Category Archives: Poetry

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

When I was small, reading A Visit from St Nicholas, more commonly known as, ‘Twas the night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore was a Christmas Eve Tradition. I don’t normally post the full text of a poem to my blog, but this was published in 1823 so the term of copyright has expired and I couldn’t resist. I hope this gets you into the Christmas spirit!

Many St Nicks!

Many St Nicks!

A Visit from St Nicholas/The Night Before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Fun facts about the poem

  • In the original poem, Donner and Blitzen are called Dunder and Blixem which apparently links back to the idea that Clement Clarke Moore was inspired to create his Santa Claus by a Dutchman he knew.
  • Only one original copy of the poem remains in private hands, and it sold for $280,000 back in 2006.
  • People often change “breast” to “crest” in the poem because they are embarrassed by the other kind of breasts or think it is dirty. Fools.
  • The poem has been widely parodied, my favourite is the one in the style of Ernest Hemingway

Rings- Official Poem for The Royal Wedding

I’m aware that I’m very slow off the mark here, but in case you haven’t read it, here’s a link to Rings the poem written by poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to commemorate the Royal Wedding.

There was a lot of controversy about whether she would or should agree to write a poem for the Royal Wedding, but I’ll leave that aside. It’s the poem that I’m interested in today.

I think it’s quite awkward and stilted, it doesn’t flow from the heart and lacks the punch of her other poetry. Actually I’m not feeling any of the list they have provided. What do you think of it all?

If anyone is selecting poems for a wedding, Rings is included in Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees though you might also want to look at some of her more sparky poems in Love Poems.


Poetry on the Texas DART

The world sprang

from ancient dreams

Time is alive

like an open sky

An extract from the Texas DART poetry in motion, a display of poems that can be read on the state’s light rail systems. I particularly enjoyed the lines above on my way to a TexMex place for dinner and a walk around the mall. An added advantage of these is that you can read the whole collection on their website. My favourite is the one above which I think just beautifully captures the idea of life as a journey with plenty of speed but no motion. You can read the full collection here, let me know which you prefer.


Tube-Time Poetry

When pupils used to ask me why people bother reading poetry, why they don’t just read prose, I always used to tell them about the way poetry was described to me when I was in school. That prose chooses the best words, but poetry sets down the best words in their best order.

Travelling back from work in London today (and still stinging, both literally and metaphorically) from the indignity of tripping and falling flat on my face in front of an exhibition hall full of people, I spotted a poem on the wall of the tube train carriage which I thought was the perfect example of this. It’s a translation of a poem by a medieval monk called Colmeille the Scribe and I think it’s translated in Seamus Heaney’s latest collection of poems The Human Chain.

Anyway, the lines that struck me were a description of his work, writing on the vellum manuscript:

My hand is cramped from pen work.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.

I thought that the “blue-dark beetle-sparkle of ink” was so evocative of when you’re writing, and the light just catches the wet ink making it gleam. I can almost see Colmeille writing in a drab monastic cell, but with the words on the page gleaming like jewels. Fanciful, perhaps, but it brightened my day.

thanks to Icelight (Flickr) for the photo


Desire Denied, Poems About Dissatisfaction

The guardian books section today had a subheading instructing us, “Steel yourself for romantic disappointment as the poet considers the literature of desire, from Marvell’s coy mistress to John Betjeman’s lovelorn subaltern.” In the article, poet John Stammers picks out his top ten love poems in which Desire is unsatisfied or denied. I was certainly disappointed, but not by thwarted desire, but the staid and predictable selection of poems, many of which had nothing to do with unsatisfied desire.

Why is it, of all the poems in the English language Sonnet 116 has to be stuck on every list of romantic poetry? It’s not even Shakespeare’s best. And perhaps I’m being slow here, but isn’t it about steadfast love and not desire unsatisfied or denied? Likewise Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song may reflect Betjeman’s feelings for the lovely Miss Hunter Dunn being unrequited in real life, but in the poem they sit in the car ‘til twenty to one and are engaged after… I wonder what went on in the car, between the lines. Nudge nudge, wink wink and all that. Not exactly unsatisfied or denied.

