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
The best poems about storms
Weather is a perennial theme of poetry, and not just nice weather: more violent and extreme weather, such as storms, thunder, and lightning, has produced some classic poems, as this list of the best storm poems aims to highlight.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, ‘Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei’. The rather less-than-catchy Latin title of this wonderful poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-42), a pioneer of English poetry in the Renaissance, translates as ‘my enemies surround my soul’ and is sometimes known by its first line, ‘Who list his wealth and ease retain’. But the poem is better-known for its use of another Latin phrase, the refrain ‘circa Regna tonat’: ‘it thunders around the realm’. It is thanks to this powerful thundery metaphor that this poem is included here. Read the rest of this entry
The best stories by Katherine Mansfield
The New Zealand-born writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) was one of the pioneers of the modernist short story in English, taking her cue from Russian writers like Anton Chekhov. Below we’ve given a brief beginner’s guide to five of Mansfield’s very best short stories, with links to where each of them can be read online.
‘The Garden Party’. This 1920 story centres on the annual garden party held by the Sheridan family at their home, in New Zealand, Mansfield’s country of birth. One of the Sheridan children, Laura – a young woman on the cusp of adulthood – is looking forward to the party and is keen to become involved in the preparations. However, while the Sheridans are preparing for their party, news arrives that a working-class man who lives in the poorer part of the village has been tragically killed when his horse reared up and threw him from his cart. Laura, filled with sympathy for the dead man and his family, pleads with her mother and siblings to cancel their garden party in light of the tragedy. How can they hold a garden party, with music and guests and laughter, when a family nearby are in mourning for the death of their husband and father? The end of the story poses more questions than it answers, especially concerning Laura’s complex response to the man’s death. We’ve analysed this story, probably Mansfield’s best-known work, in a separate post. Read the rest of this entry