Are these English literature’s greatest poems about eyes and sight?
The poet sees many things which the rest of us miss, and we might even offer one definition of ‘poet’ as ‘someone who takes the unremarkable and everyday and shows its deeper meaning to us’. It’s only an approximation of what the poet does, although it’s applicable to many of the greatest writers of poetry down the ages. And some of the greatest poets in English literature have written about the importance and power of eyes, and what it means to have – or not have – the gift of sight. Here are five of the best ‘eye poems’.
Sir Philip Sidney, Sonnet 99 from Astrophil and Stella. Beginning ‘When far-spent night persuades each mortal eye’, this poem seems like a good pick to kick off our selection of the best eye-poems. Our eyes are like arrows, darting a look here and there; but what do we do at night when it’s dark? Sleep, of course. But not so for Sidney, or rather Astrophil: his eyes are wide open, like windows letting the darkness in – that external darkness which so neatly chimes with the ‘inward night’ of his mind, thanks to his hopeless love for Stella. Look out for the masterly use of ‘i’ sounds at the end of each line of this sonnet, suggesting the eye/night theme of the poem. Read the rest of this entry
On one of Keats’s finest sonnets
‘Bright Star’, or ‘Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art’ as it is sometimes known, is probably the most famous sonnet written by the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). He wrote it in 1819 originally, although he revised it a year later. When he wrote ‘Bright Star’, Keats knew that he was dying from consumption or tuberculosis, and the poem is in part about this awareness that he will die young.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, Read the rest of this entry