Poetic Inspiration

Some examples of poems which can be used for discussion:





When I heard the Learn’d astronomer

Walt Whitman

Mere numbers, charts, and diagrams cannot sum up the mystery, power, and beauty of the universe. To begin to understand the wonder of the universe, one must view it through the lens of the unaided eye rather than the lens of the calibrated telescope in order see a
 When I heard the learn’d  astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns                                                                             before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in  the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air,
and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Think about:

A romantic— poetic or imaginative—perspective can yield a deeper appreciation of a subject than a scientific perspective can. 

  • Cold, hard facts can obscure deep meanings of an observed phenomenon. 
  • Scientific calculation can quantify and measure the components and makeup of beautiful objects but cannot fathom their allure; only romantic musing can do that. 
  • Astronomy can analyze the electromagnetic radiation of a moonbeam; poetry can analyze the dreamy effect of a moonbeam on the human heart.
  • Science is invaluable as a tool to help us understand the complexities of the universe. But we must guard against allowing it to indurate us to the wondrous beauty of nature.
  •          Image result for when i heard the learn'd astronomer  A person must sometimes separate himself from the crowd to experience life and the cosmos from a different perspective. He must become an individual, a nonconformist, willing to abandon the herd to roam freely in open pastures. In the last three lines of the poem, the speaker does so. When he wanders alone in the mystical moist night-air, he looks up but does not see the wonders of celestial mechanics or astronomy, he sees stars.
  • Related image
    .Whitman wrote the poem in free verse—also called vers libre, a French term. Free verse generally has no metrical pattern or end rhyme. However, it may contain patterns of another kind, such as repetition. Repetition of Words    For example, the first four lines of “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” all begin with the same word, constituting a figure of speech known as anaphoraRepetition of Parallel Structure: In addition, the poem builds a syntactical pattern, parallel structure, in the following groups of words:

    the proofs, the figures (line 2)
    the charts and diagrams (line 3)
    add, divide, and measure (line 3)
    tired and sick (line 5)
    rising and gliding (line 6)

    Repetition of SoundsFinally, the poem repeats similar sounds: heard, learn’d, heard; lectured, lecture, perfect; room, soon; rising, gliding, time, time, silence. Notice, too, the alliteration in the last two lines: mystical moist and silent . . . stars.


WB YEATS The Song of Wandering Aengus



[In labelling it “song”, the lyrical aspect of this poem is emphasised. The  adjective “wandering” has  connotations of someone endlessly search for something.]

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lads and hilly lands.
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Read this analysis of the poem

Refer to the poem on both the literal and figurative level. The poet goes fishing and catches a silver trout. Figuratively, Aengus pursues his love, the girl from his dream while the poet pursues his inspiration. Consider the central theme: the lifelong search  – carefully.

The quest is to find the maiden who has vanished. The speaker’s  search for her is spurred by her mysterious disappearance and the poet’s fascination with this unattainable heart’s desire.
Image result for the song of wandering aengus
Entering a hazel wood has another connotation in the Irish tradition as the hazel tree in Irish tree mythology symbolises wisdom.
Fire represents life, enlightenment, and inspiration.
The fish he has caught turns into a dreamlike maiden with springtime blossoms of the apple tree in her hair. She calls him by name and runs away —is she taunting to chase her? The Apple blossoms reflect sensuality, heady love and passion. Image result for the song of wandering aengusThis female figure becomes the object of the speaker’s life quest, which is to find and possess her. For the poet, chasing inspiration is like chasing love.
In the final stanza, the speaker is now old. He has wandered many years, overcoming many obstacles and he would like to find her and walk with her and collect the magical fruit of the sun and moon.
Image result for the song of wandering aengusAs the poem is lyrical, many literary device are used to create its musical effect:
 Assonance: The repetition of the long “o” vowel sounds within the first few lines of final stanza.
Repetition: The repetition of these words throughout poem: hazel, moths, fire, apple, name, time/times. Alliteration: The repetition of “h” at beginning of words in final stanza: hilly, hollow, her, hands.
Consonance: The repetition of “k” sound in final stanza: kiss, take, walk, luck.
Related image*What is the quest that the speaker has set himself? What spurs this search?
*How does this poem reflect both a hopeful and melancholy tone?
*Do you think the speaker will ever find the girl? Why or why not? Use specific examples from the text to support your opinion.
*Discuss the image of the apples and what they represent as a symbol.

