Almanac Poetry: Desert Island Poetry – What is your favourite poem to be lost with?





Previously at the Footy Almanac we have had fun with our Desert Island series. We’ve devised  lists of music, books, food, wine, and people we would like to be marooned with on a desert island, and now the Almanac would like to hear from you with your suggestions of  favourite poetry you would  like to be lost with. To start the ball rolling, here is one of my favourite poems by Philip Larkin.



Ocean, Humphrey; Philip Larkin; National Portrait Gallery, London;
image: Wiki Commons


The North Ship


I saw three ships go sailing by,

Over the sea, the lifting sea,

And the wind rose in the morning sky,

And one was rigged for a long journey.


The first ship turned towards the west,

Over the sea, the running sea,

And by the wind was all possessed

And carried to a rich country.


The second ship turned towards the east,

Over the sea, the quaking sea,

And the wind hunted it like a beast

To anchor in captivity.


The third ship drove towards the north,

Over the sea, the darkening sea,

But no breath of wind came forth,

And the decks shone frostily.


The northern sky rose high and black

Over the proud unfruitful sea,

East and west the ships came back

Happily or unhappily:


But the third went wide and far

Into an unforgiving sea

Under a fire-spilling star,

And it was rigged for a long journey.


Philip Larkin




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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Suburban Lovers by Bruce Dawe for many reasons but especially these lines, “Her thoughts lie/ kitten-curled in his” and “stars now have flown up out of the east.”

    Excellent idea Col.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Col. I love Larkin, particularly stuff like “The Whitsun Weddings”, “An Arundel Tomb”, “Dublinesque”, “The Dance”, “This Be The Verse”, “Aubade” … I could go on and on … though for my Desert Island Poetry, I would like to go really big and say The Complete Works of William Shakespeare; after all, the plays (on the whole) are written in blank verse and there are also songs in some of them – also, the massive volume contains his sonnets and longer poems – everything for a lifetime of island reading is here!

  3. Sonnet 29

    When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
    I all alone beweep my outcast state,
    And trouble deaf heav’n with my bootless cries,
    And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
    Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
    With what I most enjoy contented least;
    Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
    Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
    Like to the lark at break of day arising
    From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate.
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

  4. I’d probably go for Bertolt Brecht’s, ‘Questions from a worker who reads’.


  5. Either:

    I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-grey,
    And Winter’s dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
    The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
    And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

    The land’s sharp features seemed to be
    The Century’s corpse outleant,
    His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
    The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
    And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

    At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
    In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
    An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
    Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

    So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
    Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
    That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
    Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

    Or this:

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain

  6. A Perfect Mess
    For David Freedman

    I read somewhere
    that if pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
    Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
    the whole city would stop, it would stop.
    Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
    an epic gridlock not even a cat
    could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
    of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
    the unprecedented gall
    of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
    up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
    They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
    as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
    the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
    as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
    it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
    For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
    paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
    And it was my pleasure to witness a not
    insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
    umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
    still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
    the sails of some vast armada.
    And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
    to accompany the piano movers.
    each holding what might have once been
    lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
    the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
    under the corner awning,
    in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
    zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
    around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
    for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
    to my deserted block with its famously high
    subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
    longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
    opened its mouth to drink from on high…

  7. The Song of Wandering Aengus
    (William Yeats)

    I went out to the hazel wood,
    Because a fire was in my head,
    And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
    And hooked a berry to a thread;
    And when white moths were on the wing,
    And moth-like stars were flickering out,
    I dropped the berry in a stream
    And caught a little silver trout.

    When I had laid it on the floor
    I went to blow the fire a-flame,
    But something rustled on the floor,
    And someone called me by my name:
    It had become a glimmering girl
    With apple blossom in her hair
    Who called me by my name and ran
    And faded through the brightening air.

    Though I am old with wandering
    Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
    I will find out where she has gone,
    And kiss her lips and take her hands;
    And walk among long dappled grass,
    And pluck till time and times are done,
    The silver apples of the moon,
    The golden apples of the sun.

