The best short poems to commit to memory
We’ve recently been reading Simon Armitage’s wonderful anthology, Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems (Faber Poetry), and reading his selections inspired us to put together this list of ten of the best short poems from the history of English literature (and by ‘English’ we mean ‘originally written in the English language’). And by ‘short poems’ we mean very short poems: we’ve limited ourselves to no more than nine lines per poem. We hope you enjoy our choices. Some of these are included in Armitage’s anthology of short poems, but some are not – but we recommend getting hold of Short and Sweet if you’re a fan of the short poem.
Anonymous, ‘Fowls in the Frith’. This poem, which is around 800 years old, is ambiguous: the speaker ‘mon waxë wod’ (i.e. must go mad) because of the sorrow he walks with, but what causes this sorrow? The last line is ambiguous, too: does ‘beste’ mean ‘beast’ or ‘best’? The spelling reveals nothing, and in the context of that final line it could be either. If the sorrow is a result of the ‘best of bone and blood’, it could refer to a woman (who is the best living thing in the world, according to the poet) or, as has also been suggested, Christ (a divine being in human form). So, the poem can be read either as a love lyric or as a religious lyric. ‘Fowls in the frith’, by the way, means ‘birds in the wood’, though the latter sounds less haunting and beautiful. Read the rest of this entry
In a new series of posts, Dispatches from the Secret Library, our founder-editor Dr Oliver Tearle considers a surprising title from his bookshelves
When the British fantasy author David Gemmell died in summer 2006, he had been hard at work on Fall of Kings, the final volume in his epic trilogy retelling the story of the siege of Troy from Homer’s Iliad. His widow, Stella, heroically took on the task of completing the novel, working from her late husband’s notes. When Troy: Fall of Kings (Trojan War Trilogy): 3 was published the following year, his legions of fans thought it was the last new David Gemmell title we would ever see published.
The announcement last year that a previously unpublished David Gemmell novel, Rhyming Rings, would be published by Gollancz in 2017, prompted both surprise and excitement. A new Gemmell novel? But this would not be a fantasy, the genre in which he had made his name, but a crime novel. Even more surprising. Gemmell had excelled as a writer of heroic fantasy – if you’re a fan of the genre and have never read his work, I recommend getting hold of Legend, Waylander, and Wolf in Shadow right away – but would Rhyming Rings offer the same sort of addictive reading experience as a Druss or Rigante novel? Read the rest of this entry
The meaning of a classic fairy tale
Child abandonment, poverty, gingerbread houses, and an enterprising hero: the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel has it all. It arguably has one of the most satisfying plot structures of all the fairy tales. Yet as with the other fairy tales we’ve discussed in previous posts, such as the 4,000-year-old tale of Rumpelstiltskin, a number of the plot features of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and the evolution of the fairy tale, are more complicated than we might remember from the nursery. And a summary and analysis of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ throws up some interesting details concerning the story’s plot and meaning.
One of the most familiar parts of the story is undoubtedly the gingerbread house. But the most familiar version of the tale, namely that by the Brothers Grimm, published in 1812, is ambiguous on this point: they mention bread and cakes, but the bread may well be savoury rather than sweet. Not that this makes much difference to the titular children, who begin devouring the house all the same. Read the rest of this entry