The best religious poems
What are the best religious poems in English literature? Obviously religious faith – and, indeed, religious doubt – has loomed large in English poetry, whether it’s in the devotional lyrics of John Donne and George Herbert or the modern, secular musings of Philip Larkin in ‘Church Going’. We’ve excluded longer works such as John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, although naturally that’s a must-read work of English religious poetry, just conceived on a different scale from what we have here.
Caedmon, Hymn. Perhaps the oldest poem written in English, Caedmon’s Hymn was composed in the 7th century by a goatherd and takes the form of a short hymn in praise of God. It was Bede, or ‘the Venerable Bede’ as he is often known, who ensured the survival of Caedmon’s Hymn, when he jotted it down in Latin translation in one of his books. An anonymous scribe then added the Anglo-Saxon form of the hymn in the margins of Bede’s book. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of Shakespeare’s 48th Sonnet
‘How careful was I when I took my way’ opens up a series of what Don Paterson calls ‘pessimistic sonnets’. From Sonnet 48 onwards, we’re in for a spate of gloomy meditations on love, as Shakespeare begins to fret over losing the Fair Youth’s affection.
How careful was I when I took my way,
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unused stay
From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust!
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou best of dearest, and mine only care,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.
Thee have I not locked up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part; Read the rest of this entry
The best road poems
Roads often feature in poetry, as symbols for our lives (the ‘journey’ we are travelling on, whether on our way to something, or heading away from it), or as markers of mankind’s interaction with nature. Below are ten of the greatest poems about roads in all of English literature, each of which does something rather different with the road or track it presents to us.
John Clare, ‘On a Lane in Spring’. The title of this poem by one of Romantic literature’s overlooked greats, John Clare (1793-1864), says it all: Clare describes the things he sees on a country lane during springtime, his observations tumbling out into the poem in gleeful abandon and apparent spontaneity.
Walt Whitman, ‘Song of the Open Road’. First published in Whitman’s landmark 1856 collection Leaves of Grass, ‘Song of the Open Road’ celebrates the open road as a democratic place bringing people together from all walks of life: the road, we might say, is the great leveller. Read the rest of this entry