Sincerity is Carol Ann Duffy’s final collection of poems as Poet Laureate. Time and its passage are at the heart of this reflective work, which gazes out from the autumn of life. There are moving elegies here for what has departed; whether that be children who have flown the nest, a way of life, literary luminaries, past loves, lost parents or our own youth. Here, Carol Ann discusses how poetry has been a part of her life since she was a child, and shares the poems she loved as a teenager.

 

 

The Song of Wandering Aengus

W. B. Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

 

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.

 

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

 

From Collected Poems, W. B. Yeats.

 
 

Fern Hill

Dylan Thomas
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

 

 

Ode to a Nightingale

John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains 

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, 

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains 

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 

'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, 

         But being too happy in thine happiness,— 

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees 

                        In some melodious plot 

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, 

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease. 

 

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been 

         Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth, 

Tasting of Flora and the country green, 

         Dance, and Proven├žal song, and sunburnt mirth! 

O for a beaker full of the warm South, 

         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 

                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 

                        And purple-stained mouth; 

         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 

                And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 

 

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget 

         What thou among the leaves hast never known, 

The weariness, the fever, and the fret 

         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, 

         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 

                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow 

                        And leaden-eyed despairs, 

         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 

                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow. 

 

Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 

         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 

But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 

         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 

Already with thee! tender is the night, 

         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 

                Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays; 

                        But here there is no light, 

         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 

                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. 

 

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, 

         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, 

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet 

         Wherewith the seasonable month endows 

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; 

         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 

                Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves; 

                        And mid-May's eldest child, 

         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, 

                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves. 

 

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time 

         I have been half in love with easeful Death, 

Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme, 

         To take into the air my quiet breath; 

                Now more than ever seems it rich to die, 

         To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 

                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 

                        In such an ecstasy! 

         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— 

                   To thy high requiem become a sod. 

 

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 

         No hungry generations tread thee down; 

The voice I hear this passing night was heard 

         In ancient days by emperor and clown: 

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 

         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 

                She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 

                        The same that oft-times hath 

         Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 

                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. 

 

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell 

         To toll me back from thee to my sole self! 

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well 

         As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf. 

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 

         Past the near meadows, over the still stream, 

                Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep 

                        In the next valley-glades: 

         Was it a vision, or a waking dream? 

                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep? 

 
 

Snow

Louis Macneice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

 
 

How Do I Love Thee?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height 

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight 

For the ends of being and ideal grace. 

I love thee to the level of every day’s 

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. 

I love thee freely, as men strive for right; 

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. 

I love thee with the passion put to use 

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. 

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose 

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, 

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, 

I shall but love thee better after death.

 

From The Picador Book of Love Poems