The Public Domain, a Treasure Trove of Poetry

Young Girl Reading, Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Admittedly poetry isn’t every person’s cup of tea, however it would be remiss of us not to shed the light on the fabulous ballads, sonnets, poetry and prose the public domain has to offer.

There is such a multitude of variety, style and voices to choose from. Something for every taste, perhaps even the hardcore none-readers, who would rather roll themselves naked in honey and stand in a field of long tongued cows, than read poetry or any book for that matter.

I know people, who fit this description to a tee, except some of them would do the naked honey thing just for shits and giggles.

There are plenty of people, and I include myself, who really enjoy the occasional venture into the more lyrical side of writing. I often find the emotions, expressions and thoughts of a scribe and/or poet are more vivid and evident in poetry than they are in a novel, novella or short story.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost 

William Butler Yeats (1865 -1939), was an Irish poet, often coined one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. He was heavily involved in a movement against the cultural and political influences of the English in Ireland.When you are old speaks of the inability of a woman to embrace the man, who loves her soul, as opposed to her beauty, which has faded with age.

When you are old by W.B. Yeats 
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) was an English poet, known for her children’s poems, acerbic love poems and vivacious ballads.

Her poem Goblin Market is known for its underlying suppressed sexuality, not surprising given the fact Rossetti was known for rejecting her many suitors, because of her strict religious convictions. She also volunteered at St. Mary Magdalene, a house for fallen women and prostitutes in Highgate, for over ten years. A Daughter of Eve is about a prostitute, perhaps someone she came in contact with during those years.

A Daughter Of Eve by Christina G. Rossetti
A fool I was to sleep at noon,
And wake when night is chilly
Beneath the comfortless cold moon;
A fool to pluck my rose too soon,
A fool to snap my lily.

My garden-plot I have not kept;
Faded and all-forsaken,
I weep as I have never wept:
Oh it was summer when I slept,
It’s winter now I waken.

Talk what you please of future spring
And sun-warmed sweet to-morrow: –
Stripped bare of hope and every thing,
No more to laugh, no more to sing,
I sit alone with sorrow.

Robert Lee Frost (1874 – 1963) was an American poet. It is interesting to note that his poetry was actually published in England before it was published in America. He is a four time winner of the Pulitzer Prize of Poetry and was lauded at the time as the America’s unofficial ‘poet laureate.’ The Road Not Taken is perhaps one of his most known, but also quite often understood poems. The choice of two paths, and yet the future on either is unknown, as it often is in life.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference. 

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 – 1900) was an Irish author, poet and playwright. In the early 1890’s he became one of London’s most well-known and indeed infamous playwrights. Oscar is perhaps most infamous for being sent to prison for indecency and sentenced to two years for homosexuality. His brilliant  life and work is often overshadowed by these events, however perhaps their is justice in the fact that his fate brought and still shines a light on the plight of homosexuals. The Ballad of Reading Goal was written after his release from prison.

The Ballad of Reading Goal by Oscar Wilde
He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
‘That fellow’s got to swing.’

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

I only knew what hunted thought
Quickened his step, and why
He looked upon the garish day
With such a wistful eye;
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
by each Let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Emily Jane Brontë (1818 – 1848) was an English poet and novelist, perhaps most notably known for her heart-wrenching tale of love and betrayal, Wuthering Heights. She also wrote as Ellis Bell, and her real name didn’t appear on Wuthering Heights until three years after it was first published. She is of course one of the famous Brontë sisters, who created quite a few literary greats, which are counted as classics. The picture below was painted by her brother Branwell. It can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London. In Love and Friendship, Emily compares and contrasts the emotions of both love and friendship.

Love And Friendship by Emily Brontë
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree,
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most contantly?
The wild-rose briar is sweet in the spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who wil call the wild-briar fair?
Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He may still leave thy garland green.

David Herbert Richards Lawrence (1885 – 1930) was an English poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, literary critic and painter. Most notably known for his risqué Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his work was often subject to censorship and he himself was persecuted for his views and writing. He ended up fleeing straight-laced England in search of countries with a more open view to his ideas. Patience describes the indisputable fact of mortality and the way we cannot escape it.

Patience by D H Lawrence
A wind comes from the north
Blowing little flocks of birds
Like spray across the town,
And a train, roaring forth,
Rushes stampeding down
With cries and flying curds
Of steam, out of the darkening north.

Whither I turn and set
Like a needle steadfastly,
Waiting ever to get
The news that she is free;
But ever fixed, as yet,
To the lode of her agony.

So there you have it, just a wee portion of the fantastic poems the public domain has to offer. I hope you enjoy them, and if not there is always the option of being rolled in honey and licked by cows!

Read Lady Chatterley’s LoverPatience and other poems by D.H. Lawrence, Wuthering Heights, The Works of Emily, Charlotte and Anne by the Brontë sisters, The Poems of Robert Frost or listen to The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, Love Poetry of William Yeats, or listen to poetry by Yeats at Librivox or Spring by Christina Rossetti, Poems by Christina Rosetti, listen to books by Oscar Wilde or read De Profundis.

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