Adventures In Poetry

Peggy Reynolds explores the background, effect and lasting appeal of some well-loved poems.

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01The Charge Of The Light Brigade2000101520001028

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Tennyson's powerful evocation of one of history's most tragic military mistakes is discussed by historian Richard Holmes, war correspondent John Simpson and actor David Hemmings, among others.

01The Tyger19981025

Duncan Wu presents William Blake's `The Tyger'.

With Kathleen Raine, Peter Ackroyd and Michael Horovitz


by William Wordsworth.

The significances of the poem are discussed by an academic, a Lake District writer, the poet's most recent biographer, the secretary of the Daffodil Society, a rap artist, a teacher, her pupils and a poet.

02How Do I Love Thee...?19981101

Peggy Reynolds counts the ways in which the nation's favourite love poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's `Sonnet 43 from the Portuguese', has echoed through the years.


3: `Remember', by Christina Rossetti.

The poem is discussed with her biographer, a vicar, other writers and an expert in the psychology of grief.

by John Donne.

The poem is discussed by poets, schoolboys and the caretaker of a garden.

03 LASTLeda And The Swan By W B Yeats19981108

The resonances of Yeats's great sonnet are explored by poets, artists and contemporary readers.

04The Sunne Rising2000110520001118

3: `Remember', by Christina Rossetti.

The poem is discussed with her biographer, a vicar, other writers and an expert in the psychology of grief.

by John Donne.

The poem is discussed by poets, schoolboys and the caretaker of a garden.

04The Sunne Rising2000110520001118
04The Sunne Rising2000111220001125

5: `Morning Song', by Sylvia Plath.

She discusses the poem with poets, mothers, midwives and Plath's biographer.

04The Sunne Rising2000111220001125
05Morning Song2000111220001125
05Morning Song2000111920001202
06The Owl And The Pussycat2000112620001209

by Edward Lear.

She explores Lear's nonsense world with the help of academics, writers, children and other fans.

0101Sonnet 43 From The Portuguese1999040419990410

`Sonnet 43 from the Portuguese' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Peggy Reynolds assesses the ways in which the nation's favourite love poem has echoed through the years.

0102At Grass1999041119990424

by Philip Larkin.

Stephen Regan introduces an exploration of the themes and impact of Larkin's lyrical evocation of retired racehorses and a vanished England.

0103Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer1999041819990501

Richard Wilson explores Shakespeare's famous and much-loved Sonnet No 18, `Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?'.


by Rudyard Kipling.

She considers the mixed reactions to the poem voted the nation's favourite.

0202No Coward Soul2001101420011027

by Emily Bronte

0203Musee Des Beaux Arts2001102120011103
0203Musee Des Beaux Arts2001102820011103
0204Ode On A Grecian Urn2001110420011110

by John Keats

0301On His Blindness2002111720021123

by John Milton

0302Dover Beach2002112420021130

2: Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold

0303The Farmer's Bride2002120120021207

3: The Farmer's Bride, by Charlotte Mew


by Louis Macneice

0401Psalm 232003070620030712

Composed over 2,000 years ago, Psalm 23's imagery and significance remain as vivid as ever.

0402Waiting For The Barbarians2003071320030719

"By Cp Cavafy Peggy Reynolds presents another series of the poetry programme that gives listeners an entertaining and often unexpected insight into some of the best-known and best-loved poems in the language.

Each of the four poems featured is firmly lodged in our affections, and the programmes take listeners on a journey of exploration through the language, historical background and contemporary resonances of the piece, calling on literary experts, biographers, historians, musicians and poetry readers from all walks of life to bring their own interpretation and insights to the poem.

Waiting For The Barbarians has a title that is regularly quoted in many contexts, and is one of the most frequently anthologised of all poems in translation.

It is an ironic masterpiece in the form of a dialogue between two citizens of a mythical city, and its contemporary resonance is both fascinating and unavoidable.

0403Naming Of Parts2003072020030726

By Henry Reed Peggy Reynolds explores the experience of poet and dramatist Henry Reed that led him to fuse the natural world with military terminology, in a poem that has become one of the most anthologised of the Second World War and continues to resonate though succeeding generations.

0404 LASTJabberwocky2003072720030802

By Lewis Carroll.

