Top 7: Poems from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’

I had never read anything by Larkin before I picked this collection up, and I confess myself pleasantly surprised; though there was a thread of melancholy running throughout, it was never heavy-handed enough to become depressing. Each poem was deep and many-layered, yet extremely accessible. If you’re interested, here are my recommendations:

  1. MCMXIV – a very poignant portrayal of a blissfully innocent England on the eve of the First World War.
  2. The Whitsun Weddings – the titular poem captures one seemingly unimportant moment in time beautifully.
  3. Love Songs in Age – an understated yet pitch-perfect depiction of ageing and grief that uses the motif of old records.
  4. Mr Bleaney – I like the way this poem effortlessly depicts the characters of two men who inhabit one room at different times.
  5. First Sight – I appreciate the sentiment behind this poem, which implies that there is always something better, even if you can’t see it at first.
  6. Afternoons – a lovely but melancholy interpretation of the disillusionment felt by many young mothers of Larkin’s era.
  7. Take One Home for the Kiddies – this poem is grimly sassy and turns very dark, very quickly.

Poem: April

Blossoms unfurl where snowflakes trembled once
James Taylor singing on the radio
An Easter egg firm in my curled hand
Hidden but there like the promise of you.
A moorhen skitters across the lake
The sky blooms pink like an early rose
The road is a ribbon of golden sun
Flushed green, the trees drip with hazy dew.
And April, April, April Rise
Everything tinted with beautiful you.

Top 7: Poems from ‘The World’s Wife’

‘The World’s Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite volumes of poetry. It invents the untold stories of the women behind the great men of history in an accessible way, while still having plenty of depth. If you’re interested, here are my recommendations:

  1. Little Red-Cap – Here Duffy recalls a past love affair, using the allegory of Little Red Riding Hood. There is some beautiful gothic imagery and several memorable lines, such as ‘allotments/kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men‘.
  2. Mrs Darwin – This poem somehow manages to be funny, clever and thought-provoking in just four lines.
  3. Pygmalion’s Bride – A witty take on the classic story of the sculptor who falls in love with his own masterpiece.
  4. Anne Hathaway – A romantic interpretation of what Shakespeare meant when he wrote in his will, ‘Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…
  5. The Devil’s Wife – A disturbing but profound poem in five parts, based on the case of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
  6. Mrs Quasimodo – This longer poem is tragic but refreshing in that it deals with two ugly people falling in love, and I like the motif of the bells and their ‘murdered music.’
  7. Demeter – A touching and understated celebration of a mother’s love, and a fitting way to end the collection.

 

Poem: Midas

One look at your face and I was sold
I’m flying now on mended wings
All that you touch you turn to gold.

A January day in the dark and cold
Like a startled bird, you made me sing
One look at your face and I was sold.

Apollo, Adonis, you fit the mould
I am the queen, Midas my king –
All that you touch you turn to gold.

You give me courage, you make me bold
More than a lonely winter’s fling
One look at your face and I was sold.

Clasp me tight in a ballroom hold
For a music-hall melody, saxophone swing
All that you touch you turn to gold.

Stay with me until I grow old
Remain my foolish, greedy king –
One look at your face and I was sold
All that you touch you turn to gold.

Top 7: Wilfred Owen poems

Recently I read a collection of Wilfred Owen’s poems and loved their power and poignancy. If you’re interested in getting to know his work and aren’t sure where to start, here are my personal favourites:

1. Dulce et Decorum Est – This is probably the quintessential Owen poem. It is memorable for the sheer grotesque honesty of its imagery and it stayed with me for a long time after I first read it.

2. Disabled – I studied this poem at school but, if anything, reading it again only enhanced my appreciation of its tragic portrayal of a man physically incapacitated by the war.

3. The Send-Off – This poem is less graphic and violent than most of the other poems. It is calm and understated in an unsettling way which makes it all the more poignant.

