Monday, 14 December 2009

How I fell in love with poetry

Sometimes opinions change. Sometimes ideas that have stayed with you a lifetime suddenly alter and shift, and you find a different angle with which to view.

Take poetry. Apart from having a poem published in the school magazine I really couldn't see what all the fuss was about. For years, the well formed verses never quite did it for me. They were just words, structured, yet with little meaning.

Then everything changed.

Life changed.

Feeling at a particularly low point in my life, I just happened to be browsing a large book store. I picked up book after book. Just glancing briefly at them, and then placing them back on the shelf.

Then I pulled one particular book off the shelf. The Nations Favourite Poems as voted for by the British public. I scanned the pages, then read the poem that had been voted No.1. This poem had received twice as many votes as any other poem in the book.

The words leapt from the page. Surely the poem had been written for me. Every word had meaning. I remember tears streaming down my face. The author had connected with me. Years after he'd died he actually spoke to me.

I had a copy of the poem printed out onto an A4 sheet of paper. I carried that poem in my handbag every where I went. It really helped, knowing that poem was close to me.

Several handbags later I still have it. Even though the paper is tatty and worn, I just haven't the heart to throw it away. I have a framed copy of the poem on my wall, and a version of the poem by Ernest Shackleton (a great friend of the author).

I suppose I should reveal which poem literally changed my life. It may not be your favourite poem, but I'm sure there's a poem out there for everyone.

If by Rudyard Kipling

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 imposters 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 wornout 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 breath 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!

There are other poems I like, but this one really means something to me. Thank you for reading. Maybe you can share which poem if any is your favourite.

Thank you for hosting me, Lindsay

You can find out more about Jan and her books here.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Jan - thank you so much for sharing this. I agree - it speaks to me, too, and to many others.

I love Kipling. Such an original writer. I love his JUST SO stories and the language he uses in them.

Thank you!

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Jan, yes, a classic. My mum and dad has this on their wall too, so it's so familiar to me. I can completely understand you feeling how it speaks to you, it's universal, isn't it?
I remember being introduced to John Donne's poems and school and being bowled over by them. 'I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did till we lov'd,' and knowing that's what real love WOULD feel like - like you'd never known life until you were in love!
It's wonderful too that Carol Ann Duffy is our Poet Laureate, the way she's responding to a need for poetry and hopefully reviving an interest in it. A poem can express many ideas in ways that prose never can.

Jane x

Linda Acaster said...

I know what you mean about poetry not touching you at school until that certain poem comes along. For me it was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. I ended up waking in cold sweats dreaming of the thing. Of course now I can marvel at the mastery of pace and tension.

Thanks for sharing, Jan.

Danielle Thorne said...

Beautiful and intense.

Jan Bowles said...

Thanks Lindsay, Jane, Linda and Danielle for your kind words.

I do tend to wear my heart on my sleeve a bit. I am quite an emotional woman.

I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Perhaps this good if you are a writer.


Mona Risk said...


I learned that poem by heart in school and still remember a few lines. Thank you for posting all of it.

Savanna Kougar said...

Rudyard Kipling is in a class of his own, I think... and that poem is outstanding, more to what it says about life... and living life.
Thank you for sharing it.
I understand why you would connect with it. I know I have... though, I can't say, I'm quite up to those standards...

Jan Bowles said...

Thank you Mona and Savanna

Poems are great. I'm just glad I've learnt to appreciate them.


LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Jan, I never liked the poetry sections in school, but there are some poets who touch me. EE Cummings is my favorite.

I can see why this one would grab you.