penguin book


On a bitterly cold and snow laden day and looking for something cheerful, I searched my bookshelves for my ancient copy of The Penguin Book of English Verse, which cost 4/6d so many years ago. This book is so old, it’s in pieces. Small children have, at some time or other, drawn rings and very tall stick figures on what is left of the back page. In the middle of the book, I found a drawing of a fire engine and a house. There is only a tattered front cover, the back cover has vanished, so the lovely book above is not the one I have!

But I was looking for two poems. One was Auden’s ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love,’ and the other was Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress.’ These poems have been such good companions for so many years that even when they present themselves on really old and brown edged paper that will tear in an instant without careful handling, they never fail to cheer. It’s the exquisite telling that makes a celebration of life.

Here’s the first verse of Auden’s poem:

Lay your sleeping head, my love, / Human on my faithless arm; /Time and fevers burn away / Individual beauty from / Thoughtful children, and the grave / Proves the child ephemeral: / But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie, / Mortal, guilty, but to me / The entirely beautiful.

And here’s the first few lines of Marvell’s poem:

Had we but world enough, and Time, / This coyness Lady were no crime. / We would sit down, and think which way / To walk and pass our long Loves Day. / Thou by the Indian Ganges side / Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide / Of Humber would complain…..

Wystan Hugh Auden born 1906 died 1973and the Editor, John Hayward, has this poem written on lst September 1939.

Andrew Marvell born 1621 died 1667.

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