POETRY CORNER | Sunday Observer


11 September, 2022

The best poems for friends selected by Dr. Oliver Tearle

Love may be a bigger topic for poets than friendship, but there are nevertheless some classic poems about friends and friendship to be found in English literature. Indeed, in compiling this list it proved tricky to select just 10 great poems about this topic – although the 10 poems included below are, we think, exceptionally fine examples of friendship poems. Here are ten of the greatest poems about friendship, and poems for friends, that poets have come up with over the centuries.

Edmund Waller on ‘The Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’

By this cunning change of hearts,
You the power of love control;
While the boy’s eluded darts
Can arrive at neither soul.

For in vain to either breast
Still beguiled love does come,
Where he finds a foreign guest,
Neither of your hearts at home…

Waller, whose life was as colourful as one might expect of a poet who lived through the English Civil War, is one of the wittiest minor poets of the seventeenth century, although not as great (or as famous) as his contemporaries, Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell. In this poem, Waller (1606-87), a Cavalier poet, celebrates the close friendship between two ladies but also suggests that they are perhaps too close, and deprive themselves of male company (e.g. Waller’s). ‘Why so careless of our care, / Only to yourselves so dear?’ Not so much ‘hoes before bros’ as ‘sisters before misters’? Follow the link above to read the full poem.

Katherine Philips ‘To my Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship’

I did not live until this time
Crowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.
This carcass breathed,
and walked, and slept,
So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept;
But they were all deceived…

Waller may have disdained the women who put their friendship with each other ahead of the men in their lives, but the remarkable seventeenth-century poet Katherine Philips (1632-64), also known as ‘the Matchless Orinda’, shows us exactly why friendship between women in the period was valued so highly. Philips was an Anglo-Welsh poet and translator in an age where few women had the chance to succeed at either.

‘To my Excellent Lucasia’ (Lucasia being the alter ego of Philips’ friend Anne Owen) is a poem of friendship but might also qualify as a lesbian love poem.

From its opening lines onwards – ‘I did not live until this time / Crowned my felicity, / When I could say without a crime, / I am not thine, but thee’ – this poem reads as much as a love poem as a poem for a friend.

William Blake - ‘A Poison Tree’

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears.
Night and morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles.
And with soft deceitful wiles…

Blake (1757-1827), the remarkable visionary artist and poet, originally gave his poem ‘A Poison Tree’ the title ‘Christian Forbearance’. The speaker of the poem tells us that when he was angry with his friend he simply told his friend that he was annoyed, and that put an end to his bad feeling. But when he was angry with his enemy, he didn’t air his grievance to this foe, and so the anger grew. The implication of this ‘poison tree’ is that anger and hatred start to eat away at oneself: hatred always turns inward, corrupting into self-hatred. With our friends, therefore, it’s best to be honest and speak our minds with them. (Blake, we should remember, was the one who said that ‘opposition is true friendship.’) See the link above to read the full poem and learn more about it.

Henry David Thoreau - ‘Friendship’

I think awhile of Love, and while I think,
Love is to me a world,
Sole meat and sweetest drink,
And close connecting link
‘Tween heaven and earth.
I only know it is, not how or why,
My greatest happiness;
However hard I try,
Not if I were to die,
Can I explain…

Love and friendship often go hand in hand in great poetry, as Katherine Philips testifies in her poem above. In this poem, the great American poet and essayist Thoreau considers the power of love and friendship and the ways that they elude our understanding, and, indeed, the language we use. Can we put into words how we feel about such overwhelming things? Friendship, embodied by two good friends, is like two sturdy oaks weathering a storm; they are able to withstand the winter storm because they stand together, their roots interlinked and entwined under the ground: ‘Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side, / Withstand the winter’s storm, / And spite of wind and tide, / Grow up the meadow’s pride, / For both are strong…’ Follow the link above to read all of Thoreau’s classic friendship poem.

Emily Brontë - ‘Love and Friendship’

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green…


The Fascination of Morning Glory

I was sitting in my ferry, at the river bank
In our quaint village, which is above the poverty rank

The morning sun emerged to dawn yet another day
In the sunny month of flowers blossoming May
Through the faint red glow in the Eastern sky
Which gave a picturesque sight to one’s eye
It displayed a vivid background to the river surface stage
Giving me an overwhelming delight to record it in this page

The humming of the early morning colorful birds
Offered the introduction like, to a song with absorbing words
Different types of birds on tree tops displayed a fiesta
Emitting many a sound like a clan in an orchestra

Tiny rays of the sun kissed the river surface and deflected light
Diverging about the river surface stage like shinning stars at night
The smooth and rhythmic waves of the river flow
Resembled the melody of the song in a sound low
The soothing breeze did rustle the leaves to provide the interlude
The squirrels’ sound, brought to the mind a nice musical mood
A cluster of butterflies formed about, the river stage, a semicircle
To represent the core to emphasize their ability without a rehearsal

A cute solitary sparrow vocalist in a bush in the vicinity around
Sounded the fairy written lyrics on the flower petals surround
Displaying a one man recital like, to present its voice profound

The makeshift bee audience did appear as if to make merry
Fish, the tiny, followed suit jumping above the stationary ferry
Then a couple of villagers approached the ferry in a hurry
Diverting my focus from the fascination of the Morning Glory

- Words - S.S.J. Fernando


Wilting with, ‘bending-body’

Still under the ‘indoor-shelter’
Waiting for a drop of water
Seeking, craving, mourning
and weeping
Yelling, wailing, though
cannot be hearing!
As its ‘mute!’
Self, move less ‘indoor-plant’s agony!
For a ‘drop of water’
Rooted around ‘piercing!’
the ‘dry-soil’
Within the ‘flower-pot’ vicinity
Neither water! Nor ‘drench-soil ’
were found
‘Intolerable-torture’ for quench!
It’s thirsty;
The heartless ‘vicious-human;’
Had no attention as previously;
It was exposed directly! to
the ‘noon day-sun’
After ‘no-inquiry;’it was renounced!
O suddenly the ‘out –door’
gloominess was vanished!
With the ‘drizzling!’
O the ‘surpassing-rejoice’ was ‘scattering!’ entire ‘out-door’
‘Meadows’ and ‘flora’ were ‘enveloped!’ by the ‘silver –shower’
O hapless ‘indoor-plant’ still watching! Such changings
Wilting! With ‘bending -body’ though ‘expectation!’ for a ’drop of water’
Thus no ‘expected-shifting ’, replacement’ took place
To ‘out-door’ ‘fresh-coolness’ for a ‘drop of water’
Rapport! With water was lost! Frustrated!
‘Melancholy-wailing’ without a ‘drop of water’
Still under the ‘indoor- shelter;’ wilting! With ‘bending-body.’

- Merril A. Perera