Introduction Biography Addresses Portraits
Books Short stories Stage plays Film and TV Radio and audio
Quotations Fishing Poetry Food Settings Dedications Narrative style Canning in the OED Reading lists Articles on Canning
Centenary News Links Availability Copies for sale

Poetry in Victor Canning's Novels

One does not often associate poetry with popular thriller writing. However, Canning incorporates a number of verse quotations or oblique references to well-known poems in the course of his writing. These are generally slipped in unobtrusively, but they do become prominent, not to say intrusive, in two books, A Delivery of Furies and The Satan Sampler. Whereas in general the quotations do the job of establishing a character or illuminating the story, some of them come so frequently that they must have been personal favourites of the author, namely Sonnet 6 of Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, used five times, and Herrick's Upon Julia's Clothes which turns up in three different places.

Canning was brought up, as his daughter reminded me, in an era when rote-learning of verse was an accepted element of elementary education, and he in turn had poetry on his bookshelves and took the family to the theatre so they became familiar with Shakespeare and the major poets.

The poets and the quotations that I have found in his work so far include: William Shakespeare [33], Robert Herrick [9], Elizabeth Barrett Browning [8], Robert Browning [7], Lewis Carroll [6], Samuel Taylor Coleridge [6], John Keats [4], Alfred Lord Tennyson [4], Lord Byron [2], John Donne [2], John Milton [2], Alexander Pope [2], Edmund Spenser [2], William Wordsworth [2], W.B.Yeats [2], Matthew Arnold [1], Thomas Haynes Bayly [1], Max Beerbohm [1], William Blake [1], G.K.Chesterton [1], Susan Coolidge [1], Nicolas Boileau Despreaux [1], John Fletcher [1], W.S.Gilbert [1],Thomas Hood [1], Rudyard Kipling [1], Edward Lear [1], John Masefield [1], Mary Masters [1], Jasper Mayne [1], Richard Milnes [1], Thomas Percy [1], Edgar Alan Poe [1], and Percy Bysshe Shelley [1].

Page numbers refer to British first editions of Canning's novels.  

William Shakespeare

Polycarp’s Progress, page 182

“Truth is stronger than disbelief and, as Shakespeare said, truth will out. Here you are, sir. A tin of eye-ointment, price three pence, but free to you. Rub that on every night and within three weeks you’ll be able to see even your own stupidity.”
[Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene 2]

Fly Away Paul, page 261

“I come from the hills, from the solitude of lakes and tarns and the barren company of the winds,” he said, reverently lifting his glass and drinking. “Ah,” he breathed freely and went on:
He that commends me to mine own content,
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water,
That in the ocean seeks another drop.
I don’t know any more, but I’m tired of talking to myself.”
[Comedy of Errors, Act I, Scene 2]

Mercy Lane, page 158

Nothing, my boy, only it’s no good trying to borrow anything from me. I take my motto from Shakespeare, you know, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be.” You see, I’ve got as much learning as the next man, even though I only went to a Board school and left when I was twelve.
[Hamlet, Act I Scene 3]

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 149

It was a lover and his lass …
`Mrs. Collyer in the kitchen heard their voices, Rose’s sweet and clear and Jim’s full and strong, and she smiled to herself following the tune and humming.
That o’er the green cornfields did pass
In the spring time …
[As You Like It, Act V, Scene 3]

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 236

And now, if I may be allowed the privilege I will drink the health of the community in that which is too weak to be a sinner, and as Shakespeare said, never left man in the mire, honest water!
[Timon of Athens, Act I Scene 2]

Mr Finchley goes to Paris, page 146

“Because the three of us are Englishmen, far from our native land, I have ordered an English dinner. Does that please everyone? Good. There is vegetable soup, Dover sole, to remind us of the white cliffs and Shakespeare …”
“He is the gentleman who said ‘To be or not to be,’ is he not?” asked Robert. “Pépé tells me often that that was papa’s favourite quotation.”
“Quite right, Robert.”
[Hamlet. Act III, Scene 1]

The Viaduct, page 216

“You are too kind, sir. I will show my generosity. Which play will you have us do, sir? You shall choose. Name any of the master’s great works and it shall live for you upon the boards and I will play as I never played even for the King of Italy -- between ourselves, sir, he was little interested in Shakespeare and was asleep the whole of the last Act of Macbeth.”
Seabright hesitated for a moment, and then, realising that Mr. Ironside would be upset if the honour were declined, said, “You might, if it does not inconvenience you, do As You Like It -- the men would like the wrestling bout.”

The Viaduct, page 222

"... You should see Mr. Ironside’s legs when he’s in armour.” He quoted hurriedly:
“I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed,
Rise from the ground like a feathered Mercury,
And vaulted …”
“And vaulted …” He faltered. Then he went on. “That’s from King Henry IV Part 1. We do nearly all Shakespearian plays.”
[Henry IV Part I, Act IV, Scene 1]

Atlantic Company, page 216

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Buchan, except as Shakespeare said somewhere, your mother’s milk isn’t dry in you. You’ll learn.”
[Malvolio’s description of Viola to Olivia: “one would think his mother's milk were scarce out of him.” Twelfth Night, Act I Scene 5]

Beggar’s Bush, Act II, Scene 2, pages 65-66

LYDIA: (Moving to window) It’s been lovely. Real April sunshine and that Spring feeling.
PROFESSOR: (Standing up and looking at her) “When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything—” That is a poetic statement of a chemical fact.
LYDIA: What are you talking about? That’s one of the things I’ve got against you educated people, other people have got to be educated to understand what you say half the time.
PROFESSOR (With dignity) I was talking of Spring and Spring’s feelings.
LYDIA You said it. You mean all that “young man’s fancy” sort of stuff? Yeah, you’re right. The weather does make you feel you’d like to get your arms round something in trousers.
PROFESSOR That’s how it affects youth. But Spring and April don’t last. Remember —“Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned.”
LYDIA There you go again. Honest, Professor, it ain’t no credit to yourself to keep spouting poetry. Why can’t you say what you’ve got to say in your own words?
[Sonnets 98 and 104]

