Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: Poetic Fridays Page 1 of 2

The British Library by Theresa Shiban

The British Library

Originally part of the British museum, the British Library was separated from its parent in 1973 to become one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions in its own right. A quarter of a century later, it moved into its own home at London’s St Pancras.

The impressive modernist red-brick building designed by architect Sir Colin St. John Wilson caused a lot of controversy while it was under construction and continues to divide opinions to this day.

The King’s Library Tower at the British Library

One of its most spectacular features is the six-storey King’s Library Tower containing precious volumes from King George III’s collection that was gifted to the library at the British museum after the monarch’s death in 1823.

In her 2007 free verse (=poetry that does not have a fixed structure and does not rhyme) Theresa Shiban gives a vivid description of this colossal yet very welcoming temple of knowledge whose doors are open not only to students and researches but to every book lover.

The first thing you notice is what you don’t
it is not imposing
overwhelming
you are not made to feel insignificant
with monumental humility
it is the box the words come in
storey upon storey hidden below
not towering above
to impress or oppress
its exalted purpose democratised
grandeur and majesty achieved by an honest brick
A British Institution
wrestled down to size
to a human scale
and gifted
I am welcomed by the horizontals
elevated not cowed
the masses ennobled
by nothing more than literacy
or rather nothing less
a gentle spectrum
(reds browns whites blacks greens)
wraps around a space for meeting
a Lego tower points the way
I am invited in

* * * *

and enter into light
a cathedral space of secular worship
(in the beginning was the word)
vaults of them, below and above
a bank of words you spend and spend but never lose
I tread soft rounded stairs
handling marble leather brass
(material of privilege offered to the proletariat)
mirroring the gold embossed spines of a king’s library
more light
(where is it coming from?)
directed coaxed refracted toyed with
a conjurer’s trick of mirrors
made to bounce around corners
and softly illuminate the illuminated
verticals of stripy colour
alpha digit diamond dot
Volume 1
A – K
Volume 2
L – Z
a 6-storey jewel box
glowing

* * * *

I detour through Humanities
more laughing light
whites and warming wood
the visual rhythm of grids and open cages
(Someone let the words out again!)
multiples of plug-sized squares
magnified and morphed into the sculptural
ceiling above
a latter day clerestory for contemporary scribes
boxes within boxes within the biggest box of all
My work Is Obviously Important Look Where I Do It

* * * *

I continue up the familiar stair
to A&A and the desk I claim is mine
(8115)
safe
protected
cherished, even
in a room of one’s own
(my own)
(your own)
I sit and begin to work
to distil the great chorus of language treasured
within this building
into one simple word
gratitude

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes 
Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

Beauty and Beauty

Image by Mariana Antoneag from Pixabay

It had been believed that Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) composed Beauty and Beauty for a male friend, until in 1999 a fascinating discovery was made.

Half a century earlier, a bundle of correspondence was presented to the British Museum library by the sister of Phyllis Gardner, an art student who had a secret love affair with the young poet before World War I. Among the letters, donated on condition that they should not be read for 50 years, was this poem, clearly dedicated to Phyllis.

The romance was short-lived but its electric atmosphere has been forever preserved in these lines of immense charm and drama.

When Beauty and Beauty meet
All naked, fair to fair,
The earth is crying-sweet,
And scattering-bright the air,
Eddying, dizzying, closing round,
With soft and drunken laughter;
Veiling all that may befall

After—after—

Where Beauty and Beauty met,
Earth’s still a-tremble there,
And winds are scented yet,
And memory-soft the air,
Bosoming, folding glints of light,
And shreds of shadowy laughter;
Not the tears that fill the years
After—after—


This poem is in the public domain.

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

Little Red Riding Hood And The Wolf by Roald Dahl

Even if you haven’t read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you’ve almost certainly seen its 2005 adaptation starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990) wrote for kids as if they were adults – without sentimentality but with plenty of dark humour and the macabre. No wonder he turned to the old children’s classic Little Red Riding Hood. In his version of events there’s no room for the hunter saving the girl and her grandmother as the little heroine needs no help in killing the wolf.

Image by Brandon Serna Correa from Pixabay

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma’s door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, ‘May I come in?’


Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
‘He’s going to eat me up!’ she cried.
And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, ‘That’s not enough!
I haven’t yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!’
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
‘I’ve got to have a second helping!’
Then added with a frightful leer,
‘I’m therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood.’


He quickly put on Grandma’s clothes,
(Of course he hadn’t eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that,
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma’s chair.


In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,
‘What great big ears you have, Grandma.’
‘All the better to hear you with,’
the Wolf replied.
‘What great big eyes you have, Grandma.’
said Little Red Riding Hood.
‘All the better to see you with,’
the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, ‘I’m going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma,
She’s going to taste like caviar.’


