Sampling the Rich History of Poetry: Part 1

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People have been composing poems for thousands of years. As with fiction, the variety is huge, and if you don’t know much about it, it can be intimidating. Where do you start if you want to dip your toe in the poetry pool? I’ve always enjoyed a good poem, but my interest has increased in the last few years. So I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts highlighting some of my favorites.

I’m no expert, so this won’t be deep analysis, just a few thoughts about why I like these pieces.

I’ve chosen six poems to talk about, and I’ll break it up into three posts. Today we’ll start with the two oldest poems, and we’ll work our way forward in time. You might not like the same things as me, of course, but I hope you’ll find something you enjoy here. (Click on the titles below to read the poems in their entirety.)

Tell us about your own favorite poems in the comments.

“The Tyger” by William Blake (1794)

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

This is my all-time favorite poem. I’ve got the whole thing memorized, and like to silently recite it to myself sometimes. The language is old-fashioned, but once you get used to that, its power really shows. One of my favorite phrases in this poem is “thy fearful symmetry.”

Blake gives us a striking picture of one of nature’s most impressive creatures. Note the subtle but important change between the first and last stanzas, which are almost identical. The rhythm of this poem is strong, and you’ll feel it best if you listen to someone read it out loud (or read it out loud to yourself.)

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

“Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1818)

I love the image this poem invokes of a crumbled statue surrounded by a barren landscape. On the statue’s base are the words: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

This is a wonderful double meaning of the word “despair.” Ozymandias may once have been a powerful ruler with a vast empire. He may have been intimidating to his enemies, a source of envy to his allies. Now, his works are long gone, buried by dust. Bonus fun fact: Percy Shelley was Mary Shelley’s husband.

Nibble on some poetry

Read the works of William Blake

Megan is a Children’s Library Assistant at CLP – East Liberty. When she isn’t reading fantasy, magical realism and/or pretty much any children’s book, she enjoys gaming, watching movies and writing fiction, some of which has been published.