The Dragon Tree, page 98

“Where have you two scallywags been?”
“Dancey’s Hotel, sir. Celebrating our return to this demi-semi-Eden, this little jewel, this something …”
“If you’re going to quote Shakespeare get him right,” growled Teddy, but he was full of good-humour.
[Richard II, Act II, Scene 1]

A Delivery of Furies, page 8

We loved one another; but with Drea there was no question that she loved me for the dangers I had passed. Or because I was happy-go-lucky. Some other witchcraft held our love.
I lay there thinking first of her, and then, because of the echoes of Shakespeare in my mind, of my father, dead now, a parson and always tolerant of the break I had made from everything which had been expected of me. A shilling for every time you could cap one of his quotations. Drea and my father, both, in their own ways, disapproving. But both so close.
[Othello, Act I, Scene 3]

A Delivery of Furies, page 73

She was out on deck now wondering whether her brother would stand by her. She would be telling herself that he would, that she had faith in him, but she wouldn’t know for certain. Yesterday, she would have staked her life on it. An unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d; happy in this, she is not yet so old but she may learn…. Happy? Unhappy, I’d say.
[Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2]

A Delivery of Furies, page 90

Clearly he was a sensible man who knew his own limitations. Maybe in his own mind he had already made the hopeful reservation that ‘the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.’ He was prepared to wait.
[Twelfth Night, Act V, Scene 1]

A Delivery of Furies, page 107

He put his glass down and went out without saying a word. ... He couldn’t have made it more plain that, like Orlando, he did desire we may be better strangers.
[As You Like It, Act III, Scene 2]

A Delivery of Furies, page 123

I looked at Monk and smiled. “ ‘We go to gain a little patch of ground, That hath in it no profit but the name.’ ”
“That’s about right, too, as far as the little boys are concerned. They’ll get nothing.
[Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 4]

A Delivery of Furies, page 193

... it was hard to catch what he was saying. Not that there was any need to know because it had to be, coming from him, a paraphrase of everything martial which had been said before and so much better … Now thrive the armourers, and honour’s thought reigns solely in the breast of every man … He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart
[Henry V, Act II, Prologue]

A Delivery of Furies, page 209

He was as Katrina believed him to be … not for the fashion of these times where none will sweat but for promotion. I had long been out of touch with such men, but that did not now prevent me from taking some of the bitterness of his end and cherishing it as an anger in me.
[As You Like It, Act II, Scene 3]

A Delivery of Furies, page 224

I had no wish to offer even the edge of any promise. I concentrated on what had to be done. But perhaps there was an unnatural harshness in my voice which went on misleading her though it rose from a desperate need to ensure that she came to no harm. Time had a wallet at his back all right…. Wherein he puts alms for oblivion. Well, these few moments had to go in and be forgot as soon as done.
[Troilus and Cressida, Act III, Scene 3]

Firecrest, page 35

Lily said, “What’s that bird?”
“A lark—packing it in for the day. Which is what we should be doing.”
“A lark?”
“Yes.” The light was fading but he saw the shine of her eyes and then was amazed as she began to recite, holding her eyes up to where the lark had been, catching at memory and her voice holding a new timbre.
The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark
When neither is attended, and I think
The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
When every goose is cackling, would be thought
No better a musician than the wren.
How many things by season season’d are
To their right praise and true perfection!
She finished, and smiled at him for appreciation. “Harry was a great one for poetry. I’m a very bad learner, but he knew how to teach me, though to tell the truth, Johnny, I never understood the half of it.”
[Merchant of Venice, Act V Scene 1]

The Mask of Memory, page 178

Maxie grinned. ‘They build a big, old untidy nest and they line it with mud and paper and rags, girl. If you were an educated type like me, you’d know that from your Shakespeare. Somewhere in one of his plays that I had to do at school he says, “When the kite builds, look to lesser linen”.’ He looked across at the wheeling bird and went on, the burr strengthening in his voice, ‘Aye, girl, there’s something marks ever the good days in a body’s life with a special sign. ’Tis a pity most folk don’t use their eyes to find it.’
[Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 3]

Birdcage, page 00

‘I’m just a snapper up of unconsidered—no offence is meant—trifles.’
[Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 3]

The Satan Sampler, page 163

A voice from behind broke into his thoughts.
“Is it Patience on a monument, or Rodin’s thinker?”
He knew the voice and, turning, let a smile mask his face. He said easily, “I’m not sure. Perhaps a combination of the two.”
[Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 4]

The Satan Sampler, page 165

Back at her bungalow she telephoned Birdcage and found herself talking to Quint, and telling him about the invitation. “That’s splendid. Moonlight, we hope. Dancing, for sure, and if music be the food of love, and so on.”
[Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene 1]

The Satan Sampler, page 171

Felbeck remembered with irritation the casual way Grandison had made light of the difficulty, remembered too—though by now he was well used to the mannerism—his quotation tricked-out comments. But he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.
[Othello, Act III, Scene 3]

The Satan Sampler, page 201

“There’s nothing. Only a feeling. No knowledge.” “ ‘Knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.’ ”
“It might be hell.”
[Henry VI Part II, Act IV, Scene 7]

The Satan Sampler, page 202

“I shall sit and admire my cherry blossom for a while, and then go round to the Flyfishers’ Club for dinner and talk with men who find happiness by their rivers, find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything. And remember—when there seems need to talk—it is often wise to remain silent.”
[As You Like It, Act II, Scene 1]

