The heat of the summer is here with vengeance. So why not put up your feet and dive into something unabashedly poetic. Here is a list of five poetry books you can lose yourself in:
William Blake | Songs of Innocence and Experience
William Blake was born in London in 1757. Though he was passionate about writing, he made his living from painting and engraving. Blake was an idealistic and intensely sensitive fellow; he loved children and the magical world they created. This book summarizes the way he perceived reality, putting antagonistic ideas about childhood, innocence, magic and virtue together against corrupted adulthood, experience and repression.
Many of the poems are written in pairs, so that you can analyze them from different perspectives: as a very particular situation might be regarded differently through the lens of innocence or experience. The writing style is straightforward and not very complex, which allows readers who do not yet have a clinical poetic eye to understand the stanzas and to immerse themselves its beautiful lines. The meaning is easy to grasp, though sometimes the job of the reader might involve analysing symbolism and imagery to fully get the tone. Blake’s perception of reality is sweet, enchanting and he makes a tremendous positive effort to warn us against the risk of falling into the traps of adulthood.
Thomas Hardy – Selected Poems
Before setting his sights on a literary career, Thomas Hardy (born in Stinsford, England in 1840) worked as an architectural apprentice in London. Years later he decided to make his living from writing fiction and published several novels including classics such as The Return of the Native and Tess of D’Urbervilles. Hardy was obsessed with becoming a poet. As a result his verses can at times sound far-fetched and are difficult to grasp without the help of the editor’s notes. He was also fascinated by the past and many of his poems make reference to various moments in history, like the Napoleonic Wars; which he considered to be one of the greatest historical events. He was not a cheerful man, as such an almost fatalistic tone permeates much of his work. Despite appearing gloomy and bitter at times, Hardy’s verses fall firmly within what one would classify as true English Literature.
Robert Frost – Selected Poems
Robert Frost, born in San Francisco, California in 1874, was was one of the most beloved poets of all time. By the time he died he had an acquired an admiring public, won multiple Pulitzer Prizes and had spoken at John F Kennedy’s inauguration. His tone was highly influenced by the farmer’s life he led in New England before his literary career kicked off and therefore many concepts found in his verses relate to nature, seasons, wildlife and human passion. He was convinced that poetry was not about finding new things but letting the old ones find you.
Although a superficial reading might suggest that Frost’s themes are solely focused on beautiful imagery, the reader should also bear in mind that he was troubled by mental illness and often afflicted by periods of emotional instability. A more in-depth analysis might reveal that the poems have a darkness to them; usually represented in recurrent topics such as the subconscious, savagery and the unknown. His goal had always been to allow people understand the world through poetry and we can affirm that he did a pretty good job.
Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
Just like many of his counterparts, Walt Whitman, born in 1819 in New York, took a long time before devoting himself to a literary career. First he was a painter, then a teacher and lastly: a journalist. The first edition of Leaves of Grass included only 12 poems and was strongly rejected everywhere, although Ralph Waldo Emerson saw great potential in his writing and sent him a congratulatory letter, which seemed to augur well. Whitman witnessed both the civil war and the rise of America as a powerful nation; so Leaves of Grass can be seen to deal heavily with ideas of equality, democracy, freedom and brotherhood in addition to touching on Lincoln’s assassination.
Whitman was determined to find a new kind of poetry that would detach itself from its European predecessors, allowing the country’s independence not only to be political but also cultural and linguistic. He believed that a democratic verse would be what would best create a bond between the reader and the writer, admitting them both into the very same experience. Whitman’s verses are full of ambiguity, as he prefers to blur categories instead of separating them: the public life would blend with the private one and the self, with the world. In analysing Leaves of Grass, the reader will see that aspect rather than a poet, Whitman was an existentialist philosopher himself.
Christina Rossetti – Selected Poems
Christina Rossetti, born in London in 1830, is possibly the poet whose reputation has been preserved the most. Although art ran in the family – her father being the acclaimed writer and painter Dante Rosseti – Christina took poetry to a much higher level. She can be associated with the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as her poems seem to express the aesthetic feature of the movement very well. She led quite a happy life, indulged by her parent’s love, readings and catholic teachings. Although the themes in her verses usually tend to be rather conservative, as she would generally develop topics centered around spiritual salvation and human existence, she would sometimes enter traditionally male territories to question gender issues. There are hints of subversion in her apparent traditional subjects which might explain her long-standing popularity.
Rossetti was a passionate activist who fought against slavery, imperialism, military aggression, colonialism, and gender inequality. The persona in her poems is visceral, critical and denouncing, and that is why we love her so much.