Happy National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day, and I for one am enjoying revelling, rolling and rediscovering words, words, words. It feels right that this year’s theme is water, as it’s been bucketing it down all day here!

I always loved poetry, and had loads of Books of Verse and A Poem a Day and Spike Milligan as a child. I still remember the cover of the Children’s Book Of Verse that I had (wonder where that is nowadays?) and used to read them like I do novels now, flicking through or sitting for many happy hours. I was always destined to be a Lit student, wasn’t I 🙂

I kind of wish I’d done a bit more poetry during the English Lit side of my degree, but as I got older the Language and Linguistics part has sort of overtaken. Not that I mind – it just means that the poems that really hold meaning or sentiment for me are ones from, well, before. My English Lit A Level, Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife collection – Mrs Midas in particular (I have to say I’m pleased I still remember them -the studying paid off!) but also earlier in school. We did Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman in Year 5 or 6 and learnt to recite it, and I still remember it now.  rhythmic and evocative. The Highwayman came riding, riding, riding… 

(I also remember our teacher’s incandescent outburst when some of the boys in my class trilled “Galloped awaaay to the West!!” in stupid girly voices… Maybe that’s why it’s stayed in my mind?)

We did Auden’s The Night Mail in Year 8 or 9 too, and learnt to recite it as a group, in a circle, all the desks pushed back. I remember the energy and electricity in the room and it feeling like the train whooshed past us, and the smiles on everyone’s faces the first time we all got it right!

I also remember drawing a picture to accompany a Christina Rossetti poem about a monkey when I was in Year 1. Something about curling a question mark with it’s tail… I love remembering things like this; it kind of makes me a bit warm of fuzzy to think I did love words from that early on. Nice to know I’m doing something I really do love, and have loved for a long ol’ while!

Weirdly, my two favourite poems have Highwayman-esque overtones. I say my two favourite because for a long time I got the two confused, conflated them into one verse that flitted from one to the other.

I’ll leave my real, real favourite til last, but this is a close second. I don’t remember when or where I first heard it – I think either this, or the other one, was (weirdly) engraved on to the side of a building or hotel that we used to drive past on the way to my godmother’s house when I was little. I noticed it from the car one time, and then always kept a lookout to see it again. I loved that something so romantic, so artistic, was right there – right in the public eye. Not tucked away in a book to enjoy curled up by myself, but right out in the open for everyone to enjoy. It made me feel like poems weren’t my secret anymore, but something for us all to celebrate.

Looking at it now though, it makes me wonder if it was too long to go on the side of a building. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, I’m just sure I saw “Is there anybody there, said the Traveller…” . That line, the image of “the moonlit door” and the “champed the grass” have always stuck with me. Kind of get shivers – it’s so quiet, so still, and so sad. It made me sad as a child too, and I still can’t work out why.

Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.
This is the one I always got it confused with. And the other contender for The Poem On The Wall. Rudyard Kipling’s The Way Through The Woods. It’s a bit sad too – the idea that something was there, and now it isn’t, and nobody will ever really know. Because remember, there is no way through the woods.  Happy National Poetry day, everyone.

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods …
But there is no road through the woods.

Woods

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