Great Poem Saturday

What makes a poem great?  Of course, we can search high and low for an answer to that question and there’s not going to be just one right answer.  The newest issue of Poetry East celebrates a few great poems by publishing poems and commentaries by a few of today’s contemporary poets.  For example, James Armstrong talks about Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” while Kathleen Rooney talks about a segment from Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market.  I was also pleased to see Stephen Crane (many people forget his poetry) represented by his poem “In the Desert” with a commentary by Neil Carpathios and some of Emily Dickinson’s lesser-known poems.  Although I couldn’t find the perimeters listed in the editor’s note, I guessed by the table of contents that the celebrated poems had to be published before 1900.

What would I pick as a “great poem”?  Of course, there’s so many to choose from, but if I had just one choice, it would be  “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  You can read the full poem here.   Of course, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is primarily known for the Portuguese Sonnets, but because of my working-class background, I am attracted to the historical importance of this poem and how it records the evils of child labor in Victorian England. Yes, today’s readers may see the language as a bit melodramatic, but I was surprised that when I incorporated this poem in my British Literature reading list, how many of my students liked it and believed that it was an important poem — not just in EBB’s (if I may abbreviate her name) time but today’s world as well. 

I have read that “The Cry of the Children” has gained new life in British Lit classes, and I’m happy about this, because I definitely believe this poem needs to be read and studied by today’s readers.

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