Uncultured Culture - Finding joy in the dodgy poems of old

I feel bad about poetry. You see, I don’t like it very much. I’m talking about the grown up, cultured, literary stuff - serious offerings about love and nature and great battles, written by men with silly names like Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I am afraid that childhood exposure to Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids and Dr Seuss has left me with a rather simple taste for poetry. Give me Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes over Shakespeare’s sonnets any day. If there’s a feral animal or a vulgar word tangled up in the rhyming verse, I’m hooked. If there’s a daffodil-strewn meadow in which a young maiden is coughing consumptively after her beloved has died, I’m out of there … running ... waving my hands in the air … screaming, ‘Head for the hills!’.

That being said, one should not be stuck in one’s ways. I believe in lifelong learning, being open to change. Accordingly, yesterday, I forced myself to sit down with a cup of coffee and A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems.

Imagine my distress when, lo and behold, the first samples upon which my troubled eyes fell had names like, ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’, ‘My True-Love Hath My Heart’ and ‘Death’.  My spirits swooned to the very depths of despair.

But then, after a second cup of coffee and a further half hour of dogged reading, a wonderful thing happened. I got into the groove and found myself enjoying as many poems as I despised … perhaps for reasons that some may consider not quite right, but enjoy them I did!

Let me share a few of my favourites here, just in case you want to hunt them down for a spot of uncultured culture with your next cuppa ...


‘The Highwayman’       by Alfred Noyes

Forget the stunning night time landscape. Skip over Bess’s musket-shattered breast. Take a look at that highwayman’s clothes! Not only does he wear a claret velvet coat and lace at his throat, but his trousers are so tight that they’re completely wrinkle-free and his boots are thigh-high! Thigh high!! What’s not to love? I can just picture him doing a Saturday Night Fever-type dance, while the moon that was once a ghostly galleon glitters above like a disco ball. Magnificent!


‘Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil’      by John Keats

I had forgotten how much I love this golden oldie. It’s a real corker. While it is most definitely a poem about a woman pining away for love, it is so much more. For after Isabella’s beloved is murdered by her brothers, she digs up his body, chops off his head, pops it in a pot and plants some basil over the top! The basil thrives as she waters it with her tears. Forget romantic comedy. This is romantic horror with a horticultural twist - literature at its best. Henceforth I shall be quivering every time I eat pasta with pesto.


‘To A Mouse’   by Robert Burns

I don’t care that the wee little beastie has been turned out into the cold or that the best laid plans of mice and men go belly-up (my translation of some very weird dialect). What tickles me pink is that the moment I start reading this poem, a funny picture pops into my mind. A burly Scotsman is leaning over his ploughed furrow talking to a mouse, tam o’ shanter in hand, tartan kilt flapping in the breeze. His neighbour is leaning on the fence, mouth downturned, head shaking, mumbling, ‘Och! Robbie’s lost the plot and is talking to filthy vermin again.’


‘My Last Ducchess’     by Robert Browning

This poem is a chilling rant from a jealous, murderous husband who sees a wife as property. A well-written villain is someone the reader should love to hate and this hubby certainly fits the bill. Pfft! Boo! Boom-boom-boom! That’s me spitting and booing and stomping my feet at the despicable duke.


And so, if poetry is meant to paint pictures with words and stir up emotions, I suppose I would have to admit that, yesterday, the cultured stuff did its job!