December 4, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: "What is your favorite poem and why?"

The folks over at The Blue Bookcase sponsor "The Literary Blog Hop," a weekly meme, that gives all of us who read and write about books an opportunity to find and make new friends, and exchange ideas.  This week's question was submitted by Gary at The Parrish Lantern.

What is your favorite poem and why?

I normally do not qualify answers to questions, but I'm making an exception here.  I consider myself quite the connoisseur and a serious student of poetry.  As many of you know, I post lots and lots of poetry here at ProSe.  I also have an extensive collection of poetry that I am continually delving into.

Okay, so why do I feel compelled to qualify my answer to Gary's question?  For me, it just isn't as simple as saying that this poem, or that poem, is my most favorite poem.  Depending upon my mood, time, or place, I can think of many, many poems that would, or could, be my favorite poem.  From the perspective of the most perfectly written poem that really packs a punch, I might be inclined to suggest that John Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad rises to the top.  At another moment it might very well be Emily Dickinson's poem No. 712, Because I could not stop for Death--.

Be that as it may, at this moment in time my favorite poem is by Christina Georgina Rossetti, an English poet of the Victorian era.  She was the youngest sister of the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (at right is his pencil sketch of Christina).  Christina Rossetti was born in 1830, and died in 1895.  She was truly a prolific poet, writing something over 1,000 poems over the course of her life, and is perhaps best known for her epic poem, Goblin Market.

An Echo From Willowwood

"O ye, all ye that walk in Willowwood." D.G. Rosetti

Two gazed into a pool, he gazed and she,
Not hand in hand, yet heart in heart, I think,
Pale and reluctant on the water's brink
As on the brink of parting which must be.
Each eyed the other's aspect, she and he,
Each felt one hungering heart leap up and sink,
Each tasted bitterness which both must drink,
There on the brink of life's dividing sea.
Lilies upon the surface, deep below
Two wistful faces craving each for each,
Resolute and reluctant without speech: —
A sudden ripple made the faces flow
One moment joined, to vanish out of reach:
So those hearts joined, and ah! were parted so.


One of the things that I love so much about this poem is its relationship to the back-story.  This poem is an example of the poet utilizing his/her unique life experiences.  In An Echo from Willowwood, Christina is telling the story of the love between her brother, Dante, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and his wife, Lizzie Siddal.  At the same time, Christina has crafted her sonnet to play off of Dante's earlier 'Willowwood' sonnets that were written about his wife, who died in 1862 due to laudanum addiction. So the story goes, Lizzie had left sketches of herself and Dante looking into pools of water together; these sketches then inspired the poetry of both of the Rossetti siblings. Finally, you might also be interested to learn that Lizzie Siddal served as the model for Sir John Everett Millais's famous Pre-Raphaelite painting "Ophelia."  Somehow, I think that Christina has perfectly captured the tenderness and deep love that Dante and Lizzie shared, but I also think she very effectively touches upon the sadness to come.  To me, this is a meaningful, very beautiful and poignant poem.



  1. La Belle Dame sans Merci and Because I could not stop for death are great choices. I wasn't previously familiar with the Rossetti poem but it's lovely and thank you for sharing some of the back story on it.

  2. I write poetry too. And I too have phases of favourite poetry/poets and that goes on and on...

    The sonnet you share here is very beautiful. I like the feelings/emotions/the closeness it depicts. I had forgotten this. Thanks for reminding me. I will go back to reading Rossetti...

  3. Great choice & thanks for the back story. By posing this question with little thought beyond that, it seemed a good idea & I was curious of the state of poetry in the blogworld....... How foolish was I, couldn't even pin down my own answer. So here's a poem for you (out by about 4years)


    To leave behind a verse for that sad hour
    Lying in wait for us at the day's close,
    To link your name with its fading gold
    And lengthening shadow: that was your desire.
    With what passion when the day was through
    You laboured over that strange line, which would,
    Until the dissolution of the world,
    Affirm that special hour and its strange blue!
    Whether you found it , I don't know, or even
    Vague elder brother, whether you were real,
    But I'm alone, I wish oblivion
    Would give your weightless ghost back to the days
    To aid this weary word-show that designs
    To hold the evening fixed within its lines.

    J.L. Borges
    (trans' W. Ferguson)

  4. What a beautiful poem. I love that line "Not hand in hand, but heart in heart I think" :)

  5. Lovely. Like you, I have many favorites--or rather a variety of choices for different times in my life. Today I'm thinking about Mary Oliver:

  6. Rossetti's poem is beautiful, her 'In the Bleak Midwinter' set to music is the one carol guaranteed to make me cry! I'd find it very hard to pick one poem as a favourite. I love Keats 'To Autumn', and 'The Eve of St Agnes', but also 'The Second Coming' by Yeats, and Carol Ann Duffy's 'Rapture' poems. Sometimes it's just a line that resonates or haunts me like Hardy's 'Woman much missed how you call to me, call to me', or Tennyson's 'I am half sick of shadows...'. Great post, really fascinating.

  7. I really love 'Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat' by Thomas Gray. You see, it's about this cat that wanted these fish but drowned because of its lofty desire for such unattainable fish. It just breaks my heart every time. There's a really important moral in there somewheres. Here's a really super-great quote from it...

    Eight times emerging from the flood,
    She mew'd to every watery God,
    Some speedy aid to send.

  8. My favorite poem is La Figlia che Piange by T.S. Eliot. Its just so sad.

  9. I love to rise on a summer morn,
    When birds are singing on every tree;
    The distant huntsman winds his horn,
    And the skylark sings with me:
    Oh what sweet company!

    But to go to school in a summer morn, --
    Oh it drives all joy away!
    Under a cruel eye outworn,
    The little ones spend the day
    In sighing and dismay.

    Ah then at times I drooping sit,
    And spend many an anxious hour;
    Nor in my book can I take delight,
    Nor sit in learning's bower,
    Worn through with the dreary shower.

    How can the bird that is born for joy
    Sit in a cage and sing?
    How can a child, when fears annoy,
    But droop his tender wing,
    And forget his youthful spring?

    Oh father and mother, if buds are nipped,
    And blossoms blown away;
    And if the tender plants are stripped
    Of their joy in the springing day,
    By sorrow and care's dismay, --

    How shall the summer arise in joy,
    Or the summer fruits appear?
    Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
    Or bless the mellowing year,
    When the blasts of winter appear?