One of the interesting things about collecting poetry from staff for National Poetry Day last week was that the majority of poems had a meaning from childhood. They were ems studied at school, that they had been made to learn by heart or that they remembered being read to in a classroom. It made me think a little about the poetry that I expose my students to. Is it always something that I think will have this kind of resonance? Is it poetry that I think should have some wider echo in their lives, become a ‘gobbet’ as Hector in The History Boys puts it – or is it a poem that I chose because it has an interesting example of a metaphor and that’s what I want them to learn today. There is space for both, I think, and it made me consider a little more how I choose the poetry I teach.
Today’s poem is one I was taught. Keats was on the a level syllabus, and we worked out way through most if the poems. My copy is diligently covered in notes, underlinings and comments. I loved this one from the first time I read it. It’s not by any means the most complex of the poetry we read, but I think it sounds beautiful – peaceful, calm and contemplative.
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.