Poetry should be treasured every day of the year, but especially on March 21st, World Poetry Day. We have asked some of our favourite authors to send us their favourite poems and tell us what they mean to them, and we have also added our own personal choices although picking just one poem was no easy task.
Poetry is also s a great educational tool for the language classroom. For ideas and resources, visit our blog post from last year.
And here’s a reading tip for you and your classes. Although poetry can be perfectly enjoyed in silence (whether you’re reading or writing it), we recommend that you also read it out loud so that you hear the rhythm of the lines and the sounds of the words and rhymes.
Do you have a favourite musical rendition of a poem?
Now let’s read five poems recommended by our authors, editors and blog writers.
“I knew a handful of cummings-poems as a student, but this one I heard first in the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), when Michael Caine is looking at Barbara Hershey and quoting the poem to himself. I immediately liked the last line, which is a perfect image for me, and when reading up on the poem I also fell in love with lines like “your slightest look will easily unclose me”. As a teacher I have used the poem ever since then to talk with my students about the manifold responses to individual lines of the poem, and every time we joyously grappled with the idea of how to express love with words.”
e. e. cummings
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
(from: complete poems,1913-62)
(Series editor of Helbling Readers, the culture courses World Around and Talking Culture, and the Helbling Young Readers A Christmas Present for Barney Bunny, Sam and the Sunflower Seeds, Henry Harris Hates Haitches, Fat Cat’s Busy Day and Skater Boy and co-ordinator of Helbling Readers Blog)
“My grandfather used to say this poem to me, and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t somewhere in my head. I love the simplicity of the idea and the rhyme and repetition in the language.”
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W. B. Yeats
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
“The poem that changed my life was T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I must’ve been around thirteen when I read it for the first time. It made me realise that poetry was much more than the traditional poems that we read (and learned) at school. It influenced me a lot when I started writing song lyrics. I think many of my favourite ‘poems’ are song lyrics and I enjoy the work of poets who have a connection with the world of music. One such person is the Scottish poet Don Paterson who, like me, moved to London from Scotland to find a future as a musician. I particularly like his poem Rain because it deals with two of the things I love most – cinema and rain.”
Rain by Don Paterson
I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;
one long thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame
to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,
and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,
so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,
I think to when we opened cold
on a rain-dark gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign,
and I’d read into its blazing line:
forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters
and none of this, none of this matters.
(Source: The New Yorker Magazine)
(Editor of Helbling Readers)
“I love this poem by Robert Frost because life and each day is full of wonderful and difficult decisions which may be the right or wrong ones to have taken but in the end we have to decide and keep moving forward and enjoy the paths we chose to take. Robert Frost’s poetry for me is simple and direct but full of nature, imagery and meaning that I relate to.”
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(Writer of Helbling Readers Blog)
“This is one of the poems that I often quote, the lines come to my mind in very different situations, and the rhythm and the lines feel soothing and the easy rhymes make the poem sound bouncy at the same time.”
At Last the Secret is Out by W. H. Auden
At last the secret is out,
as it always must come in the end,
the delicious story is ripe to tell
to tell to the intimate friend;
over the tea-cups and into the square
the tongues has its desire;
still waters run deep, my dear,
there’s never smoke without fire.
Behind the corpse in the reservoir,
behind the ghost on the links,
behind the lady who dances
and the man who madly drinks,
under the look of fatigue
the attack of migraine and the sigh
there is always another story,
there is more than meets the eye.
For the clear voice suddently singing,
high up in the convent wall,
the scent of the elder bushes,
the sporting prints in the hall,
the croquet matches in summer,
the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
there is always a wicked secret,
a private reason for this.