A post inspired by the reading event I attended at Westonbirt School last week
Last Thursday I spent a very pleasant evening at Westonbirt School judging the Inter-House Reading Competition, a pleasant and friendly contest between the pupils of this private boarding and day school for girls, just down the road from where I live. Cosy in the elegant bubble that is the beautiful library of this Grade I listed former stately home, I was glad to escape for a little while from the frightening madness that is our current political scene.
Twenty competitors, representing their houses, had to choose and prepare a text for reading, and there was a pleasing mix of old favourites such as Roald Dahl’s Matilda and JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit nestling among many novels that were entirely new to me.
Just two of them preferred to read a poem, and it was only this afternoon, back in the rainy, real world, that I realised I’d missed a trick. Although I thought to point out to them the value of books and reading as comfort blankets in times of stress, I should have congratulated those two girls for choosing poems that are particularly fortifying and reassuring in our present political climate:
- Rudyard Kipling’s If, first published in 1895, always a powerful reminder to stand up for what you believe
- Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias, first published 1818, on the transient nature of power
They are in any case two of my favourite poems in any case, but I think it’s especially pertinent now to reread and digest them.
I would particularly like Donald Trump to read Ozymandias, but:
- (a) he has stated that he never reads books, so the likelihood of him plunging into poetry seems unlikely
- (b) the title alone has more syllables than he is comfortable with in a single word (a fact not unrelated to point (a) above)
There can’t be many people unfamiliar with If, but you can read it here on the Poetry Foundation site.
I think Ozymandias is probably less well-known, so I make no apology for reproducing it below, as well as sharing the excellent reading of it that I found on YouTube at the top of this post.
OzymandiasI met a traveller from an antique land,Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,Tell that its sculptor well those passions readWhich yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;And on the pedestal, these words appear:My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal Wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.”