Then Little Red Riding Hood said,
‘But Grandma, what a lovely great big
furry coat you have on.’
‘That’s wrong!’ cried Wolf.
‘Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.’

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, ‘Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.’

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

I Lost a World by Emily Dickinson

American poet Emily Dickinson, c. 1850.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an intensely private person. Out of her nearly 1,800 poems fewer than a dozen were published during her lifetime. The first volume of her poetry saw the light of day four years after her death and was an instant success. Emily Dickinson is now considered one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.

In I Lost a World the poet talks about her loss of something highly valuable to her but it’s not clear what it could be. Possibilities could range from a book to a loved one. What is clear, though, is that preciousness of things isn’t absolute: what is of greatest importance to one person might have no value for another.

I lost a World — the other day!
Has Anybody found?
You’ll know it by the Row of Stars
Around its forehead bound.

A Rich man — might not notice it —
Yet — to my frugal Eye,
Of more Esteem than Ducats —
Oh find it — Sir — for me!

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

You Are Old, Father William by Lewis Carroll

Illustration to You Are Old, Father William by Sir John Tenniel

Charles Dodgson, maths lecturer at Oxford University, has gone down in history as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and has done so under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. He also wrote poems and included some of them into his novel about Alice.

‘You are old, Father William’ is recited by Alice in Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar”. The poem is a parody of a 1799 verse by Robert Southey called ‘The Old Man’s Comforts’, in which Father William lectures on how he reached happiness in old age by having led a quiet and virtuous life in his youth.

Carroll’s Father William is a completely different man – an eccentric, full of life and mischief despite his age, and still energetic enough to give his son a good kick if need be!

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

Poem © Out of copyright

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay

I became familiar with this beautiful verse when watching a YouTube video of Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on life and love given in London in July 2019 as part of the promotional campaign for her new book City of Girls. It perfectly captures, quoting Milan Kundera, the unbearable lightness of being and inspires the reader to be strong and loving and appreciative of life no matter what it throws your way. Day by day, until the end.

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death by Hillaire Belloc

Hillaire Belloc (1870-1953) is considered one of the greatest English writers of light verse along with Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

Naughty Matilda

His cautionary tales are addressed, first and foremost, to naughty children and, with a great deal of humour and playfulness, serve as warnings – if you fail to behave, you’ll get in trouble as did Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.  

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away,     
It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out –
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street –
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

Today, I Feel by Gervase Phinn

This poem is basically an impressive list of similes.

A simile is an expression that describes something by comparing it with something else, using words such as like, as, as if, as though. For example, as quiet as a mouse (very quiet) and like a bull in a china shop (very clumsy) are similes.

Some of them can be found in dictionaries, others are the author’s coinages. Can you tell which is which?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Today, I feel as:

Pleased as PUNCH,
Fit as a FIDDLE,
Keen as a KNIFE,
Hot as a GRIDDLE,
Bold as BRASS,
Bouncy as a BALL,
Keen as MUSTARD,
High as a WALL,
Bright as a BUTTON,
Light as a FEATHER,
Fresh as a DAISY,
Fragrant as HEATHER,
Chirpy as a CRICKET,
Sound as a BELL,
Sharp as a NEEDLE,
Deep as a WELL,
High as a KITE,
Strong as a BULL,
Bubbly as BATH WATER,
Warm as WOOL,
Clean as a new PIN,
Shiny as MONEY,
Quick as LIGHTENING,
Sweet as HONEY,
Cool as a CUCUMBER,
Fast as a HARE,
Right as RAIN,
Brave as a BEAR,
Lively as a MONKEY,
Busy as a BEE,
Good as GOLD,
Free as the SEA.

I’M SO HAPPY – I’M JUST LOST FOR WORDS.

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ is probably Edward Lear’s (1812-1888) most famous poem loved by kids as well as adults: in 2014 it was voted the nation’s favourite childhood poem.

Edward Lear wrote it in 1868 for Janet Symonds, 3-year-old daughter of the poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds.

The word ‘runcible’ that has eventually made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as a nonsense word was coined by the author. Its meaning remains a mystery. It doesn’t help that Edward Lear himself used it to describe such different things as his hat, a wall and even his cat

Lear didn’t help matters: as well as applying the word to a spoon, he went on to use ‘runcible’ to describe his hat, a wall, and even his cat Foss.

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

The Three Foxes by Alan Alexander Milne

Image by Amir Boucenna from Pixabay

Alan Alexander Milne (1882 – 1956) was an English author, known in all corners of the world thanks to his books about a teddy bear called Winnie-the-Pooh. He also wrote poetry. I chose his verse The Three Foxes to share with you today because it reminds me of a curious linguistic anecdote.

Sharing is caring. If you liked this post, tell others - they may like it too!

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén