The best poems of tables and chairs
Poets are well-known for writing about the natural world, of course, but less famous for composing poems about man-made objects like beds, chairs, and tables. Yet furniture carries a number of connotations – of the everyday, the homely, and the ordinary and down-to-earth – which poets have been able to draw on from time to time. Here, then, are five of our favourite poems about furniture.
Edward Lear, ‘The Table and the Chair’. We begin this list of the best poems about furniture with a double-whammy: a poem about a table and a chair, courtesy of one of nonsense literature’s most popular writers. Edward Lear (1812-88) is the poet who, when he moved house, famously and endearingly changed everything around in the house, including the position of the furniture, so that his beloved cat, Foss, would feel at home in the new house. Here, Lear’s furniture is talking furniture, as the first stanza immediately announces: ‘Said the Table to the Chair / “You can hardly be aware, / “How I suffer from the heat, / “And from chilblains on my feet! / “If we took a little walk, / “We might have a little talk! / “Pray let us take the air!” / Said the Table to the Chair.’
Emily Dickinson, ‘Ample Make This Bed’. Dickinson (1830-86) was a prolific poet, although famously almost none of her poems were published during her lifetime. So it’s perhaps unsurprising to discover that she wrote poems about beds, as here: ‘Ample make this bed. / Make this bed with awe; / In it wait till judgment break / Excellent and fair.’
T. S. Eliot, ‘Preludes’. Eliot’s early poem ‘Preludes’ is actually four short poems put together, and it’s the third of these which earns this poem a place on our list of the best furniture poems. Unusually adopting the second person ‘You’ over the lyric ‘I’, Eliot describes a sleepless night as someone tosses and turns in bed, lying upon their back on the bed and waiting for something – for morning to come?
Philip Larkin, ‘Home Is So Sad’. Larkin (1922-85) often incorporates furniture into his poetry, such as in the image of one’s own mortality standing ‘plain as a wardrobe’ in his poem ‘Aubade’. ‘Home Is So Sad’ explores the notion of ‘home’ when that home is left empty, when the ‘heart’ is removed from it, when it has lost what even makes it a ‘home’ (rather than mere bricks and mortar). The unspoken question seems to be: how can a home be a home when there’s no one around to make it so? But of course the answer, partly, is that the home retains sad memories of the people who once occupied it: it carries a reminder of its occupants, their pictures, the music they played on the piano, their taste in ornaments (‘That vase’). The caesura or mid-line pause created by the full stop after that piece of furniture, the ‘piano stool’ in that last line, gives us pause, before the dying fall, or anti-climax, of those final two words.
Sylvia Plath, ‘Yadwigha, On A Red Couch, Among Lilies’. Plath (1932-63) often wrote about furniture, from the ‘mud-mattressed’ woman in her early poem ‘Maudlin’ to her collection of short stories for children, The Bed Book, which focuses on different kinds of beds. This poem is a sestina, an ambitious poetic form which involves using the same words at the ends of the lines in the stanza, but in a different order for each new stanza (e.g. ‘green’ ends the fifth line in the first stanza, but the third line in the second, etc.). The subject is Yadwigha, the French artist Rousseau’s mistress – posing, of course, on a red couch.