Peggy Reynolds goes out among the slithy toves, braves the fruminous bandersnatch and generally has a brillig time as she goes in search of Lewis Carroll's mythical creature, the Jabberwock.

0501Casabianca. By Felicia Hemans2004071120040717

A poem probably best known for its first line, 'The boy stood on the burning deck...'.

It was written about a true episode during the Battle of the Nile in the Napoleonic wars by a poet who in her time, rivaled Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron in popularity.

Peggy Reynolds talks to critics, a world-famous yachtsman, a naval historian and trainee officers about its impact.

0502The Windhover By Gerard Manley Hopkins2004071820040724

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) was a Jesuit priest and a teacher of Latin and Greek.

He burned much of his work because he saw it as a distraction from his religious duties, and the few poems he left were not even published until almost thirty years after his death.

Yet Hopkins is now seen as a revolutionary figure in Victorian literature, an inspiration to 20th Century poets such as W.H.Auden and Dylan Thomas.

'The Windhover', a sonnet dedicated 'To Christ Our Lord', is one of Hopkins' best-loved poems.

It takes the image of a kestrel in flight and, in brilliantly-compressed language, works it into a profound meditation on CHRISTIANity.

Peggy Reynolds, as always in this series, explores the background to the poem to discover how it came to be written and why it remains so vividly alive today.


The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins

0503I, Too, Sing America, By Langston Hughes2004072520040731

As a young black man in Harlem during the 1920s, Langston Hughes refused to apologise for his colour and was determined instead to celebrate it.

His poetic answer to Walt Whitman's I Hear America Singing is a bold assertion made half a century before it became a slogan that black is beautiful.

Peggy Reynolds, with the help of Hughes devotees including the novelist Candace Allen, sets out to understand what produced that shout of joyful defiance.

0504Tam Lin2004080120040807

This ancient Scottish ballad fairies, casual sex, shape-shifting, human sacrifice and a heroine with an attitude, not to mention its own website.

Peggy Reynolds talks to folk singers, ballad-experts and Ian McShane (who was Tam Lin) to discover why this dramatic tale has haunted imaginations since the middle ages.

A series of programmes that explore how poetry makes its mark on our lives.


Tam Lin

This ancient Scottish ballad has fairies, casual sex, shape-shifting, human sacrifice and a heroine with an attitude, not to mention its own website.

Peggy Reynolds talks to folk-singers, ballad-experts and actor Ian McShane (who was Tam Lin) to discover why this dramatic tale has haunted imaginations since the Middle Ages.

0505 LASTHe Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven2004080820040814

Peggy Reynolds adventures into WB Yeats's poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, best known for its last line, "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." It is a journey of myth and magic, spirituality and romantic love.

0601Ozymandias, By Percy Bysshe Shelley.2005112020051126

Contributors include Richard Holmes and Rageh Omar.

0602The Road Not Taken2005112720051203

By Robert Frost.

Frost's poem was recently and overwhelmingly voted America's favourite - where it's held up as an example of rugged individualism, a sort of poetic My Way.

Contributors include Jay Parini, Sean Street, Matt Harvey and Janet Street-porter.

Presented by Peggy Reynolds

0603The Thought Fox2005120420051210

By Ted Hughes.

Why does the 'Sharp Hot Stink of Fox' stick to your clothes? Fellow Yorkshireman and poet Simon Armitage needs a shower after reading this seminal poem about creativity.

He and people who've known and admired Hughes consider its power.

0604Donal Og2005121120051217

Translated by Lady Augusta Gregory of Goole Park, Donal Og is a ballad that speaks of love and loss.

W B Yeats and Lady Gregory gathered Kiltartan stories from the Irish speakers of Galway and Aran.

0605Morning Has Broken20051218

By Eleanor Farjeon.

With words best known as a popular song, it features at weddings, christenings and funerals; is sung by schoolchildren everywhere and has been adopted by Madonna as an inspirational start to the day.

Peggy Reynolds looks beyond the apparently simple words of Morning Has Broken to find what lies at the heart of its universal appeal.

0606 LASTThe Oxen2005122520051226

By Thomas Hardy.

Peggy Reynolds looks at this nostalgic poem describing the traditional nativity scene, with its enduring message of faith and hope.

Written by Hardy - himself an agnostic - and first published in The Times on Christmas Eve, 1915, when the events of the First World War were at their most terrible.

