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Celebrating English Poets & Poetry

While we celebrate the tradition of American poetry—the Walt Whitmans and Emily Dickinsons and Langston Hugheses who helped create a uniquely American voice—we cannot forget how poets from across the pond have a shared history with the beginnings of American poetry, from the poets like Anne Bradstreet, who was credited as one of the first English poets in the colonies, to poets like Shakespeare, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose work has made an indelible mark on our understanding of poetry in America. Find out more about English poets and poetry with this collection of poems, essays, and more from and about poets from England.

poem

Third Charm from Masque of Queens

The owl is abroad, the bat, and the toad,
     And so is the cat-a-mountain,
The ant and the mole sit both in a hole,
     And the frog peeps out o' the fountain;
The dogs they do bay, and the timbrels play,
     The spindle is now a turning;
The moon it is red, and the stars are fled,
     But all the sky is a-burning:

The ditch is made, and our nails the spade,
With pictures full, of wax and of wool;
Their livers I stick, with needles quick;
There lacks but the blood, to make up the flood.
     Quickly, Dame, then bring your part in,
     Spur, spur upon little Martin,
     Merrily, merrily, make him fail,
     A worm in his mouth, and a thorn in his tail,
     Fire above, and fire below,
     With a whip in your hand, to make him go.
Ben Jonson
1609
poem

Evening Solace

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

Charlotte Brontë
2016
poem

The Unknown Citizen

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
   saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content 
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace:  when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
   generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
   education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
W. H. Auden
1940
poem

I Hid My Love

I hid my love when young till I
Couldn’t bear the buzzing of a fly;
I hid my love to my despite
Till I could not bear to look at light:
I dare not gaze upon her face
But left her memory in each place;
Where’er I saw a wild flower lie
I kissed and bade my love good-bye.

I met her in the greenest dells,
Where dewdrops pearl the wood bluebells;
The lost breeze kissed her bright blue eye,
The bee kissed and went singing by,
A sunbeam found a passage there,
A gold chain round her neck so fair;
As secret as the wild bee’s song
She lay there all the summer long.

I hid my love in field and town
Till e’en the breeze would knock me down;
The bees seemed singing ballads o’er,
The fly’s bass turned a lion’s roar;
And even silence found a tongue,
To haunt me all the summer long;
The riddle nature could not prove
Was nothing else but secret love.

John Clare
2016
poem

How Beastly the Bourgeois Is

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--

Presentable, eminently presentable--
shall I make you a present of him?

Isn't he handsome?  Isn't he healthy?  Isn't he a fine specimen?
Doesn't he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn't it God's own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn't you like to be like that, well off, and quite the
   thing

Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
   man's need,
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
  face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
   demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--

Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable--
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life
   than his own.

And even so, he's stale, he's been there too long.
Touch him, and you'll find he's all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty--
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp
   England
what a pity they can't all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.
D. H. Lawrence
1964
poem

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,  
  Half a league onward,  
All in the valley of Death  
  Rode the six hundred.  
"Forward, the Light Brigade!  
Charge for the guns!" he said:  
Into the valley of Death  
  Rode the six hundred.  
  
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"  
Was there a man dismay’d?    
Not tho’ the soldier knew  
  Some one had blunder’d:  
Theirs not to make reply,  
Theirs not to reason why,  
Theirs but to do and die:     
Into the valley of Death  
  Rode the six hundred.  
  
Cannon to right of them,  
Cannon to left of them,  
Cannon in front of them    
  Volley’d and thunder’d;  
Storm’d at with shot and shell,  
Boldly they rode and well,  
Into the jaws of Death,  
Into the mouth of Hell    
  Rode the six hundred.  
  
Flash’d all their sabres bare,  
Flash’d as they turn’d in air  
Sabring the gunners there,  
Charging an army, while   
  All the world wonder’d:  
Plunged in the battery-smoke  
Right thro’ the line they broke;  
Cossack and Russian  
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke     
  Shatter’d and sunder’d.  
Then they rode back, but not  
  Not the six hundred.  
  
Cannon to right of them,  
Cannon to left of them,      
Cannon behind them  
  Volley’d and thunder’d;  
Storm’d at with shot and shell,  
While horse and hero fell,  
They that had fought so well    
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,  
Back from the mouth of Hell,  
All that was left of them,  
  Left of six hundred.  
  
When can their glory fade?     
O the wild charge they made!  
  All the world wonder’d.  
Honor the charge they made!  
Honor the Light Brigade,  
  Noble six hundred! 
Lord Alfred Tennyson
1854