-- Poetry --


These are poems I learnt at school and only half remembered, or poems I have become familiar with since.
In the past year I have learnt them all off by heart. They are quite easy to learn, why not have a go?

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Abou Ben Adhem I know a Bank Silver The 23rd Psalm
Adlestrop Not Waving But Drowning The Donkey The Tyger
By the rivers of Babylon Once more unto the breach The Fat White Woman Speaks To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train
Code poem Sea-Fever The Lamb Upon Westminster Bridge
    The Owl and the Pussycat When icicles hang by the wall ... 


A classic.
Impress the children when you recite this poem. They might want to learn it too.


The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
        You are,
        You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
        His nose,
        His nose!
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear Pig, are you willing to selling for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand
    They danced by the light of the moon,
        The moon,
        The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Edward Lear.   1812-1888


I've been familiar with this poem since schooldays, but never learnt it by heart.
It is a poem of awe - for the tiger and for its creator.


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake.   1757-1827

Wordsworth was on his way to France when he passed over Westminster Bridge. He was a great admirer of the French Revolution.

September 3rd 1803

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth.   1770-1850


The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday, commemorating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.


When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

G K Chesterton.   1874-1936


I've found this the most difficult to learn so far, probably because I haven't learnt it before. Also I find the line "No whit less still and lonely fair" awkward.


Yes. I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed, someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and around him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas.   1878-1917


We recited this at Junior School. There is controversy about whether "go" should appear in the first line. It is included in some versions. The source of the difference is not yet known.


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to sail her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield.  1878-1967


Not a very sisterly poem. 'White' would be a reference to her clothes.
Both Chesterton and Houseman have replied on behalf of the fat lady.
Frances Cornford was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin.


O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

Frances Cornford.   1886-1960


The fat woman replies to her critic, although she may have used more ladylike phrases than Chesterton puts in her mouth.
But how could I know, or even guess?


Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves as such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

G. K. Chesterton.   1874 - 1936


We learnt Walter de la Mare's poems at Junior school. This is my favourite.


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter de la Mare.   1873-1956


I like the way the one syllable words in the seventh line speed it up.
Remember extroverts have their problems too!


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
and not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith.   1903-1971


keel - Different meanings are given for this. Website www.ebrummie.co.uk/
brummie_dictionary/K.htm says that
keel means -
"to scrape - not, as is commonly thought, to simmer, cool or ‘to keep the pot from boiling over’
eg A merry note, While greasy Joan doth keel the pot; still in use among older generations of Birmingham speakers."
They should know, as Birmingham is near Stratford, Shakespeare's home town.
saw - wise words.


When icicles hang by the wall,
    And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
    And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who - a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
    And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
    And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who - a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

(Love's Labours Lost, Act V.ii. 920-937)
William Shakespeare.   1554-1616


I already knew most of this. We had to learn whole chunks of Shakespeare for 'O' and 'A' Level GCEs, but it was worth the effort.
There are 20 more lines but I think that's enough.

Rallying his army before the seige of Harfleur.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as does a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and restless ocean.

(Henry V, Act III.i. 1-14)
William Shakespeare.   1554-1616


Remember it's 'blows' at the end of the first line, or someone will be bound to pick you up on it.
A weed is an old word for a garment.


I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine;
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.

(A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II.i. 249-256)
William Shakespeare.   1554-1616

This is the version we learned at school and is from the King James Bible.
Published in 1611, its poetic language was based mainly on William Tyndale's translation of 1525.
23rd PSALM. A psalm of David
David's confidence in God's grace.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


This psalm has inspired songs by The Melodians, Boney M and Bob Marley. Byron wrote a poem based on the psalm in 1815. Others have been moved to write their own versions.
This is from the King James Bible translation.

The constancy of the Jews in captivity.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows
in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem:
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.


Originally written for Marks's girlfriend Ruth Hambro who was killed in an air crash in Canada, this poem was given as a cipher to the agent Violette Szabo when she was sent to France during the war.


The life that I have is all that I have,
And the life that I have is yours.
The love that I have of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have,
Yet death will be but a pause,
For the peace of my years in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

Leo Marks.   1920-2001


This has been set to music by John Tavener. You can hear an extract on Amazon from his Byzantia CD. I personally find it too slow and funereal for a poem about lambs and children.

THE LAMB.   From Songs of Innocence

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb;
He is meek and he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

William Blake.   1757-1827


Leigh Hunt was a friend of Shelley and Byron. After being imprisoned for publishing radical views in his journal 'The Examiner', he travelled to Italy where the three could publish without fear of prosecution. Keats admired him and he was a friend of Carlyle.


Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The vision raised its head,
And with a look made all of sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names who love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Leigh Hunt.  1784-1859

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Yvonne Daykin's Poetry Page first launched 26 November 2004.
Web count added 2 December 2004.
Latest poem added 7 October 2006