0701The Lady Of Shalott, By Tennyson2006090320060909

Why is this much-loved, much recited, much sung poem still intriguing people - including historians, painters, weavers and American Indie pop singers?

0702Timothy Winters, By Charles Causley2006091020060916

Causley's best known poem is a perennial favourite on the school curriculum.

Peggy visits Launceston in Cornwall - where Causley was born, bred and worked as a schoolteacher - to meet some of his old friends, including one of his former pupils.

New York poet Dana Gioia, a Causley scholar and enthusiast, analyses the poem and adds his own memories.

0703First Fig, By Edna St Vincent Millay2006091720060923

This very short poem has had an extraordinary life.

It is brief enough to quote in full, but its hinterland has stretched far and wide from the bohemia of Greenwich Village in New York where it was written nearly 100 years ago.

0704 LASTTonight At Noon, By Adrian Henri2006092420060930

Peggy examines the opening poem of the groundbreaking 1967 collection The Mersey Sound, and uncovers a piece of aural pop art, an exercise in reversals, a surrealist work and a love poem.

08Morning Has Broken2007100720071013

Peggy Reynolds explores the background, effect and lasting appeal of Elizabeth Farjeon's poem Morning Has Broken.

0801First Party At Ken Kesey's With Hell's Angels2007101420071020

By Allen Ginsberg

0802To His Coy Mistress2007102120071027

By Andrew Marvell.

One of the great poems of seduction was written by a 17th-century puritan rumoured to have been homosexual.

0803The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strain'd2007102820071103

Portia's speech in defence of Antonio in the Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare's best known and most frequently quoted.

Contributors include Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, Helena Kennedy QC, Lisa Jardine, rabbi Julia Neuberger and actress Janet Suzman


Hilaire Belloc's Matilda has been enjoyed by generations of children and parents since its publication in 1907.

Contributors include children's writer Michael Morpurgo, playwright and film maker Debbie Isitt, Children's Laureate Michael Rosen and professor of children's literature Kim Reynolds.

0901The Listeners2008112320081129

By Walter De La Mare.

Published in 1912, the poem has been popular with adults and children alike for its elusiveness.

Peggy examines its enduring appeal and finds out why gardeners, spiritualists and teachers are still intrigued and inspired by it.

0902Ithaka *2008113020081206

Peggy talks to people who have been inspired by Ithaka's treatment of the journey of life.

By Cp Cavafy.

Peggy talks to people who have found inspiration in the poem's treatment of the journey of life, including the poet Ruth Padel, and Prof Edith Hall discusses its Homeric associations.

Peggy talks to people who have found inspiration in the poem's treatment of the journey of life, including the poet Ruth Padel, and Professor Edith Hall discusses its Homeric associations.

0903I Am, By John Clare2008121320081207

Peggy examines Clare's expression of feelings of dispossession.

Peggy examines the poem's expression of feelings of dispossession engendered by the land grab of the agricultural enclosures of the early-19th century, and Clare's residency in a lunatic asylum at the time of writing it.

0904 LASTLet's Do It, Let's Fall In Love2008121420081220

Peggy hears from those to whom the exuberant lyrics of Cole Porter's song speak volumes, including agony aunt Bel Mooney and pianist Simon Townley

1001Adlestrop *2009110820091114

Written in 1915 about a two-minute stop at a railway station in the Cotswolds, this poem has long been loved for its evocation of high summer, rural England and the intimation of changes to come.

Peggy Reynolds examines the enduring appeal of Edward Thomas' evocative poem.

1002To My Dear And Loving Husband *2009111520091121

Anne Bradstreet's poem has been anthologised in nearly every collection of love poetry published.

How did a near-invalid woman, who had to endure not only the privations of migrating to the New World but also the strict Puritan ethic established there, manage to write something so warm and personal that it still speaks to us today?

The story behind one of the most tender and enduring of love poems.

1003Mending Wall *2009112220091128

Robert Frost's Mending Wall gave us the epigram 'good fences make good neighbours'.

They don't, of course, but we still need our walls and hedges.

Peggy meets sheep farmers, wall artists and poetry enthusiasts as she explores the stories behind the poem.

