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Dedication: To Lily, with love. First published in the United Kingdom in 2014 by Batsford 10 Southcombe Street London W14 0RA An imprint of Anova Books Ltd Volume copyright Š Batsford 2014 The moral rights of the authors have been asserted. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored ina retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. ISBN: 9781849941327 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Repro by Mission Productions, Hong Kong Printed by 1010 Printing International Ltd, China This book can be ordered direct from the publisher at the website:, or try your local bookshop.

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Favourite Poems of England

Edited by Jane McMorland Hunter

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This Sceptred Isle


The Properte of Every Shire


Lords and Ladies all Assembled


The Parks, the Squares, the Thoroughfares


Haymakers Resting in the Sun


Ivied Walls and Mullioned Windows


Sandwiches and Flasks


In the Perfect Blue the Clouds Uncurled


Only in England


Arrivals, Departures


Index to Poets Picture Credits Acknowledgements

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Introduction Great things are done when men and mountains meet. (William Blake, Gnomic Verses) Over the last thousand years the English landscape has totally changed, largely due to the hand of man. For better or worse, we have cleared forests, drained marshes, built cities and overlaid the countryside with a network of roads and railways. Most of the mountains and moors are now accessible and there is comparatively little left that is truly wild. While this is in some respects a disaster, there are advantages: many of our lives are easier, some of our cities are very beautiful and we can easily travel the length and breadth of the country and enjoy all that it has to offer. This anthology is divided into ten sections, each looking at a different aspect of life in England. The first, This Sceptred Isle, takes a somewhat idyllic look at the country as a whole and offers a brief history, courtesy of Rudyard Kipling and an anonymous rhyme about the kings and queens. Camelot no longer exists and it would be stretching the imagination to describe much of the country as a ‘demi-paradise’, but there is nothing to stop us dreaming. The poems then travel round the country, from Tennyson’s house in Sussex, to Norman Nicholson’s wall traversing the fells. Emily Brontë finds true wildness, but further south Romney Marsh is seen as ‘ripe for development’ in U. A. Fanthorpe’s poem. Lords and Ladies all Assembled is not just about the nobility, but also includes a foddering boy, a nun, a Roman centurion and, perhaps our best-known king, Henry VIII. City life and rural life divide the country with ‘the million-peopled lanes and alleys’ contrasting with a ‘lark’s early carrols’ saluting the new day. London, Oxford, Cambridge and Bath contrast with the anonymous cities of H. D., while rural life revolves around haymaking, meadows and a rather unprincipled vicar. Wherever it may be, an Englishman’s home is his castle. The poems here range from grand country estates to charming cottages. Beautiful old mansions may house misers, while modern villas can be homes 6

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to writers and musicians. The varieties are endless but, in an ideal world, all are surrounded by a garden with ‘a thousand beauties’ and in possession of a ‘stately view’. As important as our work is our leisure – we all need time to stand and stare or play. Football, cricket, tennis and fishing have inspired poets down the ages, but so too have floating down a river, walking on a beach or suffering the trials and tribulations of a pony that has swallowed its bit. Nearly all these activities are better when accompanied by sandwiches and a flask of something hot. One of the things we have little control over is the weather. Each season brings forth a new set of experiences and occasional delights. Even if our seasons don’t always arrive on time, they do at least provide moments of great beauty and surprise – ‘the flame-red harvest moon’ or droplets of water shining ‘like silver buttons’ in a fog. The penultimate section includes some of the things that are unusual to England: St. George and his dragon, morris dancers and the mysteries of Stonehenge. Corner shops, wiggly roads and museums that open sporadically can all be found in other countries but, equally, can have something uniquely English about them. The final section is largely written by poets who are away from England. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and this is particularly true of these poems. For those abroad it is easy to focus on England’s charms, travel at home often inspires more cynicism, as we can see in Byron’s Don Juan. Apart from one or two snipes about the climate, the class system and the roads, the majority of poems have been chosen to show the charming and attractive face of England – faults it may have, but there is also much that is good. England has inspired many poets to write at length and, unfortunately, some of the poems had to be cut. In these cases I have chosen extracts that I feel describe a particular feature of England and hope that they will inspire the reader to search out the poem in its entirety. Where possible, I have chosen the version that is closest to that which the poet originally wrote; this may lead to some unusual spellings and unfamiliar words but if they make the reader pause and think, so much the better.


