Despite the beauty of timeless poetry, there is nothing quite as likely to get blood boiling and teeth gnashing, as a conversation about favourite poets. There is a Daumier lithograph called ‘A Literary discussion in the second balcony’ depicting a group of men brawling in an opera box upon such a ‘discussion’. However, National Poetry Day on Friday 24 August, is calling for a good ‘literary brawl’, and below is a list of my ten favourite poetry volumes to add to the furore.
If you are wanting to dapple in sheer sunlit perfection, you couldn’t do any better than read a volume of poetry by Alfred Lord Tennyson. From ‘The Lady of Shalott’ to ‘Idylls of the King’, each poem in this collection is word perfect, cementing Tennyson’s reputation as perhaps the most-loved poet of the Victorian era
If you can’t see yourself getting though a daunting looking volume of poetry in its entirety, why not try this beautiful novel in verse by ‘Russia’s Shakespeare’, Alexander Pushkin. Through exquisite prose, Pushkin relates the timeless love story between Eugene Onegin, a world weary dandy, and Tatayana a diffident but passionate young woman. This fine translation manages to capture both the rhythm and beauty of Pushkin’s novel in verse, making it a sheer joy to read.
You would be hard pressed to find a list of greatest poets that doesn’t include W.B. Yeats. Reading this wonderful collection of his work, it isn’t hard to see why. A prolific poet who is dearly loved for his moving poems about Ireland, as well as his perceptive meditations on life and death, Yeats is certainly justified in being regarded as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century.
This selection of Byron’s works includes the beautiful Hebrew melodies and the complete text of lengthier works such as Childe Harolde, an enduring classic. Mad, bad and gloriously dangerous to know, who could not love this selection of his works (and, lets face it, the mad, bad man himself).
This beautiful selection of Auden’s works includes such loved poems as ‘Funeral Blues’ and ‘In Praise of Limestone’ (who knew limestone could so inspire readers, such is the power of Auden). This selection showcases the amazing diversity of Auden’s writing and its incredible beauty. Mention must be made here of Tom Hiddlestone’s beautiful recital of ‘As I walked One Evening’. If you do nothing else this National Poetry Day, please listen to this and you will be inspired to read this volume of Auden in its entirety.
Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved, and influential poets of the nineteenth century. Little of Dickinson’s vast work are known to have been published during her lifetime, due to their astonishing originality, but this collection brings together 1775 of her poems, doing justice to a truly unique and insightful American voice.
Perhaps the most celebrated meditation on the brevity of life, this 101 verse narrative known as the ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ is filled with perception, wit, and beauty. Over two hundred years old, this narrative pieced together from Khayyam’s quatrains by Edward Fitzgerald, caused a storm upon its publication for the sheer distinctiveness of its voice. Today it remains an accessible yet incredibly profound mediation on human existence.
You may know the Brontes better for their incredible contributions to English literature in the form of novels (i.e ‘Wuthering Heights, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’) but Bronte fans would be truly missing out if they were to pass up on their poetry. This volume contains the complete works of Emily Bronte’s poetry, and it is every bit as accomplished as her only published novel, Wuthering Heights.
Popular for her effervescent ballads, and incisive poems on love, Christina Rossetti is a poet who seems to become more and more celebrated as time moves on. This beautiful collection contains her complete works including perhaps her most famous poem, ‘Goblin Market’, some terrifying childrens verses, beautiful sonnets, and romantic verses.
How do I love Elizabeth Barret Browning – let me count the ways… This would actually take far too long so I will just say that this volume of her selected poetry will say it all. Including her much loved ‘Sonnets from The Portuguese’, this beautiful volume of her poetry perfectly showcases the perfection of her work, with every line a sheer pleasure to read.
Okay, I did say ten picks, but including a light, humorous poet, who doesn’t write with brooding intensity but rather of gentleman and ladies from various parts of the country, did seem too brave a step for me. Edward Lear is my ‘additional’ pick, a fun and fantastical poet whose writing is always sheer fun and joyous to read.
Agree or disagree, there really is a poet out there for everyone. If you have never been convinced of this fact before and have always thought that poetry is strictly for the somewhat soppy, over sentimental birds, please think again. There are poems for literally every taste and every situation-death, war, love, childhood, loss, grief, the list goes on, and with all good poems, the words live on, capturing human emotions in a way that no other art form quite can.
If reading poetry is not your thing and you are more of a listener, there are some great poetry events on at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 to help celebrate National Poetry Day. These include a lunchtime reading with celebrated NZ poet and winner of Te Mata Poet Laureate (2002), Elizabeth Smither, as well as the 2018 Christchurch Poetry Slam. You can also see Ray’s super helpful blog detailing many other poetry workshops and events in Christchurch.