1004An Arundel Tomb * *2009112920091205

Philip Larkin was disappointed by his 'Tomb poem': one of the pivotal details was wrong and another, he discovered, had been invented by a Victorian restorer 500 years later.

'Muddle to the end,' he complained, and yet it is now one of his best-loved and most quoted poems.

Peggy Reynolds investigates the layers of mystery surrounding Larkin's much-loved poem.

1005My Last Duchess * *2009120620091212

The height of English Gothic, a poem in which an aristocrat tacitly admits to having done away with his young wife - a Medici no less.

Peggy Reynolds teases out the many layers of Robert Browning's chilling but groundbreaking poem.

Peggy Reynolds teases out the many layers of Robert Browning's chilling poem.

1006 LASTOn First Looking Into Chapman's Homer * *2009121320091219

'Much have I travelled in the realms of gold...' Keats' sonnet - his first great poem - begins.

Keats couldn't read Greek and the poem records him touching the ancient world through translation and his already fecund imagination.

Peggy explores the stories behind its creation and its enduring appeal.

1101Not Waving But Drowning2010120520101211

"Adventures in Poetry" returns to unpack a new series of classic poems whose lines or images have entered our national consciousness.

This week, presenter Peggy Reynolds asks what it is about Stevie Smith's poem "Not Waving but Drowning" which has kept it relevant since 1957.

The phrase itself turns up endlessly in newspapers, both red-tops and broadsheets, and is particularly loved by writers on sports pages - not, you might think, the obvious place to look for soul-searching poetry.

But underneath the snappy economy of the first line runs a complex and universal emotional truth, examined here by a Samaritan, a sports writer and Stevie Smith's biographer.

Produced by Christine Hall.

Peggy Reynolds opens a new series of Adventures in Poetry with "Not Waving but Drowning".

1102Waltzing Matilda2010121220101218

Was "the alternative Australian national anthem" written as a political statement or a way of impressing a girl? Peggy Reynolds examines Banjo Paterson's lyric Waltzing Matilda, with help from some contemporary Australian voices.

Producer Christine Hall.

Peggy Reynolds investigates Banjo Paterson's classic lyric Waltzing Matilda.

1103The Gate Of The Year2010121920101225

: Peggy Reynolds hears the story behind the poem King George VI quoted in his first Christmas broadcast on 25th December 1939, written by the unknown Minnie Louise Haskins.

It takes her from an unassuming suburb of Bristol to Sandringham, via the correspondence pages of The Times and the hand of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and it has popped up at the opening of two world wars and on countless teatowels, Internet sites and books of inspirational verse.

Producer Christine Hall.

Peggy Reynolds on how a young woman from Bristol put words into the mouth of a King.

1104The Wreck Of The Hesperus2010122620110101

Peggy Reynolds continues her Adventures in Poetry by asking why one of the most popular poems of the 19th century 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, has since fallen out of favour.

The ballad of a reckless sea captain who takes his young daughter on a voyage despite warnings of an approaching storm, the poem was recited in parlours across the English speaking world, and learnt by every schoolchild in America for decades.

Peggy explores the poem with Jay Parini, who has made a study of Longfellow; talks to the former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo; and to Linda Greenlaw, a sea captain who sails the same sea as the captain in the poem.

With them, she uncovers the events in Longfellow's life which inspired the poem and discovers that it still retains the power to terrify and move its readers.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.

Peggy Reynolds explores 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

1105Journey Of The Magi2011010220110108

"A cold coming we had of it, / Just the worst time of the year / For a journey, and such a long journey..." TS Eliot's poem for Epiphany, "Journey of the Magi", is one of his most popular poems.

Yet it is deceptively complex and, as Peggy Reynolds discovers, takes us on our own journey to somewhere very far removed from the simple certainties of the Three Wise Men at the manger.

Producer Christine Hall.

Peggy Reynolds investigates one of TS Eliot's most popular poems, Journey of the Magi.

1106 LASTKubla Khan20110115

Peggy Reynolds continues her Adventures in Poetry as she explores Samuel Taylor Coleridge's celebrated poem Kubla Khan.

Written in 1797 in a remote farmhouse in the Quantock Hills, the poem came to Coleridge as a vision in an opium-induced dream, which was famously interrupted by a visitor from the nearby village of Porlock.

