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Introduction to Poetry: Archive

Discover the poetry from previous weeks

Remember to head to the main Introduction to Poetry page each Monday for a new 10-minute masterclass from Dr Ben Hickman.


Week 1

The Long Love that in my Thought doth Harbour
by Sir Thomas Wyatt, 1557

The long love that in my thought doth harbour
And in mine hert doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretence
And therein campeth, spreading his banner.
She that me learneth to love and suffer
And will that my trust and lust’s negligence
Be reined by reason, shame, and reverence,
With his hardiness taketh displeasure.
Wherewithall unto the hert's forest he fleeth,
Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth and not appeareth.
What may I do when my master feareth
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.

Download poem (PDF 34KB)

Listen to a reading (WAV 4.8MB)

The Long Love that in my Thought doth Harbour by Sir Thomas Wyatt is of the first sonnets and first love poems, written by the first lyric poet in the English language. This poem was likely written in the 1530s (first published in 1557) when Wyatt's work was circulating in the court of Henry VIII; the poem is one of a number speculated to have been addressed to Anne Boleyn. This very early poem of unrequited love would be followed by thousands more over the centuries that followed.


Week 2

Sonnet 27: Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
by William Shakespeare, 1609

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
     Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
     For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Download poem (PDF 35KB)

Listen to a reading (WAV 5.3MB)

After Sir Thomas Wyatt (see poem 1 in this series) reinvented the Italian sonnet for the English language in the early sixteenth century, it was William Shakespeare who really established it as a recognisable art form. Writing 154 of them, which were all published in 1609, his characteristic structure and rhyme scheme became known as the ‘Shakespearean Sonnet’ and helped to establish the early seventeenth century as the golden era for the English love sonnet.


Week 3

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
by John Donne, 1633

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
   And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
   The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
   To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
   Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
   Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
   Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
   That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
   Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
   As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
   To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
   Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
   And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
   Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.

Download poem (PDF 37KB)

Listen to a reading (WAV 10.4MB)

After two sonnets (Wyatt and Shakespeare) Poem 3 in our weekly series introduces a very different form of lyric poetry.

John Donne’s 36-line love poem A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning takes us into the world of the Metaphysical Poets of the seventeenth century, who innovated with a new, less formal style, combining everyday life with wider topics like philosophy and science and, crucially, using ‘conceits’ – long and sometimes surprising metaphors to link physical and abstract concepts.

This poem has been chosen because its central conceit – the comparison of two lovers with a pair of compasses – is one of the best-known extended metaphors in the history of English poetry.


Week 4

Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent
by John Milton, 1663

When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide;
   ‘Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?’
   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.’

Download poem (PDF 36KB)

Listen to a reading (WAV 5.8MB)

Writer of arguably the greatest poem in the English language – the epic Paradise Lost – John Milton is the subject of Episode 4 in our series.

And we are back to the Sonnet. In this case: one of Milton’s most famous short poems, Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent, also known as On his blindness.

It follows directly in the tradition of Wyatt and Shakespeare, yet with his own mid-seventeenth century evolution of the form. The religious and personal tone – a devout man coming to terms with visual impairment – gives this poem a particular autobiographical poignancy.


Week 5

A Receipt to Cure the Vapours
by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1748

                          I
Why will Delia thus retire,
And idly languish life away?
While the sighing crowd admire,
’Tis too soon for harts-horn tea.

                          II
All those dismal looks and fretting
Cannot Damon’s life restore;
Long ago the worms have ate him,
You can never see him more.

                          III
Once again consult your toilette,
In the glass your face review:
So much weeping soon will spoil it,
And no Spring your charms renew.

                          IV
I, like you, was born a woman,
Well I know what vapours mean:
The disease, alas! is common;
Single, we have all the spleen.

                          V
All the morals that they tell us,
Never cured the sorrow yet:
Choose, among the pretty fellows,
One of honour, youth, and wit.

                          VI
Prithee hear him every morning,
At least an hour or two;
Once again at night returning—
I believe the dose will do.

Download poem (PDF 44KB)

Listen to a reading (WAV 6.7MB)

As we move into the eighteenth century, we also embrace our first humorous poem – A Receipt to Cure the Vapours by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. This work is a biting satire on the way women’s behaviour was monitored, judged and controlled by men at the time.

Montagu is well known as a writer of historically important letters and was also responsible for early advances in smallpox inoculation in England. Her “answer” poems – where she used satire to challenge the misogynistic writings of her male contemporaries like Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift – are a rich body of work for us to enjoy from a modern perspective.


Week 6

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth, 1807

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced;
but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Download poem (PDF 30KB)

Listen to a reading (WAV 7.1MB)

With William Wordsworth, we move into the early nineteenth century and the first generation of Romantic Poets. The period also marks the beginning of the ‘Modern Age’ – where people really started to think of themselves truly as individuals, which is clear in this work as it is as much about self-consciousness as it is about nature.

This poem – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, also known sometimes as Daffodils – is one of the best-known pieces in this series, inspired by and written about a specific moment during Wordsworth’s time living in the Lake District. This also marks a moment in the history of English poetry as, alongside Coleridge and Southey, Wordsworth was known as one of the ‘Lake Poets’.