With a big pile of vegetables to peel this evening I tuned into Radio 4 where, to mark National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr was leading a whistle-stop tour through British poetry, reflecting on how it has been shaped by (and has commented on) the events of the nation’s life. I only joined the programme at the Victorians but found it fascinating. It caused me to wonder whether I could tell my own story through poems…?
I often say that I have come very late to poetry, as it is only in the past three years that I have discovered, in poetry, voices which can speak to pain and to wonder, to faith and to doubt. Discovering one accessible door has led me on down a number of interesting corridors and avenues in the vast labyrinth that is the world of poetry. Yet, reflecting tonight, I realise that poetry has always been there in the background. My father often quoted lines from poems and, at his instigation, I remember learning by heart William Blake’s “The Echoing Green” when I was about seven. I remember learning it – I don’t remember many of the lines… yet something of the images and emotions which that poem created within me does remain – I don’t think it was a waste of time.
If that’s where “My life in poetry” begins, the next stop is probably John Masefield whose well-known poem “Sea Fever” is another which tugs the senses, just as the wind of which it speaks tugs at the sails of a boat. Then there were all those little extracts from poems at the top of chapters in “Swallows and Amazons” which lodged in my subconscious, although I hardly noticed them: “Silent upon a peak in Darien…” which turns out to be from another sonnet, this time by Keats.
I won’t bore you with the whole journey, I haven’t mapped it myself yet, but I’m enjoying musing upon the idea of “Desert Island Poems”! How about your life? Which are the poems you had to learn at school, or which speak to you now – do share them. The only problem with poetry, like history, like literature, like music… there’s just so much of it! Who was it who said something about “Seeing the world in a grain of sand”? Back to Blake, I think.