I’m not the type of person who can read a book of poetry straight through. I need historical context, the poet’s background, and usually a lively class discussion to really understand and appreciate a poem.
I really thought nothing of poetry until junior year of high school when our English coursework was British literature. We read Shakespeare’s sonnets, picked away at Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, and reveled over the Romantic poets. So far in college, I haven’t read much poetry that was influential as pieces from junior year, but I somewhat stupidly revisited “Tintern Abbey” for an essay assignment (essays on poems can be hard).
I recently discovered the calming effects of certain poems when they’re read aloud. A YouTube search can result in hundreds of beautifully voiced, usually British men reading some of the greatest poems ever. I admit to downloading more than a few Tom Hiddleston readings to my iPod – seriously, they’re insanely relaxing to listen to.
“Desiderata”, by Max Ehrmann
I hadn’t heard of this poem before finding it but quickly and deeply fell in love with it. It also doesn’t hurt that Tom Hiddleston’s voice (and, you know, all of him in general) is a godsend. Max Ehrmann’s prose is gorgeously simple, but it is also so relatable and reassuring. I love to listen to it before I go to sleep, because my head noticeably clears and my worries diminish.
The Seven Ages of Man, by William Shakespeare
For the longest time I thought that this Shakespeare soliloquy was from The Tempest because I could’ve sworn that I studied it as we read the play in high school. It’s actually from As You Like It, taking the audience through humans’ various life stages. Benedict Cumberbatch’s reading is accompanied by some nice music, which really stirs up the feels.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, by T.S. Eliot
So this is T.S. Eliot reading his own poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and it is creepy. I’ve studied this poem twice in school – one professor didn’t hesitate to whip out this recording while another refused to play it because of how unsettling it was. Initially, this poem was a little “meh” for me, but, like I said, class discussions usually make or break a piece for me, and I loved this after talking about it.
“Death Be Not Proud”, by John Donne
Unlike some of his other work, this John Donne sonnet does not need much analysis for readers to understand it. This was also covered in my junior English class at a time when I had experienced a lot of loss in my family. Its words are comforting, reminding you that death will never be the true victor.
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”, by Wilfred Owen
I love the famed World War I poems and have had to read them several times in school. This one is dramatic, and Christopher Eccleston (the Ninth Doctor) does an amazing job reciting it.
What about you? Are any specific poems or recitals that you love?