The best poems by John Clare
John Clare (1793-1864) has been called the greatest nature poet in the English language (by, for instance, his biographer Jonathan Bate), and yet his life – particularly his madness and time inside an asylum later in his life – tends to overshadow his poetry. So here we’ve picked ten of John Clare’s best poems which offer an introduction to his idiosyncratic style and wonderful eye for detail, especially concerning the natural world.
‘First Love’. First love is powerful and stays with us, but it can be painful as well as joyous or liberating. This poem, one of John Clare’s most widely anthologised, captures this dual nature of first love and the way in which it is a loss of something – namely, innocence – as well as a gaining of something new and special. Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reappraises J. G. Ballard’s 1970s masterpiece
‘Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.’ This remark by J. G. Ballard, who has a claim to being one of the most important English writers of the second half of the twentieth century, strikes at the heart of what drives his fiction. And although it’s not his most famous book, for me the remarkable tour de force that is Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island best demonstrates this.
Ballard has always struck me as a curious mixture of H. G. Wells and William Burroughs, in so far as he can be likened to anybody. Certainly, his novels and stories frequently have the clarity and simplicity of concept that we see in Wells’s fiction, just as the narratives driven by these concepts proceed to undo that simplicity by showing the complications that inevitably ensue. Read the rest of this entry
The best Kipling poems
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was a tireless experimenter with the short story form, a novelist, a writer who could entertain children and adults alike with such books as The Jungle Book, Plain Tales from the Hills, The Just So Stories, Puck of Pook’s Hill, and countless others. But as well as being a prolific author of fiction, Rudyard Kipling was also a hugely popular poet. But what are Kipling’s very best poems?
‘If—’. This poem was first published in Kipling’s volume of short stories and poems, Rewards and Fairies, in 1910, it has become one of Kipling’s best-known poems, and was even voted the UK’s favourite poem of all time in a poll of 1995. According to Kipling in his autobiography, Something of Myself (1937), the origins of ‘If—’ lie in the failed Jameson raid of 1895-6, when the British colonial statesman Leander Starr Jameson led a raid against the South African (Boer) Republic over the New Year weekend. Read the rest of this entry