Pre-19th Century Poets-1

Medieval epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:



Simon Armitage reads selections from his translation of the medieval epic, The Death of King Arthur:



One of the anonymous folk songs collected in Francis James Child’s “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”:

Modernized lyrics to the above song:


High upon Highlands,
and low upon Tay.*
Bonnie George Campbell
rode out on a day.

He saddled, he bridled,
and gallant rode he,
and home came his good horse,
but never came he.

Out came his mother dear,
grieving full sore,
and out came his bonnie bride,
rending her hair.

"The meadow lies green,
the corn is unshorn,
but Bonnie George Campbell
will never return."

Saddled and bridled
and booted rode he,
a plume in his helmet,
a sword at his knee.

But bare came his saddle
all bloody to see.
Oh, home came his good horse,
but never came he.

*Tay = river in Scotland.


“Westron Wynde” (Western Wind), anonymous song from c1350 sung by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart:

Westron wynde when wyll thou blow, [Western wind when will thou blow,
The smalle rayne down can rayne -  [The small rain down can rain -
Cryst, yf my love wer in my armys  [Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I yn my bed agayne!            [And I in my bed again!

--Anonymous Olde English


Tom O’Bedlam reads Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek”:


Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind


Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

by Sir Thomas Wyatt


Anonymous group performs Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music to George Herbert’s poem “The Call”:


Sonnet 23 (Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint)


METHOUGHT I saw my late espoused Saint
   Brought to me like Alcestus from the grave,
   Who Jove's great Son to her glad Husband gave,
   Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint.
Mine as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint
   Purification in the old Law did save,
   And such as yet once more I trust to have
   Full sight of her in Heav'n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
   Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight
   Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shin'd
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
   But O as to embrace me she enclin'd
   I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.

by John Milton


Sonnet 19 (On His Blindness)

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide,-
   Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?
   I fondly ask:-But Patience, to prevent
That murmer, soon replies; God doth not need
  Either man's work, or his own gifts: who best
  Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
  And post o'er land and ocean without rest:-
  They also serve who only stand and wait.

by John Milton


Tom O’Bedlam reads Milton’s “Lycidas”:


Benedict Cumberbatch reads Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man” (All the World’s a Stage), Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”, short extracts from all 3 books of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”, and S. T. Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”:

Actor Paterson Joseph reads Sonnet 29:

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven 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.

by William Shakespeare


Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
       This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
       To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


by William Shakespeare


Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me prov'd,
   I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

by William Shakespeare


Sonnet 129

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

by William Shakespeare


Alan Rickman reads Sonnet 130:


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

by William Shakespeare


Richard Burton reads John Donne’s “Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star:

Simon Schama documentary on John Donne:



A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General

His Grace! impossible! what dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!
And could that mighty warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!
Well, since he’s gone, no matter how,
The last loud trump must wake him now:
And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger,
He’d wish to sleep a little longer.
And could he be indeed so old
As by the newspapers we’re told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
’Twas time in conscience he should die
This world he cumbered long enough;
He burnt his candle to the snuff;
And that’s the reason, some folks think,
He left behind so great a stink.
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow’s sighs, nor orphan’s tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that, his friends may say,
He had those honours in his day.
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

   Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings;
Who float upon the tide of state,
Come hither, and behold your fate.
Let pride be taught by this rebuke,
How very mean a thing’s a Duke;
From all his ill-got honours flung,
Turned to that dirt from whence he sprung.

by Jonathan Swift



The Day of Judgment

With a whirl of thought oppress'd,
I sunk from reverie to rest.
An horrid vision seized my head;
I saw the graves give up their dead!
Jove, arm'd with terrors, bursts the skies,
And thunder roars and lightning flies!
Amaz'd, confus'd, its fate unknown,
The world stands trembling at his throne!
While each pale sinner hung his head,
Jove, nodding, shook the heavens, and said:
"Offending race of human kind,
By nature, reason, learning, blind;
You who, through frailty, stepp'd aside;
And you, who never fell--through pride:
You who in different sects were shamm'd,
And come to see each other damn'd;
(So some folk told you, but they knew
No more of Jove's designs than you;)
--The world's mad business now is o'er,
And I resent these pranks no more.
--I to such blockheads set my wit!
I damn such fools!--Go, go, you're bit."

by Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)



Christopher Smart’s “For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffrey”:

For text to the above poem click here.