The Satan Sampler, page 208

“The day is ours—and one, I hope, which may produce more than ‘a beggarly account of empty boxes’?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Forgive me. A bad habit of cloaking my thoughts in other—and far more illustrious—men’s words.”
[Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 1]

The Satan Sampler, page 232

Quint smiled through his cigar smoke. “And who shall write [my obituary]?”
Warboys said, “I don’t know. But someone, I hope, who loves you enough to abstain from telling the full truth. No man wishes that ‘Time shall unfold what plighted cunning holds’.”
[King Lear, Act I, Scene 1]

Fall from Grace, page 64

“Who? What are you talking about?”
“The one who said, ‘But do thy worst to steal thyself away, For term of life thou art assured mine …’ ”
“Who said that?”
“Shakespeare. Who else? But I have to confess that there are times when I prefer Kipling—that’s the earthy sod in me.”
[Sonnet 92]

The Boy on Platform One, page 10

“I can offer no explanation for this remarkable faculty, and in no way do I intend to exploit it. But I feel it is quite proper in the right surroundings and with the right sort of people to demonstrate, as Shakespeare said—‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …’ ”
His face hidden by his hands, Peter smiled to himself. His father used a quite different speech at men’s clubs. He, himself, preferred them. They were much more fun.
[Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5] 

The Boy on Platform One, page 96

Birds were his delight. He knew a hawk from a handsaw … heron, of course, as anyone would know … and a sedge warbler from a reed warbler.
[Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2] 

The Boy on Platform One, page 146

Inside Teddy Tampion lay the other also alliterative persona of Michin Malicho. Room mates for years.
[Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2] 

Robert Herrick

Castle Minerva, page 36

Love, as I knew it, was a literary sensation and a sunlit tableau; maybe that was the result of being a schoolmaster with English Literature as a first subject, potted biographies of Shelley and Byron spooned out to a row of healthy little savages who were listening more intently to the buzz of a blue-bottle on the window or the quiet snigger following some inky note making its rounds of the desks. Love; pastoral, lyric, shepherds and shepherdesses, When as in silks my Julia goes, resin-flavoured Greek wines … But now I was beginning to feel that the real thing, which demanded another name, was harsher, more sudden, like the sear of fusing metals.
[Upon Julia's Clothes]

Doubled in Diamonds, page 63

Under the red light her bare little breasts were like twin rosebuds and as I stooped to gather them I said to myself, why not, Herrick was a Devonshire man, too?
[To the Virgins, to make much of Time]

The Melting Man, page 9

The explanation was very simple and touchingly human. Herrick had the lines for it of course, not only because he had her name right, but because he was a Devonshire man like me and, contrary to the ploughboy school of thought, Devonshire men are great romantics, particularly when as in silks a woman goes and all that about how sweetly flows the liquefaction of her clothes to finish with the real punch line—‘O, how that glittering taketh me!’ It took me, in twenty seconds dead.
[Upon Julia's Clothes]

The Kingsford Mark, page 28

She felt lonely, adrift, an alien in this world. Then, since self-pity always evoked a ready opposition in her, she laughed to herself and suddenly remembered, though she was not sure whether correctly, the lines of the poet Herrick … such discontent I ne’er have known since I was born than here, where I have been and still am sad in this dull Devonshire…. Though whether she was in Devonshire she did not know since at dinner the previous evening John Kingsford had told her that the road was the boundary line between two counties, Somerset to the left and Devon to the right.
[Discontents in Devon]

The Satan Sampler, page 136

And then he had gone on as though the subject of his commendation had no importance … no more than a weed pulled up, a fly swatted, an idle pot-shot at a roof sparrow … gone on to talk about Devon, asked him if he missed being there and, when he had said he did not and was glad to be away from it, had quoted something to him which he had never heard and which Quint—who had demanded a blow by blow account of their interview afterwards—had told him was from Herrick of whom he had also never heard. The words ran in his memory now. Such discontent I ne’er have known since I was born than here where I have been and still am sad in this dull Devonshire.
[Discontents in Devon]

The Satan Sampler, pages 196 and 219

“Oh, yes. There’s really no need to rush into the future. I’m happy that what has happened has happened. Let’s both be sensible and see what old Father Time comes up with.”
He laughed. “You’d be bloody surprised sometimes.”
“Nicely, I hope.” But as she spoke she knew that there was no hope. Just gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Old Time, sod him, was already flexing his wings.
...
She loved him, would always love him, but the dark gods had long decreed that there could be no true fruiting of their love. For her … well, it was just a question of gather ye rosebuds … Long ago the trap had been set for her, a trap that her father had planted and which Quint had sprung. Take what you can while you can was the answer … for that same flower which, blooms today, tomorrow will be dying, as Quint would probably have said, garnishing his own self-disgust with other men’s fine words.
[To the Virgins, to make much of Time]

Fall from Grace, page 167

He glanced at her now and said, “Listen to this—but don’t blush.”
He read:
Show me thy feet; show me thy legs, thy thighs;
Show me those fleshy principalities;
Show me that hill (where smiling love doth sit)
Having a living fountain under it.
Show me thy waist; then let me there withal,
By the ascension of thy lawn, see all.
He looked up at her, grinning mischievously.
She said, “I’m sure that’s not in the Oxford Book of Verse.”
He laughed. “No, it isn’t—but it ought to be. It’s by Robert Herrick. The Oxford is too stuffy by half.” ... Picking up the book of verse, he flipped it open at random and said, “Listen—since I’m in an amorous mood—to this.”
He read:
My love in her attire doth show her wit,
It doth so well become her;
For every season she hath dressings fit,
For Winter, Spring and Summer,
No beauty she doth miss
When all her robes are on:
But Beauty’s self she is
When all her robes are gone.
“And who wrote that?”
“Surely you know? That well-known poet called Anonymous.”
[To Dianeme and Madrigal]

