“In theory they were sound on Expectation

Had there been situations to be in.

Unluckily, they were their situation”

CLUE: A Yorkshireman in America?

W.H. AUDEN – “THE QUEST”. Auden was a Yorkshireman who moved to the States.

Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind swivelled snow

Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps

CLUE: Socialising with Jesus?


With beaded bubbles winking at the brim

And purple-stained mouth

CLUE: Suffering from a kind of Thrush?

JOHN KEATS, “ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE” – the poem is about joy and suffering among other things and a Nightingale is a member of the thrush family. The quote is a reference to people in the South of France drinking wine.

The earth of shells and friends is covered in flowers

CLUE: Money is the source of some evil.

OK, I sort of cheated. This is one of mine – so SIMON BANKS (Moneybanks?), “Estuary Shore”.

Far, far around shall those dark clustered trees

Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep

CLUE: Hyperion to a satyr!

Which is a quote from “Hamlet”, but that’s a red herring. the poet is JOHN KEATS again, “Ode to Psyche”. Keats wrote, but never finished, the epic poem “Hyperion” and he wrote a lot about elements of classical Greek mythology such as Hyperion, satyrs and Psyche.

though now it seems

As if some marvellous empty sea-shell flung

Out of the obscure dark of the rich streams

And not a fountain, were the symbol which

Shadows the inherited glory of the rich

CLUE: Bill Gates?

W.B. YEATS, “Meditations in Time of Civil War”. If I could remember just one short passage of poetry, this would be it. The W is for William (informal form Bill) and Yeats and Gates are variants of the same word, what we now call a gate.

Neither the magical smith nor the carver

Of mythical fish on soft stones will answer a call

CLUE: The first pope?

Cheating again – another of mine slipped in. SIMON BANKS, “Callanish – Winter Solstice”. Allegedly the first pope was Peter (Simon Peter, Simon the Rock).

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of beaten gold and gold enamelling

CLUE: An Irishman in Istanbul

W.B. YEATS again – “Sailing to Byzantium”. Yeats was Irish and Istanbul used to be Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium.

Cold blows the wind on my true love

And a few small drops of rain

I never knew but one true love

And in greenwood he was slain

CLUE: What about Franz Fanon?

Rhymes with ANON. This is an anonymous late medieval ballad, quite a well-known one.

It came to me on the Nile my passport lied,

Calling me dark who am grey

CLUE: MacUncle?

No, MacNeice. LOUIS MacNEICE – “Beni Hassan”.

I saw Willie Mackintosh burn Auchendoon:

CLUE: Perhaps the most prolific of all poets.

ANON again, obviously – an anonymous 16th century Scottish ballad. It’s an example of a line that needs context to be effective: Willie and the Mackintosh clan are seeking to avenge the murder of the Earl of Moray in Mary, Queen of Scots’ time and in the ballad are repeatedly warned not to raid and burn the house of the man responsible. We know the raiding party will be caught on the way back and nearly wiped out. This is the last line: Willie ignores the warnings and goes to his death.

Remember me to God

And tell him that our politicians swear

They won’t give in till Priussia’s rule’s been trod

Under the heel of England – are you there?

Oh, and the war won’t end for at least two years,

But we’ve got bags of men

CLUE: Mad Jack

Which was the nickname in the First World War of Second Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon (on the British side despite his first name). So – SIEGFRIED SASSOON, TO ANY DEAD OFFICER”.

Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass

Stains the white radiance of eternity

Until death shatters it to fragments

CLUE: Related to Frankenstein by marriage.

That should have been an easy one – P.B. SHELLEY (whose wife wrote FRANKENSTEIN): “ADONAIS”.

Oh, and one I meant to include but forgot:

She drove in the dark to leeward

She struck not a reef or a rock

But the coombs of a smother of sand. Night drew her

Dead to the Kentish Knock.

CLUE: A manly poem.

GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS again – and again that tremendous long poem, “THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND”.

I was just a bit disappointed no-one actually had a go at this as a quiz, even for some of the questions, but this has been fun, so I think I’ll include single mystery quotes in future posts, some at least. That could give me a chance to redress one big imbalance, since all these poets were male. I think this is a historical thing: poetry until the mid-twentieth-century was much more male-dominated than novel-writing, for example. If I was picking out four or five of the best contemporary British poets and following personal taste, Julia Copus and Kim Moore would be in there; but they’re not yet well enough known to have been fair quiz questions. Earlier? Personally I’m not a Sylvia Plath fan, unpopular though that position is, and Emily Dickinson interests rather than excites me, though I need to test that more. I want to go back and look at Christina Rossetti’s stuff more, though.

Come on – have a go!




“Are you, or have you ever been,

A foreigner?”

Thus spake the coroner

And I replied, behind a screen,


When I went to see my Auntie Bess

In Australia!”

He hissed to his sidekick Damien:

“Emergency! We’ve got an alien!”

And died of heart failure.


Perhaps there’s a degree of similarity in the humour, but I wanted to take a chance to promote (I would have said “plug”, but it might have been understood in the American Western sense) another dead poet not enough honoured – Louis MacNeice. He was a contemporary of W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender (and part of their “set” though said to be “irredeemably heterosexual”), but although his poetry has perhaps survived better than Spender’s, he’s far less well known than Auden. I think he should stand at least with Auden. Born in Northern Ireland but spending his adulthood in England, MacNeice had a strong sense of history, of surviving things and of the particular, whereas some other poetry of that time and group seems general and unrelated to time. He had an ear for the vividness and absurdity of everyday speech, an earthy sense of humour (earthy in two senses because his poems often convey a sense of land, country, soil and growing things), at the same time an ability to imply through his windows, mirrors, social oddities and hourglasses that things are not quite as they seem and a marvellous ability to drop an unpalatable truth in like a depth-charge. He wrote brilliantly about ageing and approaching death – though he himself died in his fifties, his ability to fight pneumonia reduced by long-time heavy drinking.


His first lines or sentences often catch the attention:


Inside, the tang of a tiny oil lamp (“House on a Cliff”)

The precise yet furtive etiquette of dogs (“Dogs in the Park”)


but here are the depth-charges:


“The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever

But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.”

(Bagpipe Music – that sounds especially effective in a Northern Irish accent).


“It came to me on the Nile my passport lied,

Calling me dark who am grey.”

(Can’t trace that one – I remember it quoted).


He should be cherished.