Today is National Poetry Day, so (just like last year) I decided to share a poem with you. As this year’s theme is Remember, I’ve gone for one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child – and still remember with pleasure…
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
John Masefield (1878-1967) was Poet Laureate for thirty seven years between 1930 and 1967, and is also well-known for his classic childrens’ books The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights – amongst a huge amount of other writings over his long life, both prose and poetry.
I was introduced to ‘Cargoes’ as a precocious poetry-reading child by my late mother and immediately fell in love with the tongue-twisting phrases and vivid, intriguing imagery. This is a poem to be learned, read aloud and remembered…
Ask anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with 20th century literature about the poets and poetry of the First World War, and I can guarantee that the names ‘Rupert Brooke’, ‘Wilfred Owen’ and ‘Siegfried Sassoon’ will be mentioned at some point. All three are rightly-reknowned poets (especially Owen), but they weren’t the only ones to be creatively inspired by their war experiences. In today’s World War One post, I’ll be looking at the life and death of another Great War poet – one who came from a very different background, and whose work is still perhaps not as well-known as it should be.
Born in Bristol on 25th November 1890, Isaac Rosenberg was the eldest son of a family of Jewish immigrants who had originally come over from Eastern Europe. When young Isaac was seven years old, his family moved to the East End of London in search of work. Settling on Cable Street, in the heart of the area’s large working-class Jewish community, the Rosenbergs found it difficult to make ends meet and Isaac, although intelligent and artistically talented, was forced to leave school at 14 in order to earn some money for the family.
He was apprenticed to an engraver, a job he apparently hated, but he was already beginning to write poetry and also started attending evening classes in art at Birkbeck College. He lost his job in 1911, but a lucky chance meeting led to his artistic talent being recognised by a patron, who agreed to fund his studies at the prestigious Slade School of Art. At the Slade, he studied alongside a number of young artists who went on to be very successful (and who also later reflected the impact of the war in their work), including Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler.
Moving in the well-connected circles associated with this creatively charged atmosphere obviously had an impact on Isaac, as he was able to get a small book of his poetry privately published in 1912. A year later, he met Edward Marsh, the editor of the influential Georgian Poetry volumes and one of the most important people on the British poetry scene at the time. This meeting seems to have been very positive as the two men corresponded right up until Rosenberg’s death.
Here are a few words of wisdom from the pen of a very wise woman:
If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.
Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The writer of these words, Maya Angelou, who has died at the age of 86, was most certainly an amazing person (and, incidentally, she was quite right about “trying to be normal” – there’s no such thing…). Best known as a writer, academic, award-winning poet* and civil rights activist who worked with both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, she was, at various times and amongst other things, also a successful actress, singer and dancer. Described by her family as “a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace”, Maya Angelou was certainly a woman who lived her life with passion, compassion, humour and not a little style. She will be missed.