4. S.I.W. – This poem describes the suicide of a soldier, a theme which is often neglected in war poetry and one which I was intrigued to read about.

5. The Show – A fantastically strange poem which describes the war from a birds’ eye view, featuring some grim but apt imagery.

6. The Parable of the Old Man and Young – I like Owen’s clever re-appropriation of Biblical language to carry his powerful message across.

7. Sonnet (written at Teignmouth, on a Pilgrimage to Keats’s House) – The imagery here is beautiful and, though written before the war, it mirrors the melancholy of Owen’s later poems eerily.

Poem: Chance Encounter

You are one in ten million
Workers in a forgotten city
Where the horn blasts are like
Voices in the wilderness
With Napoleon complexes
Screaming to be heard
And somewhere in the middle
In the pile of bricks and rubble
From a giant’s tantrum
Our eyes meet for the first,
Last and only time
Your cigarette is a dying glow-worm
And the smoke is lost before
It escapes the smog
That smothers the sun
But your eyes – your eyes! –
They burn like the city lights
Which deny the darkness
Of the Harbin night.

Poem: Hometown Hymn

This town
Is a downtrodden woman.
She’s been through rough patches
She still has scars.
And when she’s angry
Her mind is a clogged ring road –
You can’t get through to her
However much you yell and fume.
She’s not pretty
Her clothes are an inside-out
Patchwork of times and memories
Which sometimes even she
Can’t make out.

But even so she’s proud
And when you call her names
She responds with
A firework display
A dazzling flicker of defiant life
She laughs
A mellow, bubbling sound like
People pouring out of a pub
On a Sunday afternoon
Her voice from a mile away
Is a warm embrace
The arms of her roads
Reach out into the future
And despite the tinges of grey
I think she is beautiful.

Poem: Fairies

I believe in fairies
Not the kind with streets
Cobbled with canines or
Broken butterflies on their backs
But the kind that drift
Around the garden on a summer’s day
Like a lazy train of thought
The ones you can catch in your hands
And blow away like a kiss

And there is magic in the way
Toadstools appear overnight
Like a polka-dot circus
Spreading, sprouting, sprawling
Into a glorious city

And sometimes in the humming
Jazz piano piece of a warm June day
When the hedgerows bubble with berries
And birds are laughing in the trees
It is not very hard to see
Why people once believed.

Poem: The Opium Bride

I still remember the day
When my father came staggering
From the fields of blood-red poppies
Like a wounded soldier
The tears that bled
From my mother’s eyes
As she laid the proposition
On the table like a shotgun.
She lied.
It wasn’t a proposition
It was an order: no choice.
You do understand?
If you don’t do this we’ll
Lose all that matters
Our status, our house, our land.

So I promised myself
To a man with eyes like
Frogspawn and hoary hands;
They were sandpaper
Wearing me away each night
A pleasure for him after
Those difficult days
Of crushing the snail-shells
Of people’s lives
Into brown powder
And watching them
Laughing
As they set it alight.

I told my mother I understood
But as it turns out
I lied.
I lost everything,
Everything really important
When I was an opium bride.

Poem: Old Maid

When they see me in the street they smile
And pity me
Never married, ripening age, old maid.
I suppose you’d smile too
If you knew
That Pointless
Has become my life
And each night I curl up
With Ernesto by my side
A cat, more’s the pity, but
Maybe it would also surprise you
To learn that I don’t mind
Because each day I wake and
The memory of you
Filters through the curtains of my mind
Like the sunrise
I think of you
Tracing the rim of your glass
With a finger and
Hiding a smile
Or stretching out, sleeping
In front of the fire
While I looked on with folded arms
But a heart open wide
I know that what we had
Was not recorded on paper
Or encircled in the confines
Of a ring
But I never needed a filter
To gain your approval
And I knew you liked me
Without pushing your buttons
And though
Our time was brief
And not to be
When I see them on the street I smile
And pity them;
Never married, ripening age, old maid.