It's World Poetry Day: Classic FM presenters read their favourite poems

To celebrate World Poetry Day on 21 March, our presenters' choices range from John Keats to Wilfred Owen's World War 1 poetry. Alan Titchmarsh has even written his own ode to the humble weed...

March 21 is designated by Unesco as World Poetry Day, showcasing the ability of poetry to capture the creative human spirit and encouraging a return to the tradition of poetry recitals. To mark the day, Classic FM's presenters have chosen and recorded their favourites.

Alan Titchmarsh (1949-): The Wild Things
Read by Alan Titchmarsh  

 

 

Campion, goats beard, meadow rue,
All of these I offer you,
Along with poppy, meadow sweet,
And lady's bedstraw at your feet.

Brush your way through honeysuckle,
Old man's beard and then, with luck'll
Come along a clearing paved
With violets, celandine and waved

With plumes of willow herb and sallow,
Clumps of gorse and mounds of mallow.
Drown yourself in Yorkshire fog
And gaze on sundew sprung from bog.

Walk the woodlands 'neath the clouds
Of flowering May and beechwood shrouds,
To breathe in tang of spruce and pine
And catch your sleeves on eglantine.

By riverbank and stream and beck
'Neath willow wands and reed mace, check
That water blobs, bog bean and lily
All survive – I'm not being silly,

For if we fail to see them bloom,
Then surely soon the time will come
When each and every British flower,
Each climbing plant upon its bower

And every orchid, sedge and rush,
Each moss and fern, each tree and bush
Will wither for the want of care,
Since no one noticed they were there

Or even worse, were smothered under
Concrete thanks to lack of wonder.
Our world would then be all the poorer
Without our precious British flora.

Gather ye rosebuds if ye must
But never give your love to just
The cultivated trees and flowers
For nature's blooms are rightly ours

To cherish and to then hand on
To generations when we're gone.
Watch them, love them, serve them well,
Burdock, daisy, pimpernel.

Bluebell, nettle, Queen Anne's lace,
Each one here deserves its place.
Let them thrive and drop their seeds
And never call them dreadful weeds

For weeds are just a man's invention,
Thwarting now his best intention.
Find a spot to show their worth.
Like you, they own a place on earth.
 

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939): He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Read by David Mellor 

 

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861): How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
Read by Anne-Marie Minhall

 


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.  


Rupert Brooke (1887-1915): The Soldier
Read by John Suchet

 

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


W.H.Davies (1871-1940): Leisure
Read by Lucy Coward

 

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
 

John Keats (1795-1821): La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Read by Catherine Bott


 


I.
O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing. 

II.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done. 

III.
I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too. 

IV.
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild. 

V.
I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan. 

VI.
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song. 

VII.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.” 

VIII.
She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four. 

IX.
And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side. 

X.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!” 

XI.
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side. 

XII.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


Laurence Binyon (1869-1943): For the Fallen
Read by Nick Bailey

 


With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882): The Song of Hiawatha, XXII: Hiawatha's Departure (extract)
Read by Jane Jones 

 

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
All the air was full of freshness,
All the earth was bright and joyous,
And before him, through the sunshine,
Westward toward the neighboring forest
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
Burning, singing in the sunshine.
Bright above him shone the heavens,
Level spread the lake before him;
From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
Sparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
As the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha. 

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