Classics ClubPoetry

A favourite classic poem

classicsclub3The 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 hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The 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 power
Of 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.



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

10 thoughts on “A favourite classic poem

  • Wonderful poems all! I have a fond regard for the Wordsworth because I took a college seminar on the Romantic Poets and my professor made us all memorize 120 lines of poetry so I did Tintern Abbey. We had to go to his office and recite it to him as part of our grade for the class. I can no longer recall it but I did enjoy the process of memorizing it.

  • So hard … but in the end I’d probably go for Gerard Manley Hopkins (too many to choose but perhaps Spring and fall, or As kingfishers catch fire) or Wordsworth or Coleridge or Keats or TS Eliot or … Oh dear.

    • i love Windhover, like so much of Hopkins’ work I enjoy the sound patterns he creates but by the time I get to the end of it I’m still not sure I understand what he is saying

      • Oh yes, Windhover, and God’s grandeur, and so many others. I know what you mean about understanding but I did study him quite a bit so feel I have a bit of a grasp. Spring and fall is pretty straightforward though, as it’s about recognising our mortality, whether we know it or not. It’s one of the few poems I’ve memorised – just because I liked it.

        • I don’t know that poem so have had to look it up. It’s quite a sorrowful poem isn’t it – the idea that we don’t as we age get the same pleasures. Thanks for pointing me in the direction.

        • Yes, it is sorrowful. I just love the way his words role of the tongue and tend to sound what they mean – “though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie”. Just love it.

  • I ruled out dear Will because there are just too many wonderful poems and it would have been nigh on impossible to choose just one

  • I can’t offer a quick reply, I shall have to go away and think about this. And rule out Shakespeare because the sonnets are always going to top my list every time.


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