Hey everyone, I haven’t done a blog for a while, and so I thought it was about time to get back to it. Today’s post is going to be special because it asks for some audience participation…
This blog is going to be about our favourite poems. It’s a tricky decision to make, as poems can span a number of categories, styles, moods, and genres just like music. It would be hard for me to pick my favourite piece of music of all time because whilst I’m obsessed with classical music, I also love a bit of metal – and sometimes the energy of rock music is unsurpassed. In addition some poems are exceedingly long, and others no more than three lines – the definition ‘poem’ covers everything from Milton’s sprawling epic ‘Paradise Lost’ to an anonymous haiku. But yet, despite the difficultly, we always seem to be able to settle on what our true, all-time, speaks-to-the-heart-poem, is. It may not be the best poem ever written, or the finest or the funniest, or even particularly good in any sense, but it has other intrinsic value to you personally.
The magic of literature is that novelists, poets, playwrights, indeed any type of writer can speak to you in a way that touches you emotionally, spiritually, or even physically. Many people say that their favourite passages activate their senses, others say that they feel transported by the mood and feel of the text to another place, or even another world – all these effects are possible with great writing, but not just ‘great’ writing, any writing that somehow communicates with us.
It’s time for me to own up and give my example first, it’s only fair as I’ve asked it of you… In the scale of poets, he’s not really top, and in fact, I’m not sure I really like that many of his poems, but this one poem strikes me dead every time. For me, this poem has a 100% chance of making me cry by the final stanza every time – it’s not the best poem in the world, but it’s probably my favourite… it Robert Browning’s ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’.
It’s about a journey, a journey to a terrifying dark tower. It’s a journey many men have made, and none of returned from. The story is told in a wonderful ballad-esque stanza structure in the first person, and goes through the mental as well as physical hardships of this bizarre and extremely dream-like venture. It’s full of hair-raising occurences, including the disappearance of the road behind him as he moves forward:
‘…no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than pausing to throw backward a last view
To the safe road, ‘twas gone! Grey plain all round!’
Browning later revealed it was based on a vision he’d had. And the poem gets weirder and weirder as it goes on, departing from reality further as the hero goes more insane, and the dark tower itself draws nearer. But the reason I love the poem is because of the last stanza, which frankly shakes the pillars of literature in my view. Reaching the tower, at last, Childe Roland suddenly sees, ranging on the hills, all the souls that have gone before him to try and find the tower. He realises his quest is up, no one has ever returned and nor will he, and suddenly he does something – I won’t spoil it. Here’s the last two stanzas in full for your enjoyment:
‘Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers,–
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”
Goose-bumps gone yet? He sees them all, recognises each of them, remembers all their strength, nobility, courage and valour, and realises that they have come to witness his death – and still ‘dauntless’, he draws up his horn, blows a final note and proclaims that he reached the dark tower. It’s a heroic moment encapsulated in a few lines, but the lines are so dense with meaning that it goes beyond a small poem into something epic, something cataclysmic – there’s also potential to read symbolically into the poem, what the journey means, what the tower signifies, and what his defiance at the end attests to (I believe, the courage of the human spirit).
Anyways, that is enough about my favourite poem – I want to hear about yours. You don’t have to justify it at all, and it can be anything, a silly ditty, a comic verse, or the Iliad of Homer. I’m interested to hear what people love, and it doesn’t have to be anything like ‘Childe Roland…’!
Thanks for reading anyway, and hope to hear from you!
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