Vanishing Point, page 185

He was—though not showing it—pleased with himself—a council school, then grammar school, moon-faced yokel from the leafy lanes of Devon … Where I have been and still am sad in this dull Devonshire. He could have said it aloud to Warboys and got a pat on the back for remembering his Herrick.
[Discontents in Devon]

Table Number Seven, page 86

She inclined her head and moved away and he watched her go and distantly there echoed in his mind a snatch—one among many—of not always perfectly recollected gems (as his mother called them) from the Oxford Book of English Verse ...
When as in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (me thinks) how sweetly flowes
That liquefaction of her clothes.
[Upon Julia's Clothes]

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 194

Until Jim had come to Stigand she had cherished a changing hotch-potch of ideas on love. She took those ideas from all sources, one moment from her poetry, dreaming of ‘the faery power of unreflecting love,’ and crying:
. . . What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. . . .
and then, in the lonely moments of her own making, she would sit in the silent rapture of imagination, falling back into the schoolgirl fancy of high romance, of great love and a figure who should be deathless in her mind though he but pass by her with no more concern than to ask her the road or beg a glass of water.
[Sonnet 6 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]

Castle Minerva, page 78

And I found running in my head a phrase of poetry which though it came straight out of Eng. Lit. third year syllabus—God what ages away the school and the feel of chalk on my fingers seemed!—had in it a great deal of what I felt for Sophie.
What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes
Parse it, take it apart, write it in paraphrases … but it wouldn’t mean a damn thing unless once in your life that high note of recognition had vibrated in and around and through you.
[Sonnet 6 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]

Firecrest, page 205

“No matter what else is involved, there’s got to be love first.” She smiled and ran on quickly, “But love me for love’s sake, that evermore thou mayest love on, through love’s eternity. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861. That’s true, you know, Johnny, absolutely true. It doesn’t matter about anything else. There’s just got to be that … love for love’s sake. Don’t you think that’s beautiful?”
[Sonnet 14 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]

The Doomsday Carrier, page 54

Clarence Bedew, a retired civil servant, ... was a puffy, noisy and not very strong swimmer, but he was enjoying himself and relishing the calm and peace of the early morning. He was a good-natured man, but also hasty-tempered. At the moment, sure of his solitude, he was quoting poetry aloud to himself … What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river? His feet touched gravel and he stood up and massaged his bald head and then his shoulders. Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat … He did a little dance, relishing the buoyancy that took his body. And breaking the golden lilies afloat with the dragon-fly on the river
[A Musical Instrument]

The Doomsday Carrier, page 196

I feel for you, my dear Cynthia, a closeness which Elizabeth Barrett Browning spoke of when she wrote — What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes. Do I need say more?
[Sonnet 6 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]

Fall from Grace, page 91

She had put her hand over his mouth then, and said sharply, “That’s enough. We’ve all got or had something … Now say something nice before you go … my love, my love …”
He had leaned over and kissed her and then quoted—
What I do And what I dream include thee, as the wine Must taste of its own grapes …
Gorgeous. She moved her hands comfortingly riously over her breasts and blinked at the small tears which misted her eyes.
[Sonnet 6 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]

Birds of a Feather, page 20

A book of verse lay on the bedside table with an old envelope for marker half protruding from its page tops. She opened it and her eyes were taken at once, with some shock at such usage, by the under-scoring of a few lines which read:
… What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.
She went down and walked back up the drive, thinking to herself that Crane lived in a world of beauty … paintings, fine sculptures.
[Sonnet 6 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]

Table Number Seven, page 138

That’s my husband—that’s the young man who once spelt out with a stick on the wet sands of a lonely Cornish beach these words for me … love me for love’s sake, that ever more—Thou mayest love on, through love’s eternity. What other ears than mine have heard that from him since?”
[Sonnet 14 of Sonnets from the Portuguese]  

John Keats

Matthew Silverman, page 269

From a clump of tall grasses a skylark sprang, disturbed by their passing, and flighted into the sky, its edged wings beating the air in short sweeps, its song pouring down upon them. Harold, stirred by the song, remembered the poet who had heard another bird sing and wrote of it. As they watched it dive into the blue and lose itself against the defiant disc of the sun, he began:
Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!
Loraine listened to him, savouring the music of his voice as he spoke the lovely lines, and she was sorry that she had spoken rudely about the tramp; she was sorry that she had spoiled the afternoon by a quarrel, and she was suddenly anxious to please him.
… that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
“Isn’t it lovely, Harold?” she said.
“It’s god-like,” he said; and then, acting with a guile that he had not known he possessed, he went on “It comes from Wordsworth. I marked it in the volume I lent you last week. Did you read it?”
And Loraine, eager to bring back peace between them, took his arm and answered, “Yes, it was beautiful.” She did not mind saying that, because he was so sincere about these things that she could not hurt him by telling the truth.
Harold patted the hand on his arm affectionately, and in his heart groaned for her who could not tell Keats from Wordsworth, who could not recognise the famous ode, drummed into the ears of every schoolchild; and he saw in her dissembling not noble purpose, only a base desire to achieve her own ends. From that moment Loraine lost her magic.
[Ode to a Nightingale]

A Forest of Eyes, page 75

“Forgive me … but I have a favour to ask you.” There was a note of embarrassment in the man’s voice.
“If I can help you—”
“At lunch today, you were reading a book. As I passed your table I saw what it was. I would …” The voice was hesitant. “I would very much like to borrow it … only for a little while.”
Hudson laughed gently. “But of course. Are you so fond of Keats?”
The little hunched figure stirred.
“Very. But it is so hard to get English books now, and my own copy … I have lost somewhere long ago.”
“I shouldn’t have thought he was your poet. A man who could say:
‘Hence Burgundy, Claret and Port;
Away with old Hock and Madeira’
Brussiak laughed, a low, guarded sound.
“Poets are seldom good judges of wine, Mr. Hudson.”
[A Draught of Sunshine]