Peggy is fascinated by the fragmentary nature of the poem and the way in which phrases from it have resonated through literature, and even music, ever since.

She is joined by Coleridge's biographer Richard Holmes; James Watt, an expert on the real Kubla Khan; Tim Clayton an expert in 18th culture; and by Martyn Ware, a sound artist who has been inspired by the poem to create a new, and vividly evocative soundscape based on the poem.

Produced by Jane Greenwood.

Peggy Reynolds explores Samuel Taylor Coleridge's dream-like poem Kubla Khan.

1201Next To Of Course God America I2012040120120407

Known as the poet who didn't use capitals or punctuation, ee cummings loved life and the natural world. But he also loved satirising the pretensions of American politicians, and their uses and misuses of patriotism. That's certainly what he does in his acclaimed 1926 sonnet, '"next to of course god america', which crashes together some of the USA's revered foundational texts to great effect. His use of wit puts him in a very different league to the British war poets.

Peggy Reynolds begins the new series of Adventures in Poetry by exploring the impact and wider associations of cummings' poem. She hears about the circumstances in which Cummings wrote it: serving in the Ambulance Corps during the First World War, he was detained by the French for over 3 months, under suspicion of being a German spy. Professor David Herd of the University of Kent, an expert on Twentieth Century American poetry, argues that after undergoing such imprisonment, it's perhaps no surprise that Cummings had cause to parody the consequences of politicians resorting to tub-thumping patriotic rhetoric at times of crisis. We hear how the poem still speaks to people today, among them American journalist Michael Goldfarb, who was an unembedded reporter in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

Satirising politicians and patriotism is at the heart of a provocative poem by ee cummings

1202The Raven2012040820120414

Peggy Reynolds explores one of the most iconic poems ever published. Over 160 years since its first appearance, it is still inspiring film makers, horror writers and theatre directors to produce their own interpretations. Yet many loathed the poem, including W.B Yeats who said it was insincere and vulgar. The poem granted its author instant fame, yet he spent most of his life in poverty. To try and capitalise on its success he wrote an essay about its composition, which many believe to imbued with an over inflated sense of mastery. The poet attracted nearly as much controversy as his poem. An inveterate gambler, alcoholic and occasional drug abuser, he was a philanderer whose most popular poems were about his devotion to a lost love. There's also a demonic bird involved. Need any more clues? Nevermore

With guests including the poet and falconer Helen Macdonald, Professor of English John Sutherland, the poet Jay Parini, the raven master at the Tower of London and occasional appearances by feathered friends, Peggy Reynolds unpicks Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.

Producer: Sarah Langan.

Peggy Reynolds explores Edgar Allan Poe's iconic gothic poem.

1203Dear Mr Lee2012041520120421

UA Fanthorpe's poem Dear Mr Lee is an engaging piece of ventriloquism, written in the voice of a school pupil who has been studying Laurie Lee's classic memoir, Cider With Rosie, in her English class. Fanthorpe has captured the enthusiasm and despair of adolescence, as the pupil confesses to 'Laurie' that she loves everything about his book, except the essays she's had to write about it. Part of the poem's success lies in the fact the Fanthorpe herself taught English for many years, and demonstrates an unusual empathy with a student struggling with the demands of the exam system and a rather tenuous grasp of literary criticism. Peggy Reynolds talks to Lee's biographer Valerie Grove, to UA Fanthorpe's partner Rosie Bailey, to poets Michael Rosen and Wendy Cope, to several of Fanthorpe's notable ex-students including MP Fiona MacTaggart, and to some current students of GCSE English and their inspiring teacher, who all bring their own enthusiasms to the poem.

Producer: Sara Davies.

Peggy Reynolds explores the appeal of UA Fanthorpe's poem.

Peggy Reynolds explores the appeal of UA Fanthorpe's poem Dear Mr Lee.

1204 LASTVitai Lampada2012042220120428

Henry Newbolt's poem Vitai Lampada - better known to most by its rousing chorus "play up, play up and play the game!"- seems at first sight to be a product solely of its time and place: he wrote it at the end of the 19th century and it features cricket, war and a public school ethos about sport and leadership. However, as Peggy Reynolds unpacks the poem and talks to people who still know it, some surprises emerge.

Play up and play the game! Henry Newbolt's poem is unravelled by Peggy Reynolds