Great poems for men, part 7

Book review of Delphi Poetry Anthology: The World’s Greatest Poems

We don’t have thrushes in Australia (I don’t think), but the English poets mention them a lot so I guess they’re a pretty nifty little bird.  Here’s Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) on them:

The Darkling Thrush


. . . At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom . . .

He also writes of the happy whore, a type . . . erm, a friend of mine has also met and confirms the existence of:

The Ruined Maid


. . . –“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,

Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;

And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”–

“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she . . .

Another one I like, full of whimsy and humour, is Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?  It is best read in full so I won’t provide a sample here.  Too few poems are prepared to have a laugh.  As I said in part one, poetry should not be taken too seriously, and I add now that poets should not take too seriously themselves or their work.  Not for reasons of humility, but simply because life is much more enjoyable when we know our proper place and acknowledge how silly the whole universe is.

Perhaps I should review a rhyme by Monty Python some day, i.e.:

Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it,

But always remember the last laugh is on you!

Although, Hardy’s The Man He Killed is necessarily more serious, and another best read in full.

Now that I’ve finally got the Swedish Minist-her for Population Replacement and the Elimination of Masculinity off my back, I’m mainly copping heat here from the Yanks.  ‘What about us?’ they moan.  ‘We’ve totes got poets, too!  Why are you ignoring . . . what was his name, again?  That big beard guy in the hat who made chocolates . . .’

Ah, you’re thinking of Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

I like his poems about the Wild Wild West, which the North and South united to conquer after their unpleasant little disagreement in the middle of the nineteenth century:

Pioneers!  O Pioneers!


. . . All the past we leave behind,

We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,

Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,

Pioneers!  O pioneers!

We detachments steady throwing,

Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,

Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,

Pioneers!  O pioneers!  (. . .)

That was written some time before the existence of Twinkies, Rhianna or the Met gallery.

Another interesting one is Ethiopia Saluting the Colors.  Does it celebrate the liberation of the slaves, or does it wonder why they bothered?  I’m not sure.  Read the whole thing and decide for yourself.

We were all made to watch Dead Poets Society at some point in high school.  Let me therefore placate the restless spirits of our long-lost English teachers by including this one:

O Captain!  My Captain!


O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead . . .

The final one I’ll reproduce in full:

The Last Invocation


AT last, tenderly,

From the walls of the powerful fortress’d house,

From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well-closed doors,

Let me be wafted.

Let me glide noiselessly forth;

With the key of softness unlock the locks – with a whisper,

Set ope the doors O soul.

Tenderly – be not impatient,

(Strong is your hold O mortal flesh,

Strong is your hold O love).

Poets are dreamers, but dreams can be dangerous.  D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) notes this:



All people dream, but not equally,

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind,

Wake in the morning to find that it was vanity.

But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people,

For they dream their dreams with open eyes,

And make them come true.

We are now approaching the twentieth century, a century that did not heed Lawrence’s warning, and my dear visitor may fear we are running out of good poems.  Not yet – W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) wrote this beautiful piece, quoted here in full:

When You Are Old


WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

It makes me think gloomily of my first love, who I have not seen or heard tell of for ten years.  She’d be 38 by now.  I hope she is happily married with little ones (kids, not cats) keeping her busy.  I hope she didn’t get too fat.  I hope she’s well.  I am afraid to search and find out in case she is not.  I will always love her, not in the sense that I want to be with her, but in that I will always think fondly of our years together and wish her well.

And, does she ever think of me?  I doubt it.  Once a girl leaves you, an hour later it is as though you never existed.  Sad!

Perhaps this one will cheer us up:

A Drinking Song


WINE comes in at the mouth

And love comes in at the eye:

That’s all we shall know for truth

Before we grow old and die.

I lift the glass to my mouth,

I look at you, and I sigh.

Nope, still miserable.  Try another?

Sailing to Byzantium


That is no country for old men.  The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unaging intellect . . .

Erm . . . let’s try a couple of bits from one more:

The Second Coming


. . . Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; (. . .)

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Dear God.  Let’s give up and leave it there for today.

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