‘The Lights of London’: A Poem by Louise Imogen Guiney

The poet Louise Imogen Guiney (1861-1920) was born in Boston to an Irish-Catholic father who was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Her Catholic faith informs much of her poetry. ‘The Lights of London’, a sonnet which appeared in Guiney’s 1898 volume England and Yesterday, evokes London as night comes on, and was written around 20 years before the modernist T. S. Eliot began to write about similar scenes. ‘Her booths begin to flare; and gases bright / Prick door and window’ is a particularly acute observation.

The Lights of London

The evenfall, so slow on hills, hath shot
Far down into the valley’s cold extreme,
Untimely midnight; spire and roof and stream
Like fleeing specters, shudder and are not.
The Hampstead hollies, from their sylvan plot
Yet cloudless, lean to watch as in a dream,

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‘Wessex Heights’: A Poem by Thomas Hardy

‘Wessex Heights’ shows more clearly than most why Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) has been seen as a ‘belated Romantic’: there is something of Wordsworth and Coleridge in ‘Wessex Heights’, a classic poem about the English countryside which sees Hardy standing from this high vantage point and surveying the area of Dorset he branded ‘Wessex’ in his novels and poetry. He muses upon lost loves, upon his own life and development, and many other things.

Wessex Heights

There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand
For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand,
Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly,
I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be.

In the lowlands I have no comrade, not even the lone man’s friend –
Her who suffereth long and is kind; accepts what he is too weak to mend:

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‘They Are All Gone into the World of Light’: A Poem by Henry Vaughan

The Welsh metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan (1621-95) is best known for his 1650 collection, Silex Scintillans (‘Sparks from the Flint’), which established him as one of the great devotional poets in English literature. ‘They Are All Gone into the World of Light’ is about death, God, and the afterlife, and the poet’s desire to pass over into the next life – the ‘World of Light’ – to join those whom he has lost.

They Are All Gone into the World of Light

They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling’ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.

It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,

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‘Fra Lippo Lippi’: A Poem by Robert Browning

‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ sees the titular friar being accosted by some guards one night, and ending up drunkenly telling them – and us – about his whole life. In a poem like ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ one can clearly see why Ezra Pound was influenced by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, with their plainness of speech and the bluff, no-nonsense manner of Browning’s characters.

Fra Lippo Lippi

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what’s to blame? you think you see a monk!
What, ’tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,
And here you catch me at an alley’s end
Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

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‘My Father Was a Farmer’: A Poem by Robert Burns

‘My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O, / And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O’: so begins this poem, ‘My Father Was a Farmer’, written to the tune of ‘The Weaver and His Shuttle, O’, in which Robert Burns (1759-96) reflects on the fact that he, like his father, was bred for labour and toil.

My Father Was a Farmer

My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O;
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne’er a farthing, O;
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding, O.

Then out into the world my course I did determine, O;
Tho’ to be rich was not my wish, yet to be great was charming, O;

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