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Father of South African poetry – Thomas Pringle




 Cape of Storms- Thomas Pringle

O Cape of Storms! although thy front be dark,
And bleak thy naked cliffs and cheerless vales,
And perilous thy fierce and faithless gales
To stanchest mariner and stoutest bark;
And though along thy coasts with grief I mark
The servile and the slave, and him who wails
An exile’s lot – and blush to hear thy tales
Of sin and sorrow and oppression stark:-
Yet, spite of physical and moral ill,
And after all I’ve seen and suffered here,
There are strong links that bind me to thee still,
And render even thy rocks and deserts dear;
Here dwell kind hearts which time nor place can chill-
Loved Kindered and congenial Friends sincere.


The poet despite the bad memories, proves that goodness prevails, The Cape and It’s people have left an impression on him so strong that “bind” him to Cape. The poet considers the harshness of the Cape Colony: its bleak mountains, its gales and shipwrecks, and its slavery and other civil crimes. He nevertheless concludes that there are some strong links which hold him to the Cape, links of family and friends.


Italian Petrarchan Sonnet – Octave and Sestet, separated by conjunction “Yet” which indicates a change in the poem.

Octave: Negative aspects associated with the Cape.
Sestet: “Yet” strong feelings of the bonds he made with both the people and the land bind him to the Cape.

  1.  Physical- Landscape & Weather
  2. Social Ills – Slavery & Oppression
  3. Personal suffering- Loss of livelihood yet has a strong bond with the Cape in spite of negativity


Ezra Pound

“Either move or be moved.” – Ezra Pound

Of all the major literary figures of the twentieth century, Ezra Pound has been one of the most controversial.  He has however, also been one of modern poetry’s most important contributors.
He was born in Hailey, Idaho, on October 30, 1885.
T.S. Eliot, said about Pound – “…is more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual.”


Pound would write that he was: “concerned solely with language and presentation”.
His aim was clarity: a fight against abstraction and romanticism.

With regard to his poetry, he focused on

Three Principles:
1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

This can be seen most obviously in his poem:

In a Station of the Metro

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”

These PRINCIPLES and his vivid imagery is also seen in:

These fought, in any case (from Hugh Selwyn Mauberly)

These fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case …
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later …
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor” …
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
fortitude as never before
frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.
Some information from e.notes.com:

Ezra Pound was one of the expatriates, disillusioned with the world and with the sort of nationalism that had led so many countries into a devastating and senseless war.  The expatriates sought to explore their own artistic work, to challenge the nature of their work, and, in many cases (certainly in the case of Pound), to “make it new.”  In this poem, Pound explores his devotion to art by creating two alter-egos to review his own career and his beliefs about his own art, poetry.

The mood of this poem is negative, disillusioned.  As the speaker outlines the attempt to “resuscitate the dead art/
Of poetry”, he alludes to both the temptuous travels of Odysseus and the horrors of WWI.  There is a feeling of being lost.   The tone is self-depracating and critical.  The first stanza oulines the goals of the speaker as being “Wrong from the start”.  Near the end, the second alter-ego quotes: “I was/“And I no more exist;/“Here drifted/“An hedonist.”  Again, the tone is critical and the feeling left is a sense of uselessness.

The diction in this poem, as in all of Pound’s, is concrete.  Despite the use of allusions, there is little symbolism developed and a lack of flowery or overly-descriptive passages.  Pound, like many of the artists of the time, was a minimalist, removing all but the most necessary words from his work.  He uses free verse and avoids traditional poetic diction.

Pound expressed the disgust and rejection of British society which had been building in him during World War I. Increasingly at odds with a culture that had embraced sordid economic gain at the expense of art and lives—ten million people died in the war, and for nothing, in Pound’s view—Pound used Hugh Selwyn Mauberley to pen a sharp, critical view of England.

The life and times of Dylan Thomas.

