Poet’s Corner in Westminster

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medium_Chaucer's Tomb

The great and good of the literary world are buried and are commemorated at the south transept of Westminster Abbey. This part of the Abbey is better known as Poet’s corner. The first poet to be interred here was Geoffrey Caucher. He held several positions in the King’s household and in 1399 was awarded the lease of a tenement in the garden of the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey, where he died in 1400. Still in favour with the Royal Court for his duties to King and country, Chaucer was granted a burial spot in this part of the Abbey. It was not until Edmond Spencer was buried close to Chaucer in 1598, that the concept of poets’ corner began to take place. The poet William Mason raised a subscription to pay for a marble memorial to be erected to Spenser near Chaucer’s tomb. It reads:

“Here close to Chaucer lies Spencer; Nearest to him in genius, so nearest to him in burial. Here near Chaucer, O poet Spencer, you will join a poet, even closer to him in your verse than in your tomb, While you were living, English poesy lived and clapped her hands, now at the point of death, you dying, she fears to die.”

Spencer was later followed by Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare and John Dryden, among many others. Ben Jonson was buried standing up because of a lack of funds to pay for his tomb. His thigh bone, it has been said, was exposed twice during the nineteenth century causing quite a stir! In 2011 a memorial stone to Ted Hughes was unveiled in the Abbey and close to his mentor T.S Eliot.

 

In Westminster Abbey

By John Betjeman

 

Let me take this other glove off

As the vox humana swells,

And the beauteous fields of Eden

Bask beneath the Abbey bells.

Here, where England’s statesmen lie,

Listen to a lady’s cry.

 

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,

Spare their women for Thy Sake,

And if that is not too easy

We will pardon Thy Mistake.

But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,

Don’t let anyone bomb me.

 

Keep our Empire undismembered

Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,

Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,

Honduras and Togoland;

Protect them Lord in all their fights,

And, even more, protect the whites.

 

Think of what our Nation stands for,

Books from Boots’ and country lanes,

Free speech, free passes, class distinction,

Democracy and proper drains.

Lord, put beneath Thy special care

One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

 

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,

I have done no major crime;

Now I’ll come to Evening Service

Whensoever I have the time.

So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,

And do not let my shares go down.

 

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,

Help our lads to win the war,

Send white feathers to the cowards

Join the Women’s Army Corps,

Then wash the steps around Thy Throne

In the Eternal Safety Zone.

 

Now I feel a little better,

What a treat to hear Thy Word,

Where the bones of leading statesmen

Have so often been interr’d.

And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait

Because I have a luncheon date.

 

A Dead Statesman

By Rudyard Kipling

 

I could not dig; I dared not rob:

Therefore I lied to please the mob.

Now all my lies are proved untrue

And I must face the men I slew.

What tale shall serve me here among

Mine angry and defrauded young?

 

First Love

By John Clare

 

I ne’er was struck before that hour

With love so sudden and so sweet,

Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower

And stole my heart away complete.

My face turned pale as deadly pale,

My legs refused to walk away,

And when she looked, what could I ail?

My life and all seemed turned to clay.

 

And then my blood rushed to my face

And took my eyesight quite away,

The trees and bushes round the place

Seemed midnight at noonday.

I could not see a single thing,

Words from my eyes did start—

They spoke as chords do from the string,

And blood burnt round my heart.

 

Are flowers the winter’s choice?

Is love’s bed always snow?

She seemed to hear my silent voice,

Not love’s appeals to know.

I never saw so sweet a face

As that I stood before.

My heart has left its dwelling-place

And can return no more.

 

Two Sides of War

By Grantland Rice

 

All wars are planned by older men

In council rooms apart,

Who call for greater armament

And map the battle chart.

 

But out along the shattered field

Where golden dreams turn gray,

How very young the faces were

Where all the dead men lay.

 

Portly and solemn in their pride,

The elders cast their vote

For this or that, or something else,

That sounds the martial note.

 

But where their sightless eyes stare out

Beyond life’s vanished toys,

I’ve noticed nearly all the dead

Were hardly more than boys

 

READ  Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy of Arts
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