SCCO'S Five Favourite Poems

Line of Light: 'In Nottingham, jotting them lightly' - John Hegley.
Line of Light:'In Nottingham, jotting them lightly' - John Hegley.
Line of Light: 'Roaring towards nothing' - John Fairfax.
Line of Light: 'Roaring towards nothing' - John Fairfax.

Nottingham was recently awarded the title of 'City of Literature' by UNESCO. This makes Nottingham one of only 20 cities around the world to be recognised as this by UNESCO. Click here to see their website.

Nottingham artist, Jo Fairfax, has set up the art installation 'Line of Light' underneath the tram bridge on Station Street in honour of the city's new status. 'Line of Light' is a poetry wall where each night, a 5-word poem is projected onto the wall. 

As well as showing poems by writers such as Byron and Lawrence, Jo Fairfax has included poems from current residents of Nottinghamshire.  

Here at SCCO, we have collected some of our favourite poems with our reasons why. Get ready to read our heartfelt and wacky collection of poems!

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872-1906

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals-
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting-
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,-
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee, 
But a prayer that sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-
I know why the caged bird sings!

I have begun with my favourite poem. Although quite sad, 'Sympathy' sticks in my mind because it was the first poem that ever evoked strong emotions in me and my favourite author, Maya Angelou, used it as inspiration for her title 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'.

Dunbar uses the metaphor of a bird to express his own lack of freedom being a black man at the end of the nineteenth century. This filled me with strong empathy and sadness at the treatment of black people of that time.

Although the caged bird doesn't have a happy ending, I also see it as a poem of hope for the future. Being a modern day reader, I feel reassured that things can always get better for people who feel oppressed and like 'caged birds'.

Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought-
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
and burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Jabberwocky' by Lewis Carroll.
'Jabberwocky' by Lewis Carroll.

'Jabberwocky' is Paul's choice. 

Paul says: "The words are utter nonsense" and this is what appeals to him. He loves that he can read the jibberish words and still understand what is happening in the story! As well as being good fun, Paul has fond memories of reading this poem to his children at bedtime and they also loved it. 

Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
'Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

David's choice of poem has been consistently voted as the nation's favourite poem and is also inscribed above the entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon.

David said: "In my experience, life is a question of balance; you can do many things, take many approaches, have many successes and many failures but to be a long-term success you have to realise that you need to balance out all your experiences. You can't be too much of any one things or failure awaits, you have to adapt and compromise. I think this poem captures that, albeit it in a 19th Century, British Empire, stiff-upper-lip way." 

Shel Silverstein, 1930-1999

'Masks' by Shel Silverstein.
'Masks' by Shel Silverstein.
Zoe chose 'Masks' because she thinks it has an important message about being true to ourselves and also being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Zoe said: "This poem spoke to me now, as a woman in my late twenties, but I think it would have spoken to me even more as a teenager carving out my place in the world and sometimes feeling alone (this is something lots of people go through but I remember it hitting me especially hard when I was in my teens).

The Pobble Who Has No Toes
Edward Lear, 1812-1888

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said "Some day you may lose them all;"
He replied "Fish, fiddle-de-dee!"
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavendar water tinged with pink,
For she said "The World in general knows
There's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!"

The Pobble who has no toes
Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose
In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jobiska said "No harm
Cam come to his toes if his nose is warm;
And it's perfectly known that a Pobble's toes
Are safe, - provided he minds his nose!"

The pobble swam fast and well,
And when boats or ships came near him,
He tinkledy-blinkledy-winkled a bell,
So that all the world could hear him.
And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side-
"He has gone to fish for his Aunt Jobiska's
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!"

But before he touched the shore,
The shore of the Bristol Channel,
A sea-green porpoise carried away
His wrapper of scarlet flannel.
And when he came to observe his feet,
Formerly garnished with toes so neat,
His face at one became forlorn,
On perceiving that all this toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew,
From that dark day to the present,
Whoso had taken the Pobble's toes,
In a manner so far from the pleasant.
Whether the shrimps, or crawfish grey,
Or crafty Mermaids stole them away-
Nobody knew: and nobody knows
How the Pobble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The pobble who has no toes
Was placed in a friendly Bark,
And they rowed him back, and carried him up
To his Aunt Jobiska's Park.
And she made him a feast at his earnest wish
Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish,-
And she said "It's a fact the whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes!"

Luke's favourite poem is 'The Pobble Who Has No Toes' because he likes the rebellious nature of the young Pobble who sets off on his mission, despite being warned not to. You do feel sad when he comes a cropper and loses his toes but this is soon replaced by optimism when Aunt Jobiska tells him that he will be happier without his toes.

Luke says: "I think that's a really nice sentiment and one that I try to stay true to. Whatever happens, life goes on, and it's up to you to make the best of it!"

We would love to hear your favourite poems! If you want to share them with us leave them in a comment or tweet us at @NTUOutreach.

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