Favourite Poems

Auguries of Innocence

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heave in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

William Blake

The Average

His peasant parents killed themselves with toil
To let their darling leave a stingy soil
For any of those smart professions which
Encourage shallow breathing, and grow rich.

The pressure of their fond ambition made
Their shy and country-loving child afraid
No sensible career was good enough,
Only a hero could deserve such love.

So here he was without maps or supplies,
A hundred miles from any decent town;
The desert glared into his blood-shot eyes;

The silence roared displeasure: looking down,
He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the exceptional, and ran.

Wystan Hugh Auden

To Be or Not To Be

To be, or not to be; - that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; -
No more: and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to; - 'tis a consummation
Davoutly to be wish'd. To die; to sleep: -
To sleep? perchance to dream! -Ay, there's the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause; - there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scros of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death;
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, - puzzles the will;
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklier o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare

In My Own Shire

In my own shire, if I was sad,
Homely comforters I had:
The earth, because my heart was sore,
Sorrowed for the son she bore;
And standing hills, long to remain,
Shared their short-lived comrade's pain.
And bound for the same bourn as I,
On every road I wandered by,
Trod beside me, close and dear,
The beautiful and death-struck year:
Whether in the woodland brown
I heard the beechnut rustle down,
And saw the purple crocus pale
Flower about the autumn dale;
Or littering far the fields of May
Lady-smocks a-bleaching lay,
And like a skylit water stood
The bluebells in the azured wood.
Yonder, lightening other loads,
The seasons range the country roads,
But here in London streets I ken
No such helpmates, only men;
And these are not in plight to bear,
If they would, another's care.
they have enough as 'tis: I see
In many an eye that measures me
The mortal sickness of a mind
Too unhappy to be kind.
Undone with misery, all they can
Is to hate their fellow man;
And till they drop they needs must still
Look at you and wish you ill.

A.E. Housman

Dream 2: Brian the Still-Hunter

The man I saw in the forest
used to come to our house
every morning, never said anything;
I learned from the neighbours later
he once tried to cut his throat.

I found him at the end of the path
sitting on a fallen tree
cleaning his gun.

There was no wind;
around us the leaves rustled.

He said to me:
I kill because I have to

but every time I aim, I feel
my skin grow fur
my head heavy with antlers
and during the stretched instant
the bullet glides on its thread of speed
my soul runs innocent as hooves.

Is God just to his creatures?

I die more often than many.

He looked up and I saw
the white scar made by the hunting knife
around his neck.

When I woke
I remembered: he has been gone
twenty years and not heard from.

Margaret Atwood

This Is A Photograph Of Me

It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you see the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion

but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.)

Margaret Atwood


You may wonder why I'm not describing the landscape for you.
This island with its complement of scrubby trees, picturesque
bedrock, ample weather and sunsets, lavish white sand beaches
and so on. (For which I am not responsible.) There are travel
brochures that do this better, and in addition they contain
several very shiny illustrations so real you can almost touch the
ennui of actually being here. They leave out the insects and
the castaway bottles but so would I in their place; all advertise-
ments are slanted, including this on.

You had a chance to read up on the place before you came:
even allowing for distortion, you knew what you were
getting into. And you weren't invited, just lured.

But why should I make excuses? Why should I describe the
landscape for you? You live here, don't you? Right now I
mean. See for yourself.

Margaret Atwood