‘On My Birthday, July 21’: A Poem by Matthew Prior

In this poem, Prior (1664-1721) takes his birthday (July 21) as an opportunity to chastise the woman he loves for treating him with ‘scorn’ and denying him. A birthday poem that is also a love poem, albeit one about thwarted love, ‘On My Birthday, July 21’ is the latest in our ‘post a poem a day’ series.

On My Birthday, July 21

I, my dear, was born to-day—
So all my jolly comrades say:
They bring me music, wreaths, and mirth,
And ask to celebrate my birth:

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‘Neurasthenia’: A Poem by A. Mary F. Robinson

Agnes Mary Francis Robinson (1857-1944), also known as Agnes-Marie-François Darmesteter and approximately seven thousand other names during the course of her life, grew up with literature virtually in her blood: the family home was a salon frequented by William Morris and Arthur Symons, along with many leading Victorian artists. A. Mary F. Robinson’s poetry is little-read now, which is a shame, as this fine sonnet, about the condition known as neurasthenia, attests. Although its title announces its subject as neurasthenia, Robinson’s evocation of what it’s like to feel cut off from the world around you by psychological and neurological illness chimes with many sufferers’ descriptions of the blackest moods experienced during depression.

I watch the happier people of the house
Come in and out, and talk, and go their ways;

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‘Sonnet on Being Cautioned against Walking on a Headland’: A Poem by Charlotte Smith

‘Sonnet on Being Cautioned against Walking on a Headland’ is that rarest of things: a Gothic sonnet. This needn’t surprise when we bear in mind that the sonnet’s author, Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), was associated with English Romanticism and was also a key figure in the revival of the English sonnet.

Sonnet on Being Cautioned against Walking on a Headland

Is there a solitary wretch who hies
To the tall cliff, with starting pace or slow,
And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes
Its distance from the waves that chide below;

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‘Grief is a Mouse’: A Poem by Emily Dickinson

‘Grief is a Mouse’ by Emily Dickinson (1830-86) explores a range of metaphors for grief, including the idea of grief as a mouse, which ‘chooses Wainscot in the Breast / For His Shy House’. The idea is that grief is deeply felt, but hidden away: like a mouse in the wainscot, we are aware of it continually, but we never (or seldom) see it.

Grief is a Mouse—
And chooses Wainscot in the Breast
For His Shy House—
And baffles quest—

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‘Ode to the West Wind’: A Poem by Percy Shelley

Written in 1819 during a turbulent time in English history – the Peterloo Massacre, which Percy Shelley (1792-1822) also wrote about in his poem ‘The Mask of Anarchy’, deeply affected the poet – ‘Ode to the West Wind’ is one of Shelley’s best-known poems. The west wind is the wind that would carry Shelley back from Florence (where he was living at the time) to England, where he wanted to help fight for reform and revolution. The west wind thus becomes, before Harold Macmillan, a ‘wind of change’.

Ode to the West Wind

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

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