The finest poems of the Cavalier poet
Algernon Charles Swinburne called Robert Herrick (1591-1674) the ‘greatest songwriter ever born of English race’. In this post, we’ve chosen ten of Robert Herrick’s best poems, most of which are beautifully short lyrics about a number of themes, from religion to love to untidy clothes. We hope you enjoy this pick of the finest Herrick poems.
‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’. The poem’s message is straightforward: Herrick is addressing ‘the virgins’. This provides another clue as to what he is driving at. Herrick tells the young to enjoy themselves before their youth and beauty fade. And yet encouraging a load of young people who haven’t had sex yet has never been couched in such delightful verse as Herrick deploys here. This is one of the best ‘seize the day’ poems in English – and probably the most famous. Read the rest of this entry
Ten of the best from the masterly comic poet
Wendy Cope is one of the most acclaimed living comic poets writing in English. Since her first collection appeared in 1986, she has published a handful of popular volumes of comic verse, though she can also write ‘straight’ poetry very successfully too (as the last poem in this list testifies). Below are ten of Wendy Cope’s finest poems.
‘Engineers’ Corner’. Inspired by an advertisement that was placed in The Times by the Engineering Council, ‘Engineers’ Corner’ is the first poem in Cope’s first collection of poems, the 1986 volume Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. The advert snottily asked why Britain has ‘always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint’, and sniffily suggested there should be an ‘Engineers’ Corner’ to complement Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Cope’s brilliantly witty retort is a tour de force. Read the rest of this entry
Fun facts about the poet and playwright
1. Ben Jonson courted controversy on a number of occasions during his writing career. Jonson (c. 1572-1637), the adopted son of a bricklayer, was originally apprenticed to his stepfather’s trade, before going off to enlist in the English army (he later claimed he had killed a Spanish champion in single combat). He started writing for the London theatre in his mid-twenties, and his first play to make a real splash was The Isle of Dogs, in 1597. However, this play – co-authored with Thomas Nashe – made its mark for the wrong reason. The play was suppressed for its seditious content, all copies of it were ordered to be burned, and so it was never printed. Nobody at the time recorded the precise nature of the ‘sedition’ contained in the play, so we can only speculate. In 1598, the following year, Jonson killed an actor, Gabriel Spenser; he escaped execution by pleading ‘benefit of clergy’, i.e. he could read and write so he was allowed to get off with a branding on his thumb rather than a noose round his neck. Jonson landed in trouble again in 1605 for co-writing Eastward Hoe!, a play containing seven lines which King James I appears to have found offensive to the Scots. Read the rest of this entry