In honour of National Poetry Day, here is a small selection of some of the finest British poetry, with a little background on each of the poets.
“If” By Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) was a Nobel Prize winning short-story writer, poet, and novelist. His most famous work was probably The Jungle Book, a collection of short stories, which was adapted into a highly celebrated, and still enjoyable animated film by Disney in 1967.
Interesting fact: Kipling declined both a knighthood and the highly esteemed position of Poet Laureate.
“Sonnet 18” (“Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?”), by William Shakespeare
What is there to say about Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) that has not already been said? Arguably the greatest writer of all time, certainly the most celebrated. His sonnets are far less studied than his plays, but are equally interesting. There is some debate as to the gender of the person to whom Sonnet 18 is dedicated, but either way it is a beautiful love poem.
Interesting fact: there is a conspiracy theory (believed by great actors such as Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance) that Shakespeare could not have been the son of a common glove maker from Stratford, and that he was just a frontman for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
“Daffodils”, by William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) launched the Romantic Age alongside Samuel Taylor Coleridge in their joint publication Lyrical Ballads. He was the British Poet Laureate from 1843 to his death in 1850.
Interesting fact: Wordsworth was anosmic; he had no sense of smell. How different it must be to experience a flower if you cannot enjoy its scent!
“The Owl and the Pussycat Went to Sea”, by Edward Lear
Lear (1812-1888) was a specialist in limericks and nonsense verse and was the originator, or at least the populariser, of this style of poetry. He was an accomplished artist and illustrated his own poems as well as a few of Tennyson’s. As a writer of rhyming verse and limericks, Lear is a particular favourite of mine.
Interesting fact: he was the second youngest of twenty-one children and was brought up by the eldest daughter separate from the family.
“The Soldier”, by Rupert Brooke
My own love of poetry began when, as a young boy at school, I was required to read the great poets of the First World War, including Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and even Kipling. Unfortunately, Brooke died at the tender age of 27, less than a year into the First World War.
Interesting fact: was said to be incredibly good looking. W.B.Yeats described him as “the handsomest young man in England” and Virginia Woolf once boasted of going skinny-dipping with him in a moonlit pool when they were in Cambridge together.
Please do let us know your own favourite poems @ThePGentleman