Which Poem Most Impressed You During Your School Days – And Why?

Micheal O’Siadhail

My head is spinning ... it could stop at John Donne's battered heart, his slow dance with death - Byron - it could stop at Shelley's colours: "yellow and black and pale and hector red" ... I think ... The "angels of rain and lightning" have always been with me ... Keats was a drug, his excess was success to me at 16 in my effort to sit closer to Maeve O'Reagan ... he sort of stuck us together ... Youths abandoned we felt "rooted" in the stony grey soil of Kavanagh's ordinary madness: to write and to "pray so unselfconsciously ... " we felt soaked by Clarke and Kinsella ... I feared Yeats like God ... they dressed the same ... it was 'among school children' that I daydreamed a Tower where I could look over the length and breadth of his poems ... anyway ... I may be of Ireland but it was an American whose words would ring like a bell in my heaven ... and hell ... in 1974, "I felt a funeral in my brain ... " this procession of words followed me to a graves ide then home to a house no longer haunted by my mother ... a place as dry and as cold as Emily Dickenson's poem – I lived there – the sound of her words made sense to me, the terse verse, the dashes with occasional splashes, the knee jerk movement of her metre, the pregnant pauses as deep as the grave she was digging for herself. .. her poem, a slow march with wide silences between bass drum and snare, keeping time like a slow blinking eye that would dare to look death straight in the face, when all I wanted to do was – "walk away."–

Jonathan Philbin Bowman
The first poetry book I remember after A. A. Milne and Dr. Seuss was a present from my father. It was a Penguin anthology of fiction, poems, and drawings called How Things Work. Carl Sandtmrg, Miroslav Holub and William Carlos Williams were memorable contributors. Something about the ability to search for the right screw under the sofa. Both Holub and Williams had poems called "Wings".

Gay Byrne
     A young Lochinvar is come out of the West
     Through all the wide border his steed was the best
     And save his great broadsword he weapons had none
     He rode all unarmed and he rode all alone.

                                                –'Lochinavar' by Walter Scott.
I remember "Lochinvar" well mainly because I was very young when I learnt it. It had great appeal for a young boy because it had a catchy rhythm and rhyme and a definite storyline. You can't beat chivalry, romance and daring to fuel a youthful sense of adventure.

Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich 
My favourite poem at school was 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'. In the North, it was one of the few poems on our course by an Irish author. Having been brought up in the midst of lakes, I could never read it without hearing the lake water lapping in my memory and my heart.

Una Claffey
A favourite anything is always difficult to choose – mostly the good things in life come in variety. But for sheer evocative power, I always loved Wordsworth's 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey'. I loved all his work, maybe because it wasn't too obscure for a schoolgirl! His passion for nature - his ability to recall experiences, and his insight into the human condition all appealed to me enormously and have stayed with me.

Bernadette Greevy
Certain poems learnt in childhood continue to grip my imagination. Primary among those is Tennyson's "The Lady of Shallot". He paints a series of word pictures unforgettable in their dream-like splendour and conjures up vividly the lost idyllic world of Camelot.
I weep at the tragic fate of the Lady locked within her terrible and mysterious curse: I still sigh at the missed promise of a great potential romance between her and the noble Lancelot.

     He said she has a lovely face.
     God in his mercy grant her grace.
     The Lady of Shallot.

Michael D. Higgins
My memory of learning poetry at school, of forced curricular appreciation, I have previously described as being akin to gutting fish - necessary, distasteful but requiring skill. I recall liking Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' and Wordsworth's 'Michael', but I read Shelley in an extra-curricular way. I like his rebellious 'Ode to the West Wind' and still remember the fifth verse with the lines:
      ''Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth, Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind. "
I liked the passion. The political import I was to appreciate later. There was no place for that in what was accurately called "our schooling" rather than our "education".

John Kelleher
Thirty years on, I remember every line of Gerard Manley Hopkin's 'Pied Beauty' – a hymn of praise to the beauty of the natural order and its creator. For me, it is simple, direct, spare and beautiful. Greenpeace should adopt it!

Mick Lally
Ar chul mo thi-se bhi gairdin beag sailighe a bhi ina fhasach beag i ngeall ar sclatai. I gcuinne amhain bhi banc dramhaille citeal dubh gan gob mar chat basaithe ann. Nior leigh me "Cui an ti" an Riordanaigh ariamh gan gairdin seo na sailighe a fheiceal; ni fheicim an gairdin seo ariamh gan beannu do Shean 6 Riordain.

Kevin Moran
My best-remembered poem is 'Daffodils' by William Wordsworth. I remember this poem vividly on account of the imagery it conjured up for me as a child. My heart danced with the daffodils as Wordsworth's did. Every word in the poem made an impact. It still evokes excitement as I recall it, and I can recite every word as I travel again:
      ... over vales and hills.
      When all at once I saw a crowd,
      host, of golden daffodils
and look along 'the bay' at the beautiful sight summoned up by Wordsworth.

Rev. Ian Paisley
One of the poems which most impressed me at school was Longfellow's 'The Village Blacksmith'. The reason for this was that each school day, I had the personal experience of verse four:
     And children coming home from school
     Look in at the open door:
     They love to see the flaming forge
     And hear the bellows roar.
     And catch the burning sparks that fly
     Like Chaff from a threshing floor.

In Ballymena (the town I have now the honour to represent in the British House of Commons) when I went to the Model School on the Ballymoney Road from my home on the Waveney Road, I had to pass the town's forge in George Street, and without fail lingered with my companions to watch the blacksmith at work. That everyday experience gave me an interest in the poem and its other verses made a deep impression on my heart.
The lessons which need to be learned in life, both spiritual and social, are enshrined therein:
     Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend,
     For the lesson thou hast taught.
     Thus at the flaming forge of life
     Our fortunes must be wrought;
     Thus on its sound anvil shaped
     Each burning deed and thought.

I am glad Longfellow wrote these simple but sublime verses.

Shane Ross
It has to be 'The Daffodils'. Maybe it is because the season has just passed that the poem seems so rich. But, uncharacteristically, I remember the words! And the simplicity, the colour, and the workshops of nature left a permanent pleasure which repeats itself annually.

Tony Ryan
One of the poems that hauntingly remains in my mind is ''An Spaílpín Fanách''. I am still astonished that I can recall the words. I was probably no more than ten years of age when I first learned it at school. The system of teaching it to us was brutally simple; we recited it over and over and over again until we could almost recite it backwards.
There are many, many things that I learned at primary school that I have forgotten, but for reasons which I cannot fully explain, 'An Spaílpín Fanách' somehow or other hangs in there. The fact that it had a local reference to Cashel probably helped, but more importantly, the obvious indignity the poem evokes. It was also easy, growing up in a rural part of Tipperary, to identify with the labourer who travelled to the fair in search of a few days' work. Even at the age of ten, the class could identify with the sense of defiance, and we resolved that we would never, never have to go to Cashel to beg for work.
     Go deo deo arís ní raghad go Caiseal
     ag díol ná ag reic mo shláinte.
     Ná ar mhargadh na saoire im shuí cois falla
     im scaoine ar leataoibh sráide:
     bodairí na tíre ag tíocht ar a gcapall
     ghá fhiafraí an bhfuilim híreálta:
     Ó, téanam chun siúil tá an cúrsa fada
     seo ar siúl an Spailpín Fánach.

Page 20, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 26