The Hidden Face, Chapter 10

I went up Shaftesbury Avenue trying to recall how Keats’s line went on from “beaded bubbles winking at the brim …” I didn’t have much success. I’d always been on the mathematical side. An engineer, not a literary man. Long ago, when Tom Ross-Piper and I had been working our way through France to Spain, I remembered we’d had an argument about poetry as we lay in some woods all day, waiting for night and the chance to hop a train. I’d maintained that there was true poetry in mathematics, that figures, not words, could best express man’s dreams. Tom hadn’t agreed and we’d never finished the argument, for he had been shot dead four days later and I had come on alone.
[Ode to a Nightingale]

The Melting Man, page 32

She curled up her left leg and went on rubbing her ankle. It was a nice leg.
I said, ‘Can I do that for you?’
‘You stay where you are.’
I said, ‘A bright torch, and a casement ope at night, to let the warm Love in.’
‘What the hell’s that?’
‘Keats. I’ve got a weakness for him and quite a few others. And when I’m embarrassed I always fall back on poetry.’
‘Just fall back on your pillow and don’t move.’
[Ode to Psyche]  

Robert Browning

Matthew Silverman, page 269

Only that morning, when he had begun to talk about Browning’s Sordello, which he had given to her as a present, she had turned the conversation by making some childish joke about the title sounding like the name of one of those patent unburstable balls. An unpleasant suspicion that she was not interested in culture, that her fondness for his company was merely to escape for a while from that auctioneer fellow, made him anxious to put her to the test. He felt she was all he desired when they kissed; but passion was only a small part of his life; his woman had to be intelligent and rational as well, schooling her senses. Beauty of the body was not everything; the mind had to be considered.
[Sordello]

Polycarp’s Progress, page 55

Browning once said that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, which probably accounts for the fact that the Wessex labourer on an excursion to London spends his time gaping in Park Avenue, and forgets his wife as he looks at the bare beauties displayed on bills outside the West End theatres.
[Andrea del Sarto]

The Python Project, page 262

It was all very well for Browning to preach that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for? Most of us are short-armed and have weak fingers, and the minds to match.
...
Seeing Paulet and Duchêne go by together, I should — Browning again — have been ‘stung by the splendour of a sudden thought.’ I was just stung.
[Andrea del Sarto and A Death in the Desert]

The Melting Man, page 107

‘We ride, and I see her bosom heave.’
[The Last Ride Together])

The Satan Sampler, page 70

... you have my permission to sit down. But not on the window seat. I am enjoying the morning and pretending that God’s in His heaven and all’s well with the world. A rare fantasy.
[Pippa's Song from Pippa Passes]

The Satan Sampler, page 180

... he’s no poet or fancy speaker, but a plain honest John. The good news from Ghent to Aix about his limit.
[How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix]

The Boy on Platform One, page 127

And a lovely morning for it, too. The snail was on the thorn and God in His Heaven.
[Pippa's Song from Pippa Passes]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 104

Miles interrupted him, quoting:
He prayeth well, who loveth well,
Each man and bird and beast.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard you say that one,” observed Mr. Mallet, glad of this opportunity to relieve himself from the awkwardness of his gratitude towards Ephraim, and yet sorry that it was only with such a show of flippant sentiment that they could cover their real feelings.
“My father,” retorted Miles with dignity, “was very fond of poetry and he once gave me a shilling for every ten verses that I learned of the Ancient Mariner. The fifteen shillings were spent long ago, but I still have the verses.”
[The Ancient Mariner]

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 121

That evening the four of them walked down to the village, their voices echoing through the still air as they laughed and talked and Miles revealed a little more of his fifteen shillings’ worth of poetry as he quoted:
O sweeter than the marriage feast,
’Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!
“That’s the poem about the sailor who shot the albatross, isn’t it?” asked Jim, who had found the poem in a book Rose had loaned to him.
“That’s right — ‘Instead of the cross, the Albatross, about my neck was hung’ — are you fond of poetry, Jim?”
“In a way, I don’t know much about it. Miss Collyer who brings the milk, she’s keen about it. She lent me a book the other day — ”
[The Ancient Mariner]

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 176

“They could be on the other side of the hedge,” Mr. Mallet pointed out obstinately. “I’ve had the most definite impression for the last ten minutes that I was being followed.”
“Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”
quoted Miles. They walked on and as they entered the shadowy cover of the chestnuts Miles felt the sense of a third person following and watching them come over him, strongly and definitely.
[The Ancient Mariner]

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 202

"... What generally happens is that all the lost men get together and begin to delude themselves into thinking that they’ve found their way at last merely because there are so many of them looking for the right way home.
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
He knew what it was to be lost and without company — ”
“But I’ll bet he didn’t go about plaguing people with his verses as you do,” said Mr. Mallet quickly.
[The Ancient Mariner]

Atlantic Company, page 44

... it was in that hour when we saw our first albatross. He came flying out of the sun, moved about the ship in a steady half-circle, and then hung about a hundred feet astern of us as though he were jealous of his position and watched for intruders.
Knight rushed for his camera and Gregory began to shout verses of Coleridge at the bird. Mrs. Knight and I just watched. Although this holiday was hers as much as anyone’s, I had seldom seen her show much interest in any of the places or people we had seen. But she was interested in the bird. I suppose its name started a train of poetic and legendary superstition in her mind.
[The Ancient Mariner]

