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Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: March 12, 2004 07:50PM

At a thrift store I picked up a 50-cent copy of LIFELINES: LETTERS FROM FAMOUS PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR FAVOURITE POEM. A lot of the "famous" people are unknown to me, but it looked potentially interesting.

One "favourite poem" may be impossible to choose, but they sent in poems they wanted to share and wanted included in this anthology, whose royalties all went to a charity for third-world children.

Here's an arbitrary taste of who chose what and bits of what they said about why:

IRIS MURDOCH chose "A Summer Night" by W.H. Auden. She wrote: "This marvellously beautiful elegiac song ... expresses both fear and hope."

IAN McKELLEN chose "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" by Gerard Manley Hopkins and wrote: "I admire Hopkins's use of languag ... [and] wonderful grasp of theatrical passion. Although I am not a Christian I always find the optimism of the second part of the poem very moving indeed."

MOTHER TERESA chose the Prayer of Saint Francis.

ELLEN GILCHRIST chose "Petition" by W.H. Auden and wrote, "Over the years lines from this poem have taught me different things at different times." (Relevant to a lot of things on this forum!)

DAVID LODGE chose "Among Children" by Yeats. "I particularly admire ... the extraordinary range of diction, from the most down-to-earth and colloquial to the most sublime."

JULIAN BARNES chose XII by A.E. Housman ("The laws of God, the laws of man...") and wrote: It "could have been addressed to our whole century.... It uses simple words and simple couplets, but ... listen for the rage."

WENDY COPE also chose a poem by A.E. Housman: "Additional Poems IV" ("It is no gift I tender..."). She wrote, "Conceding that love doesn't last for ever, he has written a very powerful love-poem."

DEREK MAHON and DAVID LEAVITT both chose "The Moose" by Elizabeth Bishop.

The most chosen poets are:
Wm. Blake
Seamus Heaney
Patrick Kavanagh
Louis Macneice
W.B. Yeats

Shakespeare didn't make the top ten -- but I think that's because the "famous people" used this as an oppurtunity to draw attention to their chosen poems, and Shakespeare gets plenty of attention. Antony Sher chose Sonnet 29 ("When, in disgrace...") and Kenneth Branagh chose the song from CYMBELINE ("Fear no more the heat o' the sun").

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: IanB (
Date: March 12, 2004 08:10PM

Fifty cents! Not a bad buy. Doesn't that show that in money terms sadly even the best poems are unlikely to be more than 'penny serenades'.

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Talia (
Date: March 12, 2004 11:01PM

When was the book published?

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: March 13, 2004 11:47AM


Out on the lawn I lie in bed,
Vega conspicuous overhead
In the windless nights of June,
As congregated leaves complete
Their day's activity; my feet
Point to the rising moon

Lucky, this point in time and space
Is chosen as my working-place,
Where the sexy airs of summer,
The bathing hours and the bare arms,
The leisured drives through a land of farms
Are good to a newcomer.

Equal with colleagues in a ring
I sit on each calm evening
Enchanted as the flowers
The opening light draws out of hiding
With all its gradual dove-like pleading,
Its logic and its powers:

That later we, though parted then
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid,
And Death put down his book.

Now north and south and east and west
Those I love lie down to rest;
The moon looks on them all,
The healers and the brilliant talkers,
The eccentrics and the silent walkers,
The dumpy and the tall.

She climbs the European sky,
Churches and power-stations lie
Alike among earth's fixtures:
Into the galleries she peers
And blankly as a butcher stares
Upon the marvellous pictures.

To gravity attentive, she
Can notice nothing here, though we
Whom hunger does not move,
From gardens where we feel secure
Look up and with a sigh endure
The tyrannies of love:

And, gentle, do not care to know,
Where Poland draws her eastern bow,
What violence is done,
Nor ask what doubtful act allows
Our freedom in this English house,
Our picnics in the sun.

Soon, soon, through dykes of our content
The crumpling flood will force a rent
And, taller than a tree,
Hold sudden death before our eyes
Whose river drams long hid the size
And vigours of the sea.

But when the waters make retreat
And through the black mud first the wheat
In shy green stalks appears,
When stranded monsters gasping lie,
And sounds of riveting terrify
Their whorled unsubtle ears,

May these delights we dread to lose,
This privacy, need no excuse
But to that strength belong,
As through a child's rash happy cries
The drowned parental voices rise
In unlamenting song.

After discharges of alarm
All unpredicted let them calm
THe pulse of nervous nations,
Forgive the murderer in his glass,
Tough in their patience to surpass
The tigress her swift motions.



How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, ... from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there 's none, there 's none, O no there 's none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age's evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death's worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there 's none; no no no there 's none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.


There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun's tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth's air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever's prized and passes of us, everything that 's fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,


Saint Francis of Assisi

baptised as Giovanni di Bernadone

b. 1182 -- d. 1226 A. D.

The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

"O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."


Petition - W.H. Auden

Sir, no man's enemy, forgiving all
But will his negative inversion, be prodigal:
Send to us power and light, a sovereign touch
Curing the intolerable neural itch,
The exhaustion of weaning, the liar's quinsy,
And the distortions of ingrown virginity.
Prohibit sharply the rehearsed response
And gradually correct the coward's stance;
Cover in time with beams those in retreat
That, spotted, they turn though the reverse were great;
Publish each healer that in city lives
Or country houses at the end of drives;
Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at
New styles of architecture, a change of heart.


