier poetry, especially the stylings of Ogden Nash, whose best known poems are eminently quotable. This is one to live by:
A Word to Husbands, by Ogden Nash
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
Sticking with love and relationships, Hazel enjoys the work of Wendy Cope.
Two cures for love, by Wendy Cope
1 Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2 The easy way: get to know him better.
Here’s another poem to live by chosen by Hazel:
A Vow, by Wendy Cope
I cannot promise never to be angry;
I cannot promise always to be kind.
You know what you are taking on, my darling –
It’s only at the start that love is blind.
And yet I’m still the one you want to be with
And you’re the one for me – of that I’m sure.
You are my closest friend, my favorite person,
The lover and the home I’ve waited for.
I cannot promise that I will deserve you
From this day on. I hope to pass that test.
I love you and I want to make you happy.
I promise I will do my very best.
Meanwhile, Gary is a lover of the silly verse of the great Spike Milligan!
On the Ning Nang Nong, by Spike Milligan
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can’t catch ’em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!
Lastly, Bill is raising the tone with the choice of Byzantium by W.B. Yeats.
Byzantium, by W.B. Yeats
The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.
At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.
Bill says “The confidence of the writing, the complexity of the thought and the power of the imagery are all quite extraordinary. And it has one of the best last lines written in the 20th century!”
Happy National Poetry Day!