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This Sceptred Isle

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The Kings and Queens of England Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste, Harry, Dick, John, Harry three. Edwards one, two three, then who? The weak and wicked Richard two. Henrys four, five six and then Edwards four, five and Dick again. Henrys seven and eight, six wives no less, Then Edward, Mary and Good Queen Bess. Next James and Charles the Stuarts came, Then Oliver Cromwell, Protector by name, Charles two, James two, then the double plan, With William and Mary and lastly Queen Anne. Hanover Georges one, two, three and four, A fourth William and Victoria for years sixty-four. Edward the seventh and then George five, Edward eight, George six and our Queen, still alive.



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This Royal Throne of Kings from: Richard II, Act II scene i

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, This blessèd plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)


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Sonnet Happy is England! I could be content To see no other verdure than its own; To feel no other breezes than are blown Through its tall woods with high romances blent: Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment For skies Italian, and an inward groan To sit upon an Alp as on a throne, And half forget what world or worldling meant. Happy is England, sweet her artless daughters; Enough their simple loveliness for me, Enough their whitest arms in silence clinging: Yet do I often warmly burn to see Beauties of deeper glance, and hear their singing, And float with them about the summer waters.

John Keats (1795–1821)


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The Two Loves I have two loves, and one is dark, The other fair as may be seen; My dark love is Old London Town, My fair love is the Country green. My fair love has a sweeter breath, A clearer face by day; and nights So wild with stars that dazzled I See multitudes of other lights. My dark love has her domes, as round As mushrooms in my fair love’s meadows: While both my loves have houses old, Whose windows look cross-eyed at shadows.

W. H. Davies (1871–1940)


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London Athwart the sky a lowly sigh From west to east the sweet wind carried; The sun stood still on Primrose Hill; His light in all the city tarried: The clouds on viewless columns bloomed Like smouldering lilies unconsumed. ‘Oh sweetheart, see! how shadowy, Of some occult magician’s rearing, Or swung in space of heaven’s grace Dissolving, dimly reappearing, Afloat upon ethereal tides St. Paul’s above the city rides!’ A rumour broke through the thin smoke Enwreathing abbey, tower, and palace, The parks, the squares, the thoroughfares, The million-peopled lanes and alleys, An ever-muttering prisoned storm, The heart of London beating warm.

John Davidson (1857–1909)


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The Miller In a plain pleasant cottage, conveniently neat, With a mill and some meadows – a freehold estate, A well-meaning miller by labour supplies Those blessings that grandeur to the great ones denies: No passions to plague him, no cares to torment, His constant companions are health and content; Their lordships in lace may remark if they will, He’s honest tho’ daub’d with the dust of his mill. Ere the lark’s early carrols salute the new day He springs from his cottage as jocund as May; He cheerfully whistles, regardless of care, Or sings the last ballad he bought at the fair:

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While courtiers are toil’d in the cobwebs of state, Or bribing elections in hopes to be great, No fraud, or ambition his bosom does fill, Contented he works, if there’s grist for his mill. On Sunday bedeck’d in his homespun array, At church he’s the loudest, to chaunt or to pray: He sits to a dinner of plain English food, Tho’ simple the pudding, his appetite’s good. At night, when the priest and exciseman are gone, He quaffs at the alehouse with Roger and John, Then reels to his pillow, and dreams of no ill; No monarch more blest than the man of the mill.

John Cunningham (1729–1773)

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Favourite Poems of England  

A diverse collection of poetry which celebrates both England and all that it means to be English – from the rolling hills, to those lost in...

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