  8. Can I be greedy and select two? Thanks, Col.

    An Irish Airman foresees his death by W.B. Yeats

    I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere among the clouds above;
    Those that I fight I do not hate,
    Those that I guard I do not love;
    My country is Kiltartan Cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
    No likely end could bring them loss
    Or leave them happier than before.
    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind
    In balance with this life, this death.

    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 champed 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
    Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
    Where he stood perplexed 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 stirred 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 starred and leafy sky;
    For he suddenly smote on the door, even
    Louder, and lifted his head:—
    ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
    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.

  9. I suppose i should include Brecht’s wonderful words,seeing as i find the poem so inspiring.

    Questions from a worker who reads. Bertolt Brecht.

    Who built Thebes of the 7 gates?
    In the books you will read the names of kings.
    Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?

    And Babylon,many times demolished,
    Who raised it up so many times?

    In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live?
    Where, the evening the Great Wall of China was finished,did the masons go?

    Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
    Who erected them?

    Over whom did the Caesars triumph?
    Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants?

    Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
    The drowning still called out for their slaves.

    The young Alexander conquered Italy.
    Was he alone?

    Caesar defeated the Gauls.
    Did he not even have a cook with him?

    Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
    Was he the only one to weep?

    Frederick the 2nd won the 7 years war.
    Who else won it?

    Every page a victory.
    Who cooked the feast for the victors?

    Every 10 years a great man.
    Who paid the bill?

    So many reports.

    So many questions.


  10. Mark Poustie says

    Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, a play for voices, poetry but strictly perhaps not a poem. Alternatively, Barbecue by Peter Kogan:

    Which of us will one day sit alone
    In that last isolation nothing mends,
    Remembering a long-lost afternoon
    And a casual gathering of friends?

    The women, milky breasted, beautiful
    Watching their children toddle on the grass;
    The men, skylarking with a bat and ball
    Until the Sunday sun begins to pass…

    Decades on, this sun will re-emerge
    With aching clarity in someone’s mind,
    To shake and grieve them in their senile age
    And shine the brighter when the eyes are blind

    For one amongst us will outlive the rest
    And weep to think, perhaps at ninety-five,
    About this knife-edged brilliance of the past
    When all of us were happy and alive

    And so, my friends, let’s cling together now
    Against the future that we cannot see
    Let’s love each other, for we cannot know
    Who the condemned survivor is to be

  11. Ithaca, by Cavafy.
    Churchgoing, by Larkin.
    Alonso to Ferdinand, by Auden.
    The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge
    Ode on a Grecian Urn, by Keats.

    Am I cheating? Who am I forgetting? Billy Collins. This is thankless… if not for fresh discoveries. So thank you Peter B. I’d never heard of Mary Karr. But will ravish her now. That’s a beauty.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    I couldn’t resist including a single poem, like some others. It’s a difficult piece – I’ve puzzled over it and admired it for years – but the sheer beauty of its earlyish seventeenth century language is certainly one of the things that repeatedly draws me to it.

    Aire and Angels (John Donne, published 1633)

    TWICE or thrice had I loved thee,
    Before I knew thy face or name;
    So in a voice, so in a shapelesse flame,
    Angells affect us oft, and worship’d bee;
    Still when, to where thou wert, I came, 5
    Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
    But since my soule, whose child love is,
    Takes limmes of flesh, and else could nothing doe,
    More subtile then the parent is,
    Love must not be, but take a body too, 10
    And therefore what thou wert, and who,
    I bid Love aske, and now
    That it assume thy body, I allow,
    And fixe it selfe in thy lip, eye, and brow.

    Whilst thus to ballast love, I thought, 15
    And so more steddily to have gone,
    With wares which would sinke admiration,
    I saw, I had loves pinnace overfraught,
    Ev’ry thy haire for love to worke upon
    Is much too much, some fitter must be sought; 20
    For, nor in nothing, nor in things
    Extreme, and scatt’ring bright, can love inhere;
    Then as an Angell, face, and wings
    Of aire, not pure as it, yet pure doth weare,
    So thy love may be my loves spheare; 25
    Just such disparitie
    As is twixt Aire and Angells puritie,
    ‘Twixt womens love, and mens will ever bee.

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