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The Well Read Poem

Thomas Banks

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Because reading is interpretation, The Well Read Poem aims to teach you how to read with understanding! Hosted by poet Thomas Banks of The House of Humane Letters, these short episodes will introduce you to both well-known and obscure poets and will focus on daily recitation, historical and intellectual background, elements of poetry, light explication, and more! Play this podcast daily and practice reciting! The next week, get a new poem. Grow in your understanding and love of poetry by learning how to read well! Brought to you by The Literary Life Podcast.

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11/15/21 • 16 min

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In this sixth season of The Well Read Poem, we will read a number of examples of classic satire in verse. English poetry is particularly rich in satire, and we will take a close look at some of the best instances of literary mockery that the past several centuries have bequeathed to us. Some of these are playfully teasing, while others are deliberately savage. All of them taken together, I trust, will provide a happy introduction to the fine art of verbal annihilation. Today’s poem is a portrait piece by the preeminent neoclassical poet, Alexander Pope. Poem begins at timestamp 13:38.

Atticus

by Alexander Pope

Peace to all such! but were there one whose fire True genius kindles, and fair fame inspires;

Blest with each talent, and each art to please, And born to write, converse, and live with ease Should such a man, too fond to rule alone, Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne, View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes, And hate for arts that caused himself to rise;

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer; Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike, Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike; Alike reserved to blame, or to commend, A timorous foe, and a suspicious friend; Dreading e'en fools, by flatterers besieged, And so obliging, that he ne'er obliged; Like Cato, give his little senate laws, And sit attentive to his own applause: While wits and Templars every sentence raise. And wonder with a foolish face of praise--

Who but must laugh, if such a man there be? Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?

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02/20/23 • 12 min

Welcome back to another season of the Well-Read Poem! In this series we will be reading six poems about writers, some of them well-known, some of them not as well known. Our aim in this season is to give listeners some insight into the lives, minds, and imaginations of authors long deceased, and some understanding of what they have meant to their fellow scribes.

Today's poem is “Edward Lear” by W. H. Auden. Lear was more than just a well-known nonsense poet, but was a talented painter and musician in his own right. Poem begins at timestamp 10:05.

Edward Lear

by W. H. Auden

Left by his friend to breakfast alone on the white Italian shore, his Terrible Demon arose Over his shoulder; he wept to himself in the night, A dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose.

The legions of cruel inquisitive They Were so many and big like dogs: he was upset By Germans and boats; affection was miles away: But guided by tears he successfully reached his Regret.

How prodigiuous the welcome was. Flowers took his hat And bore him off to introduce him to the tongs; The demon's false nose made the table laugh; a cat Soon had him waltzing madly, let him squeeze her hand; Words pushed him to the piano to sing comic songs;

And children swarmed to him like settlers. He became a land.

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In this sixth season of The Well Read Poem, we will read a number of examples of classic satire in verse. English poetry is particularly rich in satire, and we will take a close look at some of the best instances of literary mockery that the past several centuries have bequeathed to us. Some of these are playfully teasing, while others are deliberately savage. All of them taken together, I trust, will provide a happy introduction to the fine art of verbal annihilation. Today’s poem is a selection from “A Satire Against Mankind” by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Poem begins at timestamp 3:50.

Selection from “A Satire Against Mankind”

by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Were I - who to my cost already am One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man - A spirit free to choose for my own share What sort of flesh and blood I pleased to wear, I'd be a dog, a monkey, or a bear, Or anything but that vain animal, Who is so proud of being rational. His senses are too gross; and he'll contrive A sixth, to contradict the other five; And before certain instinct will prefer Reason, which fifty times for one does err. Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind, Which leaving light of nature, sense, behind, Pathless and dangerous wand'ring ways it takes, Through Error's fenny bogs and thorny brakes; Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain Mountains of whimsey's, heaped in his own brain; Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down, Into Doubt's boundless sea where, like to drown, Books bear him up awhile, and make him try To swim with bladders of Philosophy; In hopes still to o'ertake the escaping light; The vapour dances, in his dancing sight, Till spent, it leaves him to eternal night. Then old age and experience, hand in hand, Lead him to death, make him to understand, After a search so painful, and so long, That all his life he has been in the wrong: Huddled In dirt the reasoning engine lies, Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.

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In this sixth season of The Well Read Poem, we will read a number of examples of classic satire in verse. English poetry is particularly rich in satire, and we will take a close look at some of the best instances of literary mockery that the past several centuries have bequeathed to us. Some of these are playfully teasing, while others are deliberately savage. All of them taken together, I trust, will provide a happy introduction to the fine art of verbal annihilation. Today’s poem is "A Sonnet (Two Voices Are There)" by James Kenneth Stephenson. Poem begins at timestamp 3:51.

A Sonnet (Two Voices Are There)

by James Kenneth Stephenson

Two voices are there: one is of the deep; It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody, Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea, Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep: And one is of an old half-witted sheep Which bleats articulate monotony, And indicates that two and one are three, That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep: And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes, The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst: At other times -- good Lord! I'd rather be Quite unacquainted with the A.B.C. Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.

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01/10/22 • 10 min

In this seventh season, we are going to read six poems about romantic love. Love may seem to be the most fundamental subject for poetry, but interestingly, it is not. When we consider the great poetic traditions of almost any people, we find that love is by no means the first matter that has inspired their poets. The poems we will read together come from several different periods in time, and I would like to examine, among other things, how the language of romance has changed in the English-speaking world over the centuries. Today's piece is "A Farewell to Arms" by George Peele. Poem begins at timestamp 5:28.

