The Poet’s Calendar

 

AS far as my researches carry me
It seems as if the year can well be filled
With birthdays of the great. My special vein
Is with the poets who, though dead and gone
As far as earthly living is concerned,
Yet linger in the memory, and lines
That cannot die.
The first of these we find
Who well begins the year for us is Clough,
The friend of Matthew Arnold, Arthur Hugh;
His birthday starts the year on New Year’s Day,
Who wrote “The sun climbs slow, how slowly,
“But westward, look, the land is bright”.
And many more there be whose birthdays fall
Within the first month of the year; there’s Burns
Of ‘Tam-o-Shanter’ fame, and with him one
Not quite dissimilar, Lord Byron hight,
Who gave us ‘Childe Harold’ and ‘Don Juan’;
And with them I must bracket him who mocked
With gentle satire mid-Victorian Verse,
And took as pen-name Lewis Carroll, he
Who gave the world immortal Alice fair.
The second month produces no such group;
In fact ‘tis very hard to find a name
Within these islands, so we must abroad
Travel, and in America find him
Who gave us ‘Hiawatha’ and such gems,
I mean old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
His poetry is musical and falls
With no great harshness on the listening ear.
There may be others born this second month
But so far have my searchings proved in vain;
And so to March proceed.
In March we have our poetess the first,
Elizabeth Barrett who did become
The wife of Robert Browning; she did give
To us the “Sonnets from the Portuguese”.
And William Morris shares the month with her,
He who could write “Defence of Guenevere”.
In April we have little need to look
For all St. George’s Day is common lore,
And very few but know that England’s swan,
The swan of Avon, William Shakespeare true,
In this blessed month was born; and sharing it
With him another William, well-beloved
By all who love our English Lakes, the bard
Who sand of “Yarrow”, “Daffodils” and such,
Whose name was apt, Wordsworth.
And one whose piping reached to fewer ears,
Yet sweet withal, the poet Henry Vaughan.
In My, and early in the month, was born
One who became our island’s poet, he
Who sang of children and the golden gorse,
And gardens; and told tales in dialect
As from a sea-going character Tom Baynes,
Not very different from himself, Tom Brown.
And Robert Browning also shares this month
With him and Alexander Pope, a strange
Assortment; one a plain and fortright poet,
Another tortured and ofttimes obscure,
And one so sweet and polished that he cloys.
And thus we come to June and see in her
The birth-date of a poet of the sea,
John Masefield, who has given us “Sea Fever”
And “Cargoes”, the most modern of our group.
July is honoured by the birth of one
Who dared to write of things unusual,
For Matthew Prior has given me many a laugh.
A nest of songbirds is the August month,
For birthdays are most numerous, or so
It seems to me in my discoveries.
For here we have Sir Walter Scott who sang
“The Lady of the Lake” and “Marmion”;
He my first love and with him Tennyson,
Another early favourite with “Maud”
And “Enoch Arden” and great “Ulysses”.
With them are lyric writers, Percy Bysshe
Shelley, and Robert Herrick, who with birds
And flowers, clouds, skylarks and daffodils
Did seem to dwell in soaring thought.
September gives us one who little wrote
In verse, but much in other modes of prosody,
The Doctor Samuel Jackson; next comes Keats,
One of the sweetest singers of them all,
The very nightingale of English song,
Whose odes and sonnets both are things of joy
And beauty, and will be for ever thus.
He is October’s child. November brings
Into the world the friend of Pope and Swift,
Oliver Goldsmith, a poet who did write
Essays as well, and novel; then a bard
From Scotland who likewise divided time
Between his verse and novel-writing; he
Who travelled cross the world in search of health,
One Robert Louis Stevenson.
And so towards the end of this short list,
From which a number of great names are left,
We look into December to find out
What famous names has she bequeathed to us.
John Milton is the most illustrious
With his great poems about Paradise;
His ‘L’Allegro’ and ‘Il Penserosos’,
And sonnets; ‘Lycidas’ and ‘Comus’ too.
Along with him goes one but lately met,
He who with ‘Balder Dead’ did first me greet,
‘Sohrab and Rustum’ and ‘The Scholar Gypsy’.
Who followed Milton’s mould in his blank verse.
And finally to round this record off
We come to one who did not haunt these shores
But was a native of America,
Though Quaker in his origin, the poet
John Greenleaf Whittier, whose simple verse
Beguiles me not a little, and whose hymns
Among the best are in our hymnary.
This is the net result of work so far
In building up my Poets’ Calendar.

1927