Best-Loved Poems, A Treasury of Verse by Ana Sampson

“Poetry is personal.The poet tells us about love, grief, faith, doubt, fear or courage as they have felt it, and a receptive reader – sometimes centuries later – discovers that the verses strike a chord, and that scraps of the poem catch in their memory for ever.”

I was lucky to receive an advance copy of this poetry anthology, because of a blog post I wrote on another of Ana Sampson books (the wonders of the Internet!). What a pleasure it was to open the package and see the beautiful and striking cover. A cover which reminds me of those aged books I consider treasure when I find them in a second-hand bookshop. It perfectly reflects the timeless quality of the poems inside.

The poems are divided by theme. Chapters include Love, Relationships, Songs of War, Birds and Beasts, Poems Remembered from Childhood, ‘The Dying of the Light: Elegies and Epitaphs’ and many more.

I enjoyed revisiting old favourites like Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’, Wendell Berry’s ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ and especially those which made me smile like ‘Daddy Fell Into the Pond’ by Alfred Noyes, and ‘Yes, I’ll Marry You My Dear’ by Pam Ayres.  

I also discovered some new ones too, like this tender romantic sonnet by Carol Ann Duffy: 

 

Hour

Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,

bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.

We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers

or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.

 

For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair

like treasure on the ground; the Midas light

turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here

we are millionaires, backhanding the night

 

so nothing dark will end our shining hour,

no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit

hung from the blade of grass at your ear,

no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit

 

than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,

but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.

 

This book comes out today, a week before National Poetry Day on the 28th September. I can’t think of a nicer way to celebrate it than putting my feet up and reading some poetry along with a cup of tea to restore my sanity. I’d love to know – what would be your favourite poem to include in a treasury of verse?

Poems to Learn by Heart by Ana Sampson

Poems to Learn by Heart, Ana Sampson book

“Reading poetry – letting phrases wash over you and seizing on the passages that best describe a certain feeling – is a wonderful way to spend time. Committing those same poems to memory, so you have within yourself a storehouse of the most beautiful and, I would argue, useful words in the language, is hugely rewarding and a skill worth cultivating.”

~  Ana Sampson

I picked this book up in the library partly because of the exquisite cover and partly because of the title. Do you know any poems by heart?

About ten years ago I started keeping a little notebook in my bag in which I wrote some of my favourite shortish poems. Whenever I was waiting for the bus or in a queue somewhere or otherwise twiddling my thumbs, I would take out my notebook and learn a line or two.

I recommend starting with a poem that you love, here are some examples that I began with:

I’m nobody! Who are you? – Emily Dickinson

A Birthday – Christina Rossetti

Jabberwocky – Lewis Carroll

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – Robert Frost

Success is Counted Sweetest – Emily Dickinson

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – William Wordsworth

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18) – William Shakespeare

In the introduction of the book, Ana describes the process of memorisation:

“Once you’ve chosen a poem, write it out on a piece of paper to get a feel for the lines. Read it aloud several times, and you may find it helpful to walk in time with the poem’s rhythm and recite the words in time with your footsteps. Take it line by line: recite the first line until it is perfect (choosing a very famous poem will help here, as you will likely already know the opening) then add the second, and so on. Do not learn a new line until you can recite the previous lines perfectly. You might find it helpful to recite the poem daily, and attaching visual cues (or other prompts) to each line of the poem will enable you to walk through the lines without forgetting what comes next. Before long, the poem is yours: caught fast in memory and ready to be recalled when wanted and needed.”

‘Tis likely a very old-fashioned thing to do, and I’m glad I wasn’t made to learn poetry by heart in school as older generations had to. It probably would have put me off for life. But I’m often surprised by how much the lines of the poem become embedded in your mind and bubble to the surface at unexpected times. Little things – daffodils in springtime, an apple tree heavy with fruit, a summer’s day… and a line or two of the poem will wander unbidden into my conscious mind.

If you are interested in learning poems by heart, then I would recommend this book. It is brimming with ideas and inspiration.

Sycamore ~ Wendell Berry

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In my search for an apt quote for my post about the sycamore last week, I came across this beautiful poem by Wendell Berry. There are very few words written in homage to this often maligned tree, but here is a fitting ode to a lost sycamore

The Sycamore

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

~ Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things

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“When despair grows in me

and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

~ Wendell Berry

Today I am taking up the invitation from Jane at her beautiful blog Writing and Stuff to join in the challenge of a quote and a picture for three consecutive days.

The above is perhaps more a poem than a quote in its length, but it reflects the way I feel about life and nature. Though I have not read much of Wendell Berry’s work, I love the way his great respect for the natural world shines through his words.

I took the photograph on a recent walk in Corsham. Near the railway-track at Box tunnel, there was an old disused quarry filled with water and transformed to create a labyrinth of small lakes and ponds. The water is surrounded by trees, long grasses and flashes of yellow flag iris. Elderly gentleman with their fishing rods and ducks and geese were enjoying the tranquility. It was a hidden spot of peace near a busy housing estate, and was such a surprise to stumble upon.

Thank you for inviting me to the challenge Jane. I enjoyed searching for some of my favourite quotes. I am not going to nominate anyone for this challenge as I would prefer to invite any reader to take part who would like to. Just post a favourite quote on your blog and include a photograph if you wish. If you link back here we can all come and visit 🙂

Enjoy your weekend. x

Saying Goodbye

 

The child traced her finger along the feathered black lines
The veins of the granite rock on which she sat
She recalled the tissue paper skin of her grandmother
Was she still here now where the wind whistled in the trees?
Did she wander and howl like the ghosts of nightmares
With neither flesh nor substance?
Did she drift with the nameless,
With the ones who were loved too much?
She spread her fingers flat on the cold stone
Watching as a shiny red beetle marched between her thumb and forefinger
It turned without fear and headed purposefully off in a new direction
She cupped her fingers together to encircle the little bug
Who tramped around and around before lifting its wings
And floating away weightless on the breeze
Bringing her fingers up to her eyes
She peered through the round frame her fingers made
Squinting and tilting her head to see
As the tiny creature got smaller and smaller

 

This is a poem for The Sunday Whirl: Wordle #201

Words: through, circle, veins, granite, fear, ghost, names, howl, empty, flesh, table, weight.