Dylan Thomas
New Directions Publishing Corp.

“When one burns one’s bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.”

               Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 October 27 in Swansea. His father was an English Literature professor at the local school. Thomas was a  neurotic and sickly child. He of course excelled in English and reading due to the fact that his father recited Shakespeare to him before he could read, but he was a rather undistinguished school pupil and neglected other subjects. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 to become a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. He left after 18 months but continued to work as a freelance journalist for several years during which time he also decided to concentrate on his poetry full-time. It was at this period that Thomas wrote more than half of his collected poems.

In 1934 when Thomas was 20 he moved to London and published an anthology of poems entitled . It  was noted for its exceptional visionary qualities. Unlike his contemporaries like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden who focused on exhibiting social and intellectual issues, he opted for more intense lyricism and highly charged emotions. The volume won the Poets’ Corner book prize. This showered him with admirers from the London poetry world.

Two years later Thomas met  a 18 year old blonde-haired, blue-eyed dancer of Irish descent in a pub. At the time she was the mistress of a painter named Augustus John.  Thomas and CaitlinMacnamara engaged in an affair. on 11 July 1937 they married at the register office in Penzance. Despite the passionate love letters Thomas wrote to his wife,the marriage was turbulent, rumors of both Thomas and Macnamara were having multiple affairs. Their first child, Llewelyn Edouaurd, was born 30 January 1939.

In 1940 Thomas served as an anti-aircraft gunner but due to an ailment referred to as “an unreliable lung” he eventually managed to be classified Grade lll, which meant that he would be among the last to be called up for service. In 1941 the Thomases moved to London to find employment in the film industry, he worked with strand Films. In 1944 they left London to avoid the air raids, they eventually settled at Laugharne, in the boat house where Thomas would write many of his later poems.

dylan thomas

In 1950 he embarked on the first of a number of tours of the USA.  During these tours Thomas was invited to many parties and functions and often became drunk – going out of his way to shock people. Thomas drank before some of his readings, though it is argued he may have pretended to be more affected by it than he actually was.

Thomas’s last collection Collected Poems, 1934–1952, published when he was 38., One critic declared that “Thomas is the greatest living poet in the English language”.
Thomas arrived in New York on 20 October 1953 to undertake another tour of poetry reading and talks.  He was ill and complained of chest trouble and gout . He was depressed about the trip and his health was poor. On 5 November, Thomas’s breathing became more difficult and his face turned blue. An ambulance was summoned.

Thomas was admitted to the emergency ward. He was comatose. Caitlin flew to America the following day and was taken to the hospital. Her reported first words were, “Is the bloody man dead yet?“
Thomas died at noon on 9 November. A post mortem gave the primary cause of death as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver as contributing factors.


In his Poem in October” written on his thirtieth birthday he honours and remembers the child he once was :

“ And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s forgotten mornings……where a boy…..whispered the truth of his joy

To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.”

In the poem’s last verse, he writes 

“And the true

Joy of the long dead child sang burning

In the sun.” (iii)

The lines remind us that nature can powerfully evoke that within us which never ages, which rejoices in being alive, and is powerfully connected to the endless cycle of birth, maturation, decline, death…


It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

T S Eliot La Figlia que Piange

La Figlia Che Piange                   T. S. Eliot, 1888 – 1965

O quam te memorem virgo

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—

Lean on a garden urn—

Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—

Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—

Fling them to the ground and turn

With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:

But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.


So I would have had him leave,

So I would have had her stand and grieve,

So he would have left

As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,

As the mind deserts the body it has used.

I should find

Some way incomparably light and deft,

Some way we both should understand,

Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.


She turned away, but with the autumn weather

Compelled my imagination many days,

Many days and many hours:

Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.

And I wonder how they should have been together!

I should have lost a gesture and a pose.

Sometimes these cogitations still amaze

The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.


Questions to consider:

  1. The poet is presenting the first few lines as if he is a director instructing an actress on her actions.
    What is the effect of this with regard to the intention of the poet?
  2. What is implied in the words “fugitive resentment”?
  3. How does Eliot, throughout this poem, emphasise the interpretation of the reader as being just as or even more important that the poet’s interpretation?