National Poetry Day: My Ten Favourite Poems

“We’re all of us poets, but we don’t all know it.”

I have always loved to read poetry, a private passion that came to me by way of my mother (a prodigious reader).

From laughing my head off to Pam Ayres on the telly, through teenage tears with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, to the famous Victorian poems forever seared into my memory at school, via the unexpectedly sexy French poems of my ‘A’ levels, after the collected works of Pablo Neruda and W.H. Auden from those films were read aloud in bed, to when my husband’s favourite poem was read aloud at our wedding… poetry has been a constant.

I even live next-door-but-one to a poet. (No frilly white shirt to mark him out as one, alas. Nowadays, they look just like you and me.)

In honour of National Poetry Day here, in no particular order, are extracts from my ten favourite poems.

If you want to read more, head down to your local library or independent bookshop: they’re full of good poetry!

Alicante, Jacques Prevert
Une orange sur la table
Ta robe sur le tapis
Et toi dans mon lit
Doux présent du présent
Fraîcheur de la nuit
Chaleur de ma vie.

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven, W.B. Yeats
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

She Walks in Beauty, Like the Night, George Gordon Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light 5
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

A Subaltern’s Love Song, John Betjeman
Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth, Pam Ayres
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth,
And spotted the dangers beneath
All the toffees I chewed,
And the sweet sticky food.
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.

My Last Duchess, Robert Browning
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Anthem For Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

The Runcible Cat, John Laird
Come, hear the tail of a Runcible cat;
The Grandfather pawsed, while he
Trimmed the clause of the Runcible cat
Who purr pussed to sail on the sea.

And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss
But all that I’ve noticed, Except my own feet
Was a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street.
That’s nothing to tell of,
That won’t do, of course….
Just a broken-down wagon
That’s drawn by a horse.
That can’t be my story. That’s only a start.
I’ll say that a ZEBRA was pulling that cart!
And that is a story that no one can beat,
When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.

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