How I fell in love with poetry

December 14, 2009

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.

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