A Farewell to Arms

by George Peele

HIS golden locks Time hath to silver turn’d; O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing! His youth ’gainst time and age hath ever spurn’d, But spurn’d in vain; youth waneth by increasing: Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen; Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees; And, lovers’ sonnets turn’d to holy psalms, A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees, And feed on prayers, which are Age his alms: But though from court to cottage he depart, His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell, He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song,— ‘Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well, Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.’ Goddess, allow this aged man his right To be your beadsman now that was your knight.

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In this seventh season, we are going to read six poems about romantic love. Love may seem to be the most fundamental subject for poetry, but interestingly, it is not. When we consider the great poetic traditions of almost any people, we find that love is by no means the first matter that has inspired their poets. The poems we will read together come from several different periods in time, and I would like to examine, among other things, how the language of romance has changed in the English-speaking world over the centuries. Today's piece is "Sonnet 130: My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun" by William Shakespeare. Poem begins at timestamp 5:13.

Sonnet 130: My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun

by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.

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In this sixth season of The Well Read Poem, we will read a number of examples of classic satire in verse. English poetry is particularly rich in satire, and we will take a close look at some of the best instances of literary mockery that the past several centuries have bequeathed to us. Some of these are playfully teasing, while others are deliberately savage. All of them taken together, I trust, will provide a happy introduction to the fine art of verbal annihilation. Today’s selection is from a longer piece called Absalom and Achitophel, by John Dryden. This passage titled Zimri is a satirical character sketch of the Duke of Buckingham. Poem begins at timestamp 5:19.

"Zimri" from "Absalom and Achitophel"

by John Dryden

A numerous host of dreaming saints succeed; Of the true old enthusiastic breed: 'Gainst form and order they their pow'r employ; Nothing to build, and all things to destroy. But far more numerous was the herd of such, Who think too little, and who talk too much. These, out of mere instinct, they knew not why, Ador'd their father's God, and property: And by the same blind benefit of fate, The Devil and the Jebusite did hate: Born to be saved even in their own despite; Because they could not help believing right. Such were the tools; but a whole Hydra more Remains, of sprouting heads too long, to score. Some of their chiefs were princes of the land: In the first rank of these did Zimri stand: A man so various, that he seem'd to be Not one, but all Mankind's Epitome. Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong; Was everything by starts, and nothing long: But in the course of one revolving moon, Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon: Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking; Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking. Blest madman, who could every hour employ, With something new to wish, or to enjoy! Railing and praising were his usual themes; And both (to show his judgment) in extremes: So over violent, or over civil, That every man, with him, was god or devil. In squandering wealth was his peculiar art: Nothing went unrewarded, but desert. Beggar'd by fools, whom still he found too late: He had his jest, and they had his estate. He laugh'd himself from court; then sought relief By forming parties, but could ne'er be chief: For, spite of him, the weight of business fell On Absalom and wise Achitophel: Thus, wicked but in will, of means bereft, He left not faction, but of that was left.

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01/15/21 • 13 min

Because reading is interpretation, The Well Read Poem aims to teach you how to read with understanding! Hosted by poet Thomas Banks of The House of Humane Letters, these short episodes will introduce you to both well-known and obscure poets and will focus on daily recitation, historical and intellectual background, elements of poetry, light explication, and more!

Play this podcast daily and practice reciting! The next week, get a new poem. Grow in your understanding and love of poetry by learning how to read well! Brought to you by The Literary Life Podcast.

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller, Knocking on the moonlit door; And his horse in the silence champ’d the grasses Of the forest’s ferny floor: And a bird flew up out of the turret, Above the Traveller’s head: And he smote upon the door again a second time; ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said. But no one descended to the Traveller; No head from the leaf-fringed sill Lean’d over and look’d into his grey eyes, Where he stood perplex’d and still. But only a host of phantom listeners That dwelt in the lone house then Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight To that voice from the world of men: Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, That goes down to the empty hall, Hearkening in an air stirr’d and shaken By the lonely Traveller’s call. And he felt in his heart their strangeness, Their stillness answering his cry, While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf, ’Neath the starr’d and leafy sky; For he suddenly smote on the door, even Louder, and lifted his head:— ’Tell them I came, and no one answer’d, ’That I kept my word,’ he said. Never the least stir made the listeners, Though every word he spake Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house From the one man left awake: Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup, And the sound of iron on stone, And how the silence surged softly backward, When the plunging hoofs were gone.

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In this sixth season of The Well Read Poem, we will read a number of examples of classic satire in verse. English poetry is particularly rich in satire, and we will take a close look at some of the best instances of literary mockery that the past several centuries have bequeathed to us. Some of these are playfully teasing, while others are deliberately savage. All of them taken together, I trust, will provide a happy introduction to the fine art of verbal annihilation. Today’s poem is “To a Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitator of His and Mine” by William Butler Yeats. Poem begins at timestamp 7:01.

To a Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitator of His and Mine

by William Butler Yeats

YOU say, as I have often given tongue In praise of what another's said or sung, 'Twere politic to do the like by these; But was there ever dog that praised his fleas?

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02/27/23 • 11 min

Welcome back to our final poem in this eleventh season of the Well-Read Poem! In this series we have been reading poems about writers, by writers, some of them well-known, some of them not as well known. Our aim in this season is to give listeners some insight into the lives, minds, and imaginations of authors long deceased, and some understanding of what they have meant to their fellow scribes.

Today's poem is “On Shakespeare, 1630” by John Milton. Poem begins at timestamp 5:17.

On Shakespeare, 1630

by John Milton

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones, The labor of an age in pilèd stones, Or that his hallowed relics should be hid Under a star-ypointing pyramid? Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame, What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name? Thou in our wonder and astonishment Hast built thyself a live-long monument. For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art, Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book Those Delphic lines with deep impression took, Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving, Dost make us marble with too much conceiving; And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie, That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

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