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Favourite Victorian Poems:


Instead of recommending you more Victorian novels (see here), I thought I’d pay tribute to a form of literature that I tend to neglect: poetry. It’s not that I don’t like poetry, it’s just not my favourite thing to read. I’d rather read a thousand page realist novel than a few stanzas of poetry – that’s just the way it is. But, amongst the few Victorian poems that I have read, I’ve managed to find a couple that really resonate with me, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Before I get into that, though, I want to pay homage to the Dover Thrift Edition of English Victorian Poetry: An Anthology edited by Paul Negri. This is a brilliant collection of the most celebrated poems and poets of the century. Inside, you’ll find the likes of Emily Brontë, Matthew Arnold, Oscar Wilde and Christina Rosetti, to name but a few. It’s what introduced me to Victorian poetry, and so I want to recommend it to you.

Anyway, let’s get into it…

Emily Brontë’s ‘The bluebell is the sweetest flower…’

I couldn’t have a recommendations post without mentioning the Brontës, now could I? Emily’s ‘The bluebell is the sweetest flower’ is, quite possibly, my favourite poem from this century. I always find myself revisiting it, taking new meaning from it and understanding Emily that little bit more. I really couldn’t recommend it enough.

The poem not only details the fickleness of nature, but it explores the effect that it can have on people. It opens with the liveliness of nature; the flowers sway back-and-forth in the breeze, and our narrator finds comfort in this. Things quickly escalate though, and nature’s beauty perishes with the harsh condition of the seasons. The vegetation, that once brought such joy, has faded to nothing, and the narrator cannot possibly find comfort in this barren landscape. This poem really captures the power of poetry, as the juxtaposing images leaves you literally stunned.

Charlotte Brontë’s ‘We wove a web in childhood…’

You may roll your eyes and ask ‘another Brontë poem, Lauren?‘ but I couldn’t not mention this. Charlotte’s ‘We wove a web in childhood’ is a poem that anyone can enjoy because, in some way or another, we can all connect to it. It’s Charlotte’s farewell to Angria, her juvenile world. She no longer wishes to write her childhood stories. It’s a bittersweet poem, and is so elegantly written.

I love the opening stanzas, which I shall quote in full here:

We wove a web in childhood / a web of sunny air; / we dug a spring in infancy, / of water pure and fair. / We sowed in youth a mustard seed, / we cut an almond rod. / We are now grown up to a riper age; / are they withered in the sod? / Are they blighted failed and faded? / Are they mouldered back to clay? / For life is darkly shaded, / and its joys fleet fast away.

The narrator seems comforted in their childhood imagination, but they know that it’s ‘[fleeting] fast away’ with age. They cannot find comfort in this forever, surely? (Although, Emily may care to disagree).

John Clare’s ‘Evening Primrose’

I remember stumbling across this in a poetry collection titled Ode to Flowers. I couldn’t get over how beautifully Clare wrote about flowers (and I’m a harsh critic – I love flowers). The poem details the life cycle of a primrose, shifting from blooming to withering in a matter of seconds.

Again, much like the Emily poem, the tone quickly shifts. The narrator builds the blooming of the primrose up and up for thirteen lines, describing it in minute detail: ‘the evening primrose opes anew, / its delicate blossoms to the dew‘. It doesn’t know the ‘beauty that it possesses‘, so the narrator pens a sonnet for it. But, it’s probably best that it doesn’t know, because it eventually ‘faints and withers and is gone‘. Just like that the flower and poem ends.

Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’

Now, this is a weird one. When reading ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, I expected to find a nice love poem. But, no. Browning took it in a completely different direction. It opens on a stormy night, and Porphyria comes home. She lights the fire and starts chatting with the narrator. They cuddle. He realises how much Porphyria loves him, and strangles her with her hair. Instead of being rational and freaking out, he spoons her dead corpse.

I know, right? What a poem! But I really enjoyed reading and analysing it. It just doesn’t seem like a Victorian poem, and I think that’s what draws me in. It’s refreshing for the period, but it still holds on to a lot of those traditional ideas, such as the weakness of women and the authority of men. I definitely recommend reading it – it’s relatively short!

Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’

I couldn’t recommend Victorian poetry if I didn’t mention Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’. I must say, it’s quite a long poem but it’s totally worth reading it. It tells the tale of Laura and Lizzie, two sisters, who are tempted with fruit by goblin merchants. Rossetti explores a whole host of themes, including sin, sex and womanhood.

There’s so much packed into this poem; I’m always finding new meaning each time I read it, and I’m always find new images and symbolism tucked away in each stanza. It’s just a fun and whimsical read, but there’s a deeper meaning to it if you care to find it.

…and here are my favourite Victorian poems! As I said before, poetry isn’t my favourite form of writing and I don’t tend to enjoy Victorian poetry as much as, let’s say, Romantic poetry. These five poems, however, have managed to stick with me, so that must be saying something!

What’s your favourite Victorian poet? or poem? Any will do, so let me know in the comments and I can check it out!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X


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