The Boy on Platform One, page 28

Keeping his head a little bowed still, hardly looking at the first man who had risen, book in hand, Peter let the first line wash over him…. Ere on my bed my limbs I lay, God grant me grace my prayers to say:
The man stopped reading and Peter took up the lines ‘O God! preserve my mother dear — In strength and health for many a year …’ and then went through to the end of the poem… ‘That after my great sleep I may — Awake to thy eternal day! Amen.’
There was a pleasing round of applause as he finished. And he liked that — the applause. Always did. Even though it wasn’t anything really, not really, to do with him.
[A Child's Evening Prayer]

Lewis Carroll

Birdcage, Page 33

He mourned with levity the true Arnold Geddy who had foundered somewhere years ago. I weep for you, the Walrus said, I deeply sympathize.
[The Walrus and the Carpenter]

Birdcage, Page 50

“Go ahead. Let’s see how good your memory is. Or, rather, whether it is still as good as it used to be. The slightest approach to a false pretence was never among your crimes.”
Geddy grinned at the modification of a quotation from his beloved Lewis Carroll.
[The Hunting of the Snark, Fit the third.]

Birdcage, Page 148

Anyway, poor Polidor is long dead. I must add since ‘the slightest approach to a false pretence was never among my crimes’ that I personally never cared for him.
[The Hunting of the Snark, Fit the third.]

Birdcage, Page 149

‘Indeed.’ Geddy hesitated, remembering the Duchess’s precept—‘If everybody minded their own business—the world would go round a dead faster than it does.’ And then decided that he could allow himself the vanity of telling a Birdcage man something which he clearly did not know. He said, ‘I doubt that it would do this Farley man any good. It’s a nice piece worth a few hundreds, I suppose. But it’s a replica—though Lady Jean never knew that.
[Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 6.]

Birdcage, Page 197

Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.
[Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 9.]

Birdcage, Page 209

‘By all means. “I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,” said cunning old Birdcage, “I’ll try the whole cause and condemn Farley to death.” Lewis Carroll wouldn’t forgive me. But there—because I treasure my own place and skin, I am entirely at your service.’
[Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 2.]

Edward Lear

Birdcage, Page 37

“You got the settlement. Legally that was all that was promised.” But there was more to it than that, Geddy knew. Bellmaster could have made any promise good. Still could. But a settlement and Lady Jean Oriston were bait enough for a young gunner captain. O let us be married! too long we have tarried; But what shall we do for a ring? Bellmaster found one and Branton still wore it in his nose.
[The Owl and the Pussycat]

W.B.Yeats

Beggars' Bush, Page 29

PROFESSOR (Crossing to fireplace and taking an armchair) Yes. I like the Irish. Did you ever come across Yeats in your public libraries?
STEVE (Standing with his back to the fire) “I will arise now and go to Innisfree” —that’s from my school-days. But there’s a better one I found for myself. Do you know it? About an airman?
PROFESSOR (quoting) “I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above

STEVE (joining in) “Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love
.”
STEVE (Continuing) That’s it. It has a cold, lonely feeling. I could never want to go and find peace on an island growing beans. But the other—that had something for me.
[The Lake Isle of Innisfree and An Irish Airman Foresees his Death]

The Boy on Platform One, Page 9

Then in a slightly, but gently exasperated voice she had given him the first line — I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree … And from there he had taken up the lines and without any effort gone right through the poem, feeling in an odd way that it must be someone else speaking, to finish — While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core. He didn’t know how he did it. Didn’t really care much about it. He could just get comfortable and relaxed and let somebody read to him, the words washing over him, making no effort to give them importance or commit them to memory — and then an hour, a day, months later, if someone gave him the opening lines, the whole thing would come back to him. It was all daft really. In fact it made him feel a bit of a freak so that he never let on at school about it.
[The Lake Isle of Innisfree]

John Masefield

The Satan Sampler, page 225

They drove out of Ledbury into the fast-growing darkness and in the back seat and because it was Ledbury that had made his memory stir to make an apt connection which pleased him, Grandison recited to himself the words of John Masefield.
Man with his burning soul
Has but an hour of breath
To build a ship of truth
In which his soul may sail
Sail on the sea of death;
For death takes toll
Of beauty, courage, youth,
Of all but truth.
[Truth; Ledbury was Masefield's birthplace.]

Percy Bysshe Shelley

A Forest of Eyes

The book opens with a quotation from Shelley's 1818 poem, The Revolt of Islam (Canto 1, Stanza 29).
Fear, Hatred, Faith and Tyranny, who spread
Those subtle nets which snare the living and the dead.

William Wordsworth

Firecrest, Chapter 4

He fingered memory for the clichés of poetry, the cubicle at Combermere coming back, a tattered copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse spread open on the bed’s grey blanket, and said, “Rainbow.”
She smiled, and the answer came pat, the bow of memory drawn and the arrow let fly.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
She laughed with pleasure as she finished and he laughed with her as the further words ran through his mind—The Child is father of the Man; and I could wish my days to be/ Bound each to each by natural piety. There had been little of natural piety in his days.
[The Rainbow]

The Satan Sampler, Chapter 9

"... she could be tempted to ditch Daddy and protect Seyton. Yes, we must watch dear Georgy lest she should show signs of becoming ‘A dancing shape, an image gay—To haunt, to startle, and waylay.’ You agree?”
“Of course. I would never quarrel with Wordsworth.”
[She was a Phantom of Delight]

Lord Byron

Sanctuary from the Dragon, page 84

“You said you only cared for a dark woman,” said Mr. Mallet searching for the soap.
“So I do,
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes …”
“You quoted that every time we went into a pub where there was a dark-haired girl, but they never seemed to appreciate it.”
[She walks in beauty]

The Doomsday Carrier, page 117

She said, “I suppose I shall get married and wait for memory to fade enough to leave me comfortable.”
“Quite right. As my father’s favourite poet said, time at last will set all things even.” He nodded at her left hand. “Who will it be? George Freemantle? You still wear his ring.”
[Slightly misquoting Mazeppa “For time at last sets all things even—”]

