The theme for this year’s National Poetry Day is ‘Remember’. The call to ‘remember’ immediately brings to mind the well-known war poets of both eras who wrote of the horror of the vast killing fields and the personal disaster of war and death.
Though not a conventional one, ‘MCMXIV’ by Phillip Larkin is the war poem that I know most closely by heart. That last stanza always catches in the throat: ‘the men / Leaving the gardens tidy, / The thousands of marriages, / Lasting a little while longer: / Never such innocence again.’
Remembering is fundamental to how poetry works. The way a poem is built can help us to remember it. Intricate structures of rhymes, rhythms and repetitions help to lodge it in the mind (read Don Paterson, Glyn Maxwell and Michael Donaghy on this); Shakespeare constructed a whole series of sonnets out of beautifully complex thoughts, yet the structure also makes them memorable – memorize-able. Here’s one I learnt by heart a long while ago:
Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare
When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Is there a poem, or lines from a poem, that you know by heart?
Join in with National Poetry Day by sharing your own favourite poem or lines from a poem on Twitter with #thinkofapoem. Or, you can take part in some of the fabulous events and readings that are taking place around the country.
Main photograph, 'Dancing in Memory', © Alyssa L. Miller / flickr.com