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Favorite poems of the webmaster

It is definitely true to say that I have favorite poems rather than favorite poets, although there are some particularly inspiring or intriguing poets who have more than one example of their work in my personal hall of fame. It is also true to say that I have always benefited from being introduced to a poem either in isolation, perhaps quoted in a book, or by being made to study it. I wonder how many people can say that their Ordinary Level English Literature syllabus opened the door to a whole new world of appreciation? Even if that may have been the idea!

For our exam we studied, among others, Gerard Manley Hopkins. His poem 'As kingfishers catch fire' is among my top ten. I wanted to use the opening phrase in the title of my first novel but discovered that Rumer Godden had beaten me to it. There was also R.S. Thomas, a favorite then and now, and Edward Thomas whom I have grown to love since. At the time I felt his poems were somewhat open-ended, with no proper conclusion. I wish Robert Frost, discovered subsequently, had been on the list because he is a poet that could have been a lifelong friend.

My father greatly admired Robert Browning. He used to gather us together and read us poems like 'How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix'. I remember the dramatic way he imitated the throwing-off of the accoutrements hampering the horse Roland, and how he pronounced the final triumphant 'and stood', at the end of the penultimate verse.

Browning's 'Parting at morning' and 'Meeting at night' were two of my firm favorites from these readings - short enough for me to learn by heart. Since coming to Italy I have particularly appreciated 'De Gustibus' which looks suspiciously to me like a cobbling-together of two (possibly even three or four) unconnected poems which the poet had tired of trying to finish. But what other poet could rhyme 'melons' and 'felons' together so happily?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was less to my father's taste except that he and my mother took the sonnet 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways' as their 'own' poem in the way that they might have had their 'own tune'.

My father had a hard-backed volume of the verse of Rupert Brooke, in whom we had a particular interest seeing as we lived in Cambridge and often went to Grantchester. (I swam in the river there once, like he did all the time it would seem.) However it was not until I found the poem 'The treasure' on the frontispiece of Nevil Shute's 'The rainbow and the rose' (the title being taken from one of the lines) that I began to explore the volume, delighting in 'Sonnet reversed' and 'I said I splendidly loved you; it's not true.'

I love beautiful poems, or perhaps I should say - poems about beauty. Siegfried Sassoon is best known for his war poems but his 'Idyll' means far more to me. There is an original manuscript of this poem in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where I worked for a while. I often lifted the velvet cover on the display case as I went by and gazed at the lovely handwriting. I wished I could know what inspired him to write it - what person, place, mood and moment because all of those things have their echo in the poem. He clearly had beauty in his soul and carried it with him wherever he went.

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