Among School Children


I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading - books and histories,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way - the children's eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.


I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy -
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato's parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.


And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t'other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age -
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler's heritage -
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.


Her present image floats into the mind -
Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once - enough of that,
Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.


What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her Son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?


Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
Solider Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.


Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mother's reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
And yet they too break hearts - O presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise -
O self-born mockers of man's enterprise;


Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

-- W. B. Yeats


THE laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I , and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.

A.E. Housman


Additional Poems - IV

It is no gift I tender,
A loan is all I can;
But do not scorn the lender;
Man gets no more from man.

Oh, mortal man may borrow
What mortal man can lend;
And 'twill not end to-morrow,
Though sure enough 'twill end.

If death and time are stronger,
A love may yet be strong;
The world will last for longer,
But this will last for long.

A.E. Housman


The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts. The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens' feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.
The Tantramar marshes
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night. Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston."
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb's wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores. Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents' voices

talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar
affirmative. "Yes . . ."
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
"Sure are big creatures."
"It's awful plain."
"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you."
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there's a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Talia (
Date: March 13, 2004 03:38PM

Speaking of favorite poems of famous people....has anyone read Caroline Kennedey's book of her Jackie O's favorites? What a woman she was!

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Linda (
Date: March 13, 2004 06:33PM

I've heard of those famous people, who are the unknown famous people?

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: March 14, 2004 12:12PM

Though oxymoronic, perhaps those folks who are famous under a name other than their given one. Care to try a couple?

Anna Mary Robertson
John Chapman

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Linda (
Date: March 14, 2004 06:20PM

I confess, I had to google. I'm not sure if they count as British general knowledge.

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: March 15, 2004 11:49AM

Talia asked when LIFELINES was published.

Four separate LIFELINES anthologies were published in 1985, 1988, 1990, and 1992. This collection of all four was published in 1992 and my copy was purchased at "The Dublin Bookshop" for ten pounds. (Then made its way to the Salvation Army store near my home in Brooklyn, where I got it for pennies to the poem.)

Linda asked about the unknown "famous" people.

I only said they were unknown to ME, mind you. Here are a few:

CHRISTOPHER RICKS ("notes on contributors" says he's a scholar and prof at Boston U.) - chose Tennyson's "To E FitzGerald."

MARY MOONEY (politican) chose Yeats's "The Stolen Child."

PATRICIA SCANLAN (novelist) chose Kipling's "The Thousandth Man"

MIKE MURPHY (not THAT Mike Murphy, and not the other one, either. This is the one who hosts a BBC radio show) chose Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard."

Hugh went and got text for all the poems I'd listed. THANKS!

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: March 16, 2004 10:33AM

You are welcome. I will prolly decline to continue fetching them all, however, fetching though you may be. For those who may think (ye of little faith!) Marian's use of Yeats's is an example of incorrect grammar, Strunk confirms she is correct:


Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: March 16, 2004 02:33PM

Strunk be damned -- that's what my MOTHER taught me, buddy!

No, seriously: My bible is the CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE (aka "the big orange book of life"), which agrees with STRUNK & WHITE on most things.

CHICAGO says you must always add apostrophe-s, even to names ending with s. With only two exceptions: Moses ("Miriam was Moses' sister") and Jesus ("Mary was Jesus' mother").

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: IanB (
Date: March 16, 2004 05:24PM

I Googled a combination of 'apostrophe' and 'possessive' and found enough information to confuse anyone worried about being stylish. there are suggestions that other classical names such as Achilles and Socrates share the Moses, Jesus exception. Also a recommendation not to add apostrophe s after a two syllable word that ends in s and is followed by a word starting with s (e.g. 'the illness' symptoms' or 'the crisis' start'). And lots of other stuff I'd never heard or thought of.

One post said: 'There is a disagreement amongst authorities on the use of apostrophes, which some authorities frankly admit, and other authorities pass over silently – perhaps because they know their rules are the only correct rules.'

So I think I'll just continue to follow my long-standing, possibly incorrect but simple belief that you need only add the apostrophe alone after a name or noun ending with s, unless the result looks wrong.

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: March 16, 2004 09:21PM

And I'm not about to argue with your mother!

The MLA handbook differentiates between nouns, singular proper nouns, plural proper nouns, irregular nouns, enough to make anyone run amok.


Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: March 18, 2004 05:43PM

When W.B. Yeats invited us for dinner, Yeats's house was very impressive, and we could see that the Yeatses lived well, although the Yeatses's yard could have used a trimming.

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: glenda (
Date: March 18, 2004 11:19PM

show off

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: March 23, 2004 02:21PM

I just remembered: The NY Times changed its rule about possessives in order to SAVE SPACE. They figured that all those extra s-es were adding up to a lot of lost advertising revenue.

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: zack (192.168.128.---)
Date: May 15, 2006 06:48PM

i love the pomes

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: Talia (192.168.128.---)
Date: May 17, 2006 08:59AM

This reminds me...has anyone read Caroline Kennedy's book of her mother's favorite poems? I recently bought her second book that she made as a tribute to poetry; the Poetry book for children, with fantastic illustrations and classics like First Fig, etc. I hope my little Hadley will love it as much as I do (when she's old enough to stop tearing the pages).

Re: Anthology of favorite poems of "famous people"
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: May 17, 2006 01:11PM

Start reading them to her now- it's never too early!


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