Alexander Pope

The Satan Sampler, page 213

He’s gambled before on our behalf and lost and accepted the way the dice fell. Now he’s gambled on his own account. To corrupt Pope a little, I do not think he will sit blaspheming his gods, the dice, and damning his fate.
[The Dunciad, Book 1]

Birds of a Feather, page 22

“… What is the future about to offer? Yes?”
Quint grinned and quoted, “Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate, All but the page prescribed, their present state.”
Quint said, “I say he comes before not after Shakespeare.”
“Never, my dear Quint. Who would put a Pope before God?”
[Essay on Man, 1, 3]

Edmund Spenser

Golden Salamander, Chapter 1

There had been an elaborate game at the University which he had played, a memory game, tortuous and erudite … the giants were part of that, part of the eagerness, the youth and the intelligence which burned fiercely within and needed such moments of playful seriousness … Long ago, in a world which had seemed so promising, in the false peace between the two wars … Corflambo, Cormorant, Geryoneo, Grantorto, Orgoglio … that was Spenser’s Faerie Queene. His left heel was rubbing now, the wet sock chafing at his skin. Orgoglio, it was a lovely mouthful of a name.

The Satan Sampler, page 230

“Well, a little sorrow does not come amiss. So remember this to tell Warboys … All pains are nothing in respect of this, All sorrows short that gain eternal bliss. So now, do me the last favour of making it short.”
[Amoretti and Epithalamion, Sonnet LXIII]

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Doomsday Carrier, page 197

“Why, my dear Cynthia? Why is it impossible?”
Lady Cynthia in the kindest way told him, and he was man enough to accept it philosophically, which as he knew full well was a far different thing from taking it lying down. A distinction which when he lay in bed later he pondered with a meticulous concern, remembering the details of Lady Cynthia’s reasons which could be summed up as the opposite of those inherent in the lines — Kind hearts are more than coronets. And simple faith than Norman blood. He woke once in the middle of the night and suddenly said aloud angrily, “What’s bloody wrong with being Anglo-Saxon and an orphan?”
[Lady Clare de Vere]

The Satan Sampler, page 99

The gardener Adam and his wife may indeed well smile at the claims of long descent, but I assure you that neither Seyton nor Satan does.
[Lady Clare de Vere]

The Satan Sampler, page 99

“Tennyson?”
“A little cobbled. But, yes. The beloved of Queen Victoria, whose statesmen in council ‘knew the seasons when to take Occasion by the hand, and make the bounds of freedom wider yet’. We live in a sad age, Kerslake.”
[To the Queen]

Vanishing Point, page 199

“Never underrate continuity. Kind hearts and coronets and never mind the colour of the blood.”
[Lady Clare de Vere]

William Blake

Mercy Lane, page 154

He was not so mean that he could batten upon another man’s misfortunes. Some lines which had stood by him since his schooldays came into his mind:
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Had he been born to misery? He laughed, telling himself not to be so morbid. And if he had, what right had he to add to the misery of another man? Some to misery are born … No, he had not known misery.
[Songs of Experience]

Matthew Arnold

The Satan Sampler, page 145

We will just sit and cherish the possibility of the mole theory between ourselves. It may well turn out to be one of those ‘barren optimistic sophistries of comfortable moles’. No?”
Quint sighed openly, and said, “Ah ... now I have lost you.”
“It has little aptness. Just a fancy to top off our conversation. But I think you cheat. ‘Thou smilest and art still, Out-topping knowledge’?”
Warboys heaved himself slowly from his chair and went to the door and looked back smiling at Quint as he half opened the door.
Quint suddenly chuckled and shook his head. “All right—since you must be fed. Matthew Arnold.”
[To a Republican Friend and Shakespeare]

Rudyard Kipling

Vanishing Point, page 145

“If things had gone his way [ie if Hitler had won the war], do you think that the flag would be flying over Buckingham Palace to show that the Queen is in residence?”
“Ah, a nice touch. Rugged sentiment. ‘Take ’old o’ the Wings of the Mornin’, An’ flop round the earth till you’re dead: But you won’t get away from the tune that they play—To the bloomin’ old rag over head.’ Splendid stuff.”
[The Widow of Windsor from Barrack Room Ballads]

G.K.Chesterton

The Satan Sampler, page 127

“My goodness, and I had thought that on our side of the fence all men like that had ‘died in the young summer of the world’s desire; Before our hearts were broken—Like sticks on a fire’.” He finished, his eyes challenging Warboys.
“Not difficult, but a guess, not from knowledge. It must be W. B. Yeats.”
With boyish pleasure clear on his piratical face, Grandison shook his head. “It should be, shouldn’t it? But it isn’t. It’s Chesterton, a parody of W.B.“
[Variations of an Air]

Thomas Hood

Vanishing Point, page 143

“... your old mentor Quint—he who chose to quit early instead of soldiering on in the hope of occupying—and I may say certain hope—the chair in which I am now sitting and which will be yours when ‘the book of Nature Getteth short of leaves’. Did I catch the breath of a sigh? Such confusing allusions so early in the morning?”
[The Seasons]

John Donne

Atlantic Company, page 150

Chinn half raised himself to ease his cramped legs and stretched his thick arms outwards to tighten his stiff muscles. For a second or two he hung like that, a black cross against the pale sky, a star shining over each shoulder, a misty constellation above his head. Into my head came long learned, long forgotten words from Donne:
Who can deny mee power, and liberty
To stretch mine armes, and mine owne Crosse to be?
[The Cross]

The Satan Sampler, page 185

To paraphrase and somewhat distort a sixteenth-century poet who turned from the love of women to the love of Christ—licence your roving mind, and let it go, before, behind, between, above, below. There may be some new-found land, some wild truth waiting to be discovered.
[To his Mistress Going to Bed]

