Sharing a selection of poems I’ve been carrying in my saddlebags, many committed to memory, for decades.  A while ago I decided to start sharing them with my family, writing them out one by one, by hand, to be sent in an envelope with a few comments and some context thrown in.  I hope they bring you as much inspiration, delight, fortitude and solace as they have me, and will be adding one or two a month for some time.

Poems for my family 010 – Gumilyov

Poems for my family 010 – Gumilyov

Listening time: under 4 minutes.  I discovered this poem in my early twenties, possibly while first living and studying in China where I also got to know the poems of Osip Mandelstam.   I loved its blithe life-loving adventurism, its disdain for danger and death, its...

Poems for my family 009 – Milton

Poems for my family 009 – Milton

Listening time: 3 minutes.  Surely one of the sweetest love poems of all time (alongside this one), in which Adam and Eve enjoy each other's company in perfect accord.  These lines of Milton lift you on the wing of an inventory of beauty, then daringly repeated as he...

Poems for my family 008 – Drayton

Poems for my family 008 – Drayton

Listening time: under 5 minutes.  One of the greatest love poems in English, this was written by Michael Drayton (1563-1631) the night before he died.  Drayton was a friend of Shakespeare and a student of Spenser. I can think of few more dignified and moving...

Poems for my family 007 – Carlos Williams

Poems for my family 007 – Carlos Williams

Listening time: under 3 minutes.The lovely opening line of this poem by William Carlos Williams creates a surprising contrast between the stillness of a rose and the tumult of war.  The rest of the poem picks up, in rhythm and imagery, on the rose, filling...

After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.

Source: Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous

Poems for my family 006 – Cavafy

Poems for my family 006 – Cavafy

This poem has been in my mental saddlebags for about a quarter of a century.  I can't remember how I came across it but after a few readings it imprinted itself on my memory. It's by a Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), and draws on one of the great Greek...

Poems for my family 005 – McGee

Poems for my family 005 – McGee

Inspired by a high altitude test flight, this dazzling poem has added poignancy because John Gillespie McGee (1922-41) died soon after in an air collision with his Spitfire. It conveys the sweeping thrill and ethereal freedom of flying to great heights, with the plane...

Poems for my family 004 – Durrell

Poems for my family 004 – Durrell

Listening time: under 5 minutes. Durrell has long been a favourite writer and poet.  When I first read his Alexandria Quartet in my twenties, I went back to the beginning and started again, something I've only ever done for one other book (The Tale of Genji).  I...

Poems for my family 003 – Donne

Poems for my family 003 – Donne

Listening time: under 3 minutes. This is the third poem I chose to share with my family, copied out by hand and sent by post.  Written as part of a series of meditations by John Donne (1572-1631), it is life-affirming even while it speaks of dying.  Above all, it...

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