Category Archives: Classic Poems

For want of a nail

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail”.

Benjamin Franklin

the Mad Gardener’s Song


He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
“At length I realize,” he said,
”The bitterness of Life!”

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
“Unless you leave this house,” he said,
”I’ll send for the Police!”

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
“The one thing I regret,” he said,
”Is that it cannot speak!”

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
“If this should stay to dine,” he said,
”There won’t be much for us!”

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it…

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Thinking of Li Po at Sky’s End (after Tu Fu)

O at the Edges


Thinking of Li Po at Sky’s End (after Tu Fu)

Cold wind rises at the sky’s end.
What does he consider?
And when will the geese arrive?
The rivers and lakes are full this autumn
but poets’ fates are seldom pleasant.
Demons love to see us fail.
Let’s think of dead Ch’u Yuan
and offer poems to the river.

The transliteration on reads:

Thinking of Li Po at the End of the Sky

Cold wind rise sky end
Gentleman thought resemble what?
Goose what time come?
River lake autumn water much
Literature hate fate eminent
Demons happy people failure
Respond together wronged person language
Throw poems give Miluo

According to the notes at, the wild goose is a symbol of autumn, letters and travellers in difficulties. The wronged person is Qu Yuan, a poet of the fourth century BC who drowned himself in the Miluo river – another…

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The Seed Shop

Secret Gardener

hugo de vriesHugo Marie de Vries ForMemRS (February, 1848 – May, 1935)

The Seed Shop

Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry –
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

Muriel Stuart Irwin (1885 — 1967)

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“The Changeling” – Charlotte Mary Mew

Linda Catherine

Toll no bell for me, dear Father dear Mother, 
Waste no sighs; 
There are my sisters, there is my little brother 
Who plays in the place called Paradise, 
Your children all, your children for ever; 
But I, so wild, 
Your disgrace, with the queer brown face, was never, 
Never, I know, but half your child! 

In the garden at play, all day, last summer, 
Far and away I heard 
The sweet “tweet-tweet” of a strange new-comer, 
The dearest, clearest call of a bird. 
It lived down there in the deep green hollow, 
My own old home, and the fairies say 
The word of a bird is a thing to follow, 
So I was away a night and a day. 

One evening, too, by the nursery fire, 
We snuggled close and sat round so still, 
When suddenly as the wind blew higher, 
Something scratched on the window-sill, 
A pinched brown face…

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Poem: The Lady of Shalott

Poem: The Lady of Shalott | – Man Booker Prize 2011 –
27 Aug 2010

Waterhouse: The Lady of Shalott

One of my favorite poems, The Lady of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tennyson. It tells the story of a cursed lady (said to be Elaine The Fair) living on an Island near Camelot. She is forbidden to look at Camelot directly, doomed to stare at the world through a mirror, weaving what she sees into a tapestry.

One day, Sir Lancelot passes on the other side of the water. The Lady is instantly besotted and can’t stop herself; she looks through the window and sees the world as if the first time, with all the beauty and glory of Camelot and Sir Lancelot. She then prepares her coffin, a boat, where she lays and is carried with the stream.

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Robert Southey: The Battle of Blenheim

For peace, against war: literary selections


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Robert Southey: Preparing the way for peace; militarism versus Christianity


Robert Southey
The Battle of Blenheim (1798)

It was a summer evening;
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun;
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
Which he beside the rivulet
In playing there had found.
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And with a natural sigh,
“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he,
“Who fell in the great victory.

“I find them in the garden,
For there’s many here about;
And often, when I go to plow,

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Dirge without Music


In the Dark

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,–but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, —
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the…

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The Throstle by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Bard on the Hill

English: Alfred Tennyson Français : Alfred Ten... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Throstle

“Summer is coming, summer is coming.
   I know it, I know it, I know it.
Light again, leaf again, life again, love again,”
   Yes, my wild little Poet. 

Sing the new year in under the blue.
   Last year you sang it as gladly.
“New, new, new, new!”  Is it then so new
   That you should carol so madly? 

“Love again, song again, nest again, young again.
   Never a prophet so crazy!
And hardly a daisy as yet, little friend,
   See, there is hardly a daisy. 

“Here again, here, here, here, happy year!”
   O warble unchidden, unbidden!
Summer is coming, is coming my dear,
   And all the winters are hidden.

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