I agree that Donne’s The Flea deserves its place on the list; I would have put it at number one. Likewise, I love Wyatt’s Whoso List to Hunt though I suspect that has to do with the Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII love triangle that was going on, not just the poem itself. But To His Coy Mistress? This is why people say they hate poetry. The same boring tat trotted out again and again. It’s like people stop reading poems when they finish their school career or at the very latest their undergraduate degree and churn out the one cannon of poetry-that-was-considered-worthy-thirty-years-ago.

So for anyone who has made it through that rant and cares, here’s my alternative selection:

1. Correspondents- Carol Ann Duffy

A highly erotic description of a chaste and futile love affair between a married man and woman, who do not touch, but send letters and conceal their love for fear of shocking polite society.

2. Like The Touch of Rain/Go Now- Edward Thomas

The bliss of unsought love bleeds into the shock and pain of unexpected rejection.

3. Love Songs in Age- Philip Larkin

An elderly lady looks back at her collection of love songs, and realises with sadness that the idea that love will sustain and heal all has never been true, and will not be true.

4. For Desire- Kim Addonizo

What can I say? She wants to be desired. Definitely a poem about unsatisfied urges…

5. The Bath Tub- Ezra Pound

Have you ever anticipated something so much, that when it doesn’t live up to your expectations you feel the most disappointing anticlimax? Ezra Pound tells it like it is…

6. Porphyria’s Lover- Robert Browning

When obsessive love goes wrong. A cautionary tale ladies, about what happens when you toy with your lover but don’t give him the adoration he desires. That or a warning about what happens when you hook up with a psycho.

7. Libido- Rupert Brooke

Desire is portrayed as a pestilence and it’s fulfilment as death.

8. Nothing-James Fenton

“Nothing I give, Nothing I do or say,

Nothing I am will make you love me more.”


9. The Flea- John Donne

How can you not include this playful petition?

10. The Toilet- Hugo Williams

You meet an attractive stranger on the train, but what will happen when you decide to make your move?


The Problem With Poetry

My friend, who likes reading, just told me she hates poetry. I was shocked. I am always shocked when someone tells me they hate poety, not just because it’s a sweeping dismissal of an entire literary genre, but also because… well, how can you not like poetry?

I get that some people don’t like the complexity of the language some poets use.  Was it Nietzche who said that poet’s muddy the water to make it appear deeper? To me that’s bad poetry. Bad poetry is complex to give a false impression of depth. Good poetry is like a literary strip tease, the slow removal of doubt and the tantalising glimpse of understanding. A detective game, in which you solve the poets clues to reveal the truth at the end, or have you?

For me, poetry is a game, and I enjoy playing the game well. I think that a lot of the problem is the way poety is taught. Either people are numbed young as children by being forced to learn some bloody poem about waving daffodils by rote (he nicked the idea for that from his sister’s diary…) or they are told what a poem means, when really poetry should be as subjective as any other form of literature. You bring your own interpretation to the table.

Teaching poetry was my favourite aspect of teaching and I conciously avoided forcing my interpretation of the poem on a class. I like to think this allowed students to gain confidence enough to provide their own analysis. When they see there is no right or wrong, they enjoy pulling out words and thinking about what the word means to them, how the poem relates to their own experiences of life.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s no such thing as bad poetry, there’s plenty of bad poetry, just like there are plenty of god awful novels out there. But there is also brilliant poetry, and people shouldn’t be put off by bad experiences. I only wish it was afforded a greater status and made more accessible.

I’m attaching a video of a girl I used to go to a drama group with performing her poetry. She’s amazing. I think it would be great if slam poetry had some kind of television profile so people can see how much fun it can be and that it isn’t some high brow elitist medium.