The Classics Cub question last month asked us to name a favourite classic poem. I got my list down to three poems fairly quickly but then procrastination set in so I actually missed the deadline. I don’t think anyone is going to chastise me too much however.
My shortlisted three were all poems penned by one of the big six Romantic poets.
The Chimney Sweep by William Blake. As with much of Blake’s work in Songs of Innocence and Experience, there is a serious message underneath the apparent simplicity of the form. It starts as if the young chimney sweep is giving evidence in a court of law and ends with a message which seems to be directed at us the jurors, alerting us to the way we can be complicit in the kinds of social injustice about which the boy talks.
Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley. No-one could label this poem,with its intricate terza rima rhyme scheme of being ‘simple’. It’s a meditation on the natural world but Shelley does more than just dwell on its beauty, he invokes as a power to help rekindle his creative abilities. Reading this you also get a sense of how these Romantics saw themselves as the means to effect change in their society. Shelley doesn’t want his ideas to die with him, but to inspire and influence others.
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearthAshes and sparks, my words among mankind!Be through my lips to unawaken’d earthThe trumpet of a prophecy!
It’s a powerful poem but my ultimate choice of a favourite is Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth.
Having been to the ruins of the Abbey many times and also walked up to the spot on the cliff face where Wordsworth sat when looking down onto to the abbey, as I read the poem I can picture the scene he saw more than 200 years ago. I like to think of him there in quiet solitude contemplating the view in front of him and reflecting on how much influence his love of nature has had on him throughout his life.
While with an eye made quiet by the powerOf harmony, and the deep power of joy,We see into the life of things.
It’s a love that changed over time, from the heady pleasures of his youth to a deeper appreciation of nature’s power to nurture him through dark moments in his life. His more mature self feels a sense of the sublimity of nature, of “something far more deeply interfused whose dwelling is the light of setting suns.”
This isn’t a poem whose meaning is instantly apparent; you have to read it several times but it does reward re-reading and re-reading.