Category Archives: Favourite Poems

(from) Cavafy’s ITHAKA

Always in your mind keep Ithaca.
To arrive there is your destiny.
But do not hurry your trip in any way.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

My favourite lines from “Ithaca” by C. P. Cavafy. This is not my translation – I don’t know who did it but it is perfect.

The First Epic Poem: The Descent of Inanna

Interesting Literature

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle travels back over four millennia to find the oldest surviving epic poem

What’s the oldest epic poem in the world? Did it all begin with Homer’s Iliad? In one sense, we can grant this as an acceptable proposition, but if we wish to trace the true origins of ‘the epic’ as a literary form, we need to go back considerably further into the very hazy early years of literary history.

For the epic began in the Middle East with works like The Epic of Gilgamesh, the tale of a Sumerian king who possesses seemingly inhuman strength and who meets his match in the mysterious figure of Enkidu; this poem also, notably, features the Flood motif we also find in the Book of Genesis. But even Gilgamesh wasn’t the first epic. That honour should probably go to

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LOVE ROSE BETWEEN US (Miguel Hernández)

(from the Spanish of Miguel Hernández)

Love rose between us
like the moon between two palm trees
that never embraced.

An intimate murmur in both our bodies,
love swelled to a song,
but the sound was hoarse and strained.
Our lips were like stone.

The urge to cling drove on our flesh,
lit up our fevered bones,
but our arms when they reached out
died in each other’s arms.

Love passed, the moon, between us
and consumed our lonely bodies.
Now, two ghosts who seek each other,
we meet far away.

“Double Acrostic” – Lewis Carroll

On May 20, 1871, Lewis Carroll sent the following poem to Mabel and Emily Kerr of Canada. The poem was titled “Double Acrostic”. Can you figure out where the acrostics are? Thanks, thanks, fair Cousins, for your gift So swiftly borne to Albion’s isle — Though angry waves their crests uplift Between our shores, for […]

via Lewis Carroll’s “Double Acrostic” Poem — Learn Fun Facts

Clink on the link to read the poem. (I found MABEL, but not EMILY!) 

Tracy Chevalier’s BURNING BRIGHT

If, like me, you have always been fascinated and thrilled by the poems and pictures of William Blake, you will be delighted with this book, for it is set in his London and he plays quite a major role in it. His London, yes.

(This and several other poems crop up quite naturally in the course of the story.)

I wander through each chartered street
Near where the chartered Thames does flow

And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man
In every infant’s cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace walls.

But most through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.

And what is more, he is credibly depicted – an outspoken radical (he was a friend of Tom Paine’s) at a time when a breath of socialism or support for the revolution in France could cost one one’s life; eccentric to the point of “madness” – in constant communication with his dead brother, and living in fact on two levels, in two worlds, simultaneously; and very, very kind in a society where kindness seems to have been in extremely short supply.

A poor family emigrate from a Devonshire village to London, and the story is of the two village children, Jem and his beautiful but totally naive and innocent sister, Maisie (a source of inspiration to Blake!) and her adorable streetwise counterpart, Maggie, the local London girl who befriends Jem and tries to protect Maisie.

It is perfectly written, as one would expect of the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, and succeeds on every level. I will never be able to read William Blake again without thinking of him facing a mob who are demanding that he sign an oath of allegiance to the king, and refusing outright; and Jem and Maisie’s father, the local from the Devonshire village, following suit, not because he knows or cares anything about politics but because he objects to being forced to do something by a violent mob.

And the depiction of the two girls, Maisie and Maggie, as they grow up, become women, is completely unforgettable.

A must for all Blake-lovers as well, of course, as all lovers of top quality Historical Fiction.

THE MOON COMES OUT (Federico García Lorca)

(from the Spanish of Federico García Lorca)

The moon comes out
and bells ring unheard;
impenetrable
pathways appear.

The moon comes out
and sea covers the land;
the heart feels like
an island in infinite space.

Nobody eats oranges
under a full moon.
You have to eat
green fruit, ice-cold.

The moon comes out
from a hundred identical faces
and silver money
sobs in the purse.

William Wordsworth – Three Sonnets

Just read them. Each one is perfect – a gem.

SURPRISED BY JOY

Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss! That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

COMPOSED UPON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, SEPTEMBER 3, 1802

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!