In the first week of October we celebrate National Poetry Day, a day to discover, enjoy and share poems with one another. The theme for this year’s celebration is truth. Many poets have written about this topic but, as the poems below show us, truth is a relative concept, unique to the individual, and can be found in many different places. 

 

A Brave and Startling Truth 

Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

It is possible and imperative that we learn

A brave and startling truth

Read the poem in full, here. 

 

Tell me the truth about love

W H Auden

Some say love’s a little boy,
And some say it’s a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that’s absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn’t do

Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does its odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It’s quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I’ve found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
It wasn’t over there;
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton’s bracing air.
I don’t know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn’t in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

 

“Truth”, said a traveller

Stephen Crane

“Truth," said a traveller, 

“Is a rock, a mighty fortress; 

“Often have I been to it, 

“Even to its highest tower, 

“From whence the world looks black.”

 

“Truth," said a traveller, 

“Is a breath, a wind, 

“A shadow, a phantom; 

“Long have I pursued it, 

“But never have I touched 

“The hem of its garment.”

 

And I believed the second traveller; 

For truth was to me 

A breath, a wind, 

A shadow, a phantom, 

And never had I touched 

The hem of its garment.

 

Sonnet 138

William Shakespeare

When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her though I know she lies,

That she might think me some untutor’d youth,

Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties. 

Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young.

Although she knows my days are past the best,

Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue,

On both sides thus is simple truth supprest:

But wherefore says she not she is unjust?

And wherefore say not I that I am old?

O love’s best habit is in seeming trust,

And age in love, loves not t’have years told.

    Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,

    And in our faults by lies we flattered be. 

Taken from Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year

 

 

Loving in Truth

Sir Philip Sidney

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,

That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,—

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,—

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe;

Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain,

Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow

Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;

Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows;

And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.

Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,

‘Fool,’ said my Muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’

 

Tell all the truth but tell it slant –

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –

 

A Legend of Truth 

Rudyard Kipling

Once on a time, the ancient legends tell,

Truth, rising from the bottom of her well,

Looked on the world, but, hearing how it lied,

Returned to her seclusion horrified.

There she abode, so conscious of her worth,

Not even Pilate's Question called her forth,

Nor Galileo, kneeling to deny

The Laws that hold our Planet 'neath the sky.

Meantime, her kindlier sister, whom men call

Fiction, did all her work and more than all,

With so much zeal, devotion, tact, and care,

That no one noticed Truth was otherwhere.

 

Then came a War when, bombed and gassed and mined,

Truth rose once more, perforce, to meet mankind,

And through the dust and glare and wreck of things,

Beheld a phantom on unbalanced wings,

Reeling and groping, dazed, dishevelled, dumb,

But semaphoring direr deeds to come.

 

Truth hailed and bade her stand; the quavering shade

Clung to her knees and babbled, "Sister, aid!

I am – I was – thy Deputy, and men

Besought me for my useful tongue or pen

To gloss their gentle deeds, and I complied,

And they, and thy demands, were satisfied.

But this – " she pointed o'er the blistered plain,

Where men as Gods and devils wrought amain –

"This is beyond me! Take thy work again."

 

Tablets and pen transferred, she fled afar,

And Truth assumed the record of the War...

She saw, she heard, she read, she tried to tell

Facts beyond precedent and parallel –

Unfit to hint or breathe, much less to write,

But happening every minute, day and night.

She called for proof. It came. The dossiers grew.

She marked them, first, "Return. This can't be true."

Then, underneath the cold official word:

"This is not really half of what occurred."

 

She faced herself at last, the story runs,

And telegraphed her sister: "Come at once.

Facts out of hand. Unable overtake

Without your aid. Come back for Truth's own sake!

Co-equal rank and powers if you agree.

They need us both, but you far more than me!"