The 'New Penguin Book of English Verse' edited by Paul Keegan is Poet-in-Residence's choice for the April book of the month. The anthology contains more than 1,000 pages of English poems, arranged in chronolgical order, from the year 1300 to 1994. It's a poetic pirates' chest of jewels, trinkets and golden guineas. Poet-in-Residence need do little more than agree with the remarks of the Observer's Helen Dunmore [the book] demonstrates that we have the good fortune to live in the English language, perhaps the richest, most supple, promising, sharp-tongued and rule-breaking playground for poetry. It's amazing to think that this 1140 page book published fairly recently, in fact in the year 2000, is priced at 9.99p (UK) or $18.00 (USA). That's roughly the same as you'd have to pay for the latest slimline Heaney collection 'District and Circle'. But Poet-in-Residence is guilty of digression. Here then, without any more ado, are a few gems and pearls scooped from an overflowing casket.
On a Cock at Rochester
Thou cursed Cock, with thy perpetual Noise,
May'st thou be Capon made, and lose thy Voice,
Or on a Dunghil may'st thou spend thy Blood,
And Vermin prey upon thy craven Brood;
May Rivals tread thy Hens before thy Face,
Then with redoubled Courage give thee chase;
May'st thou be punish'd for St. Peter's Crime,
And on Shrove-tuesday, perish in thy Prime;
May thy bruis'd Carcass be some Beggar's Feast,
Thou first and worst Disturber of Man's Rest.
Sir Charles Sedley (1692)
Hard by the lilied Nile I saw
A duskish river-dragon stretched along,
The brown habergeon of his limbs enamelled
With sanguine almandines and rainy pearl:
And on his back there lay a young one sleeping,
No bigger than a mouse; with eyes like beads,
And a small fragment of its speckled egg
Remaining on its harmless, pulpy snout;
A thing to laugh at, as it gaped to catch
The baulking, merry flies. In the iron jaws
Of the great devil-beast, like a pale soul
Fluttering in rocky hell, lightsomely flew
A snowy troculus, with roseate beak
Tearing the hairy leeches from his throat.
Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1851)
Magna est Veritas
Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me the world's course will not fail:
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
Coventry Patmore (1877)
A Northern Suburb
Nature selects the longest way,
And winds about in tortuous grooves;
A thousand years the oaks decay;
The wrinkled glacier hardly moves.
But here the whetted fangs of change
Daily devour the old demesne -
The busy farm, the quiet grange,
The wayside inn, the village green.
In gaudy yellow brick and red,
With rooting pipes, like creepers rank,
The shoddy terraces o'erspread
Meadow, and garth, and daisied bank.
With shelves for rooms the houses crowd,
Like draughty cupboards in a row -
Ice-chests when wintry winds are loud,
Ovens when summer breezes blow.
Roused by the fee'd policeman's knock,
And sad that day should come again,
Under the stars the workmen flock
In haste to reach the workmen's train.
For here dwell those who must fulfil
Dull tasks in uncongenial spheres,
Who toil through dread of coming ill,
And not with hope of happier years -
The lowly folk who scarcely dare
Conceive themselves perhaps misplaced,
Whose prize for unremitting care
Is only not to be disgraced.
John Davidson (1896)
On the day of the explosion
Shadows pointed towards the pithead:
In the sun the slagheap slept.
Down the lane came men in pitboots
Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,
Shouldering off the freshened silence.
One chased after rabbits; lost them;
Came back with a nest of lark's eggs;
Showed them; lodged them in the grasses.
So they passed in beards and moleskins,
Fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter,
Through the tall gates standing open.
At noon there came a tremor; cows
Stopped chewing for a second; sun,
Scarfed as in a heat-haze, dimmed.
The dead go on before us, they
Are sitting in God's house in comfort,
We shall see them face to face -
Plain as lettering in the chapels
It was said, and for a second
Wives saw men of the explosion
Larger than in life they managed -
Gold as on a coin, or walking
Somehow from the sun towards them,
One showing the eggs unbroken.
Philip Larkin (1974)