John Fletcher

The Satan Sampler, page 231

“ ‘Fate’s hid ends eyes cannot see’—To the truth of that moment when the telephone bell rang Seyton will never be made privy. A lucky man.”
[Weep no more]

John Milton

Fly Away Paul, chapter 2

It was two hours later that he left the state-room, glad to get into the fresh air and leaving behind him a confusion of tobacco smoke and empty glasses. Through the half-open doorway he could hear Gabriel’s pleasant voice mouthing dolorously:
With wanton heed and giddy cunning
The melting voice through mazes running,
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony.
For a crooner, whose prophet should have been Irving Berlin, Peter Gabriel broke all rules by adhering to Shakespeare when he was sober and transferring his affections to Milton when the liquor began to make music in his mind.
[L'Allegro]

The Melting Man, heading to chapter 6

And Laughter holding both his sides.
[L'Allegro]

Max Beerbohm

The Satan Sampler, page 126

“Interim only. Impeccable. No question of ‘Collar ’im tight in the name of the Law!’ ”
Grandison gave a broad grin. “Don’t tell me. Kipling, I should say.”
“Sadly, no. Max Beerbohm. ...”
[A Christmas Garland]

Thomas Percy

Birds of a Feather, page 24

The widow grieves. For how long I wonder …? Weep no more, lady, weep no more … and so on … for violets plucked the sweetest showers Will ne’er make grow again. And will a friar of orders grey walk behind his cortege a-telling of his beads?”
[The Friar of Orders Gray]

Jasper Mayne

Firecrest, page 63

Time was the great healer. And the word time in her mind sprung the trap of memory to release one of Harry’s favourite poems so that lying there in the warm laden air the words went through her brain, not in the way he had taught her to say them, but in a racing torrent—Time is the feather’d thing, and, whilst I praise the sparklings of thy looks and call them rays, takes wing, leaving behind him as he flies an unperceived dimness in thine eyes … She let the lines of the whole poem pour through her mind and finished in the way that had always made Harry laugh and made her laugh silently now at the memory. Jasper Mayne, 1604 to 1672.
[Time]

Edgar Alan Poe

Firecrest, page 66

She interrupted him, suddenly stimulated by the trigger word ‘trances’ and rattled off quickly, “And all my days are trances, and all my nightly dreams Are where thy grey eye glances, and where thy footstep gleams—”
“Lily.” His voice betrayed the edge of irritation, and she relished a moment. of triumph over him.
“Edgar Alan Poe. You haven’t got grey eyes though, have you? Sort of slatey blue.”
[To One in Paradise]

Mary Masters

The Satan Sampler, page 102

Tis not Religion that can give
Sweetest pleasures while we live
Wiser far praise Earthly joys
And eat the fruit no blight destroys
[Parody of a hymn by Mary Masters (1706-1759), embroidered on the Satan Sampler.]

Thomas Haynes Bayly

The Great Affair, page 107

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“Now you’re quoting to me and out of context. The author was referring to a place. The next line is—Isle of Beauty, Fare thee well!’”
[Isle of Beauty, 1844.]

Nicolas Boileau Despreaux

The Boy on Platform One, pages 13 and 18

Mr Rundell began to read in a clear, well-modulated voice, a voice a bit like Monsieur Iffe his French master at school … real froggy stuff.
Voici les lieux charmants, où mon ame ravie
Passait a contempler Sylvie
Ces tranquilles moments si doucement perdus …
Listening, anxiety for his son’s success natural in him, and also — if Peter should come out with flying colours — seeing a new dimension to this demonstrable faculty, he remembered how Sarah had once said that if God gave a person a rare gift it was common politeness to the Deity not to abuse it.
...
“No thank you, Rundell. You tape it and then I’ll listen to it. How long can he keep these things in his memory?”
“I don’t know — but in a few days time I shall know. But, according to his father, whatever he memorizes just stays in his mind until he’s given the opening key lines to release it. I gave him a far from easy piece by Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux.”
“Who?”
“A French seventeenth-century poet.”
[Sylvie]

Susan Coolidge

The Boy on Platform One, page 28

The next man was very fat and very jolly looking with a monocle in his eye and a big cigar held between two fingers as he read from a book of verse — The night it was horrible dark — the measles broke out in the Ark.
Peter took it up easily, grinning broadly, ‘Little Japhet, and Shem, and all the young Hams, Were screaming at once for potatoes and clams’ — and went on to finish to a gentle round of applause.
[from What Katy Did At School]

Richard Milnes, Lord Houghton

The Boy on Platform One, page 162

“Ready?”
“Yes.”
“Here it is then.” She quoted — “ ‘A fair little girl sat under a tree, Sewing as long as her eyes could see —’ ” Then she stopped.
For a moment Peter hesitated and then took up the poem.

“Then smoothed her work and folded it right,
And said, ‘Dear work, good night! good night!’
Such a number of rooks came over her head,
Crying ‘Caw! caw!’ on their way to bed;
She said as she watched their curious flight,
‘Little black things, good night! good night!”‘


He went on right through the poem and when he finished, she said, “Why, Peter — that’s marvellous.”
He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “I think it’s a pretty soppy sort of poem.”
“You do? Well, it was written by a lord.”
[Good Night and Good Morning]

W. S. Gilbert

The Boy on Platform One, page 174

Still, though he was not on the list, others were and they were fixed in his memory. They had to be warned before Rundell carne back and got to work. He began to dial a London number, singing to himself — “I’ve got a little list — I’ve got a little list. Of society offenders who might well be underground, And who never would be missed.” The sound of his own muted singing masked the turning of a pass key in his door.
[from The Mikado, Act I

 

 

Last updated 7 October 2015