The Nation’s Favourite Poems with Forward by Griff Rhys Jones

griff rjFor the first time ever, the book of the month for my local book group was a book of poetry.  There is a poetry group in the village too, but this book was chosen for the book group, not the poetry group. There was some dissension in the ranks on this basis. I belong to both groups, and thought this made a nice change.The Nation’s Favourite Poems starts with a forward by Griff Rhys Jones. Griff Rhys Jones was born in Cardiff, Wales on 16 November, 1953. He was educated at Brentwood School, a a famous coeducational independent day and boarding school in Brentwood, Essex, England and at the University of Cambridge where he attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England. He is a Welsh comedian, writer, actor and television presenter. He starred in a number of television series with his comedy partner Mel Smith. He also champions architecture, literature and poetry of national importance.

The book is based on the result of a poll conducted in 1995 by The Bookworm, to coincide with National Poetry Day to discover the favourite poem in Britain, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If...’ was voted number one. This unique anthology published by the BBC brings together the results of the poll in a collection of the nation’s 100 best loved poems. Among the selection are popular classics such as Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shallott’ and Wordsworth’s ‘The Daffodils’ alongside contemporary poetry such as Allan Ahlberg’s ‘Please Mrs Butler’.

Also included is one of my favourite poems, the poignant Unknown Soldier’s Poem ‘Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep‘.This is now generally attributed to Mary Frye as having been written in 1932. However this hugely popular bereavement poem has uncertain history and origins. Debate surrounds the definitive and original wording of this remarkable verse, and for many the authorship is unresolved too. It goes as follows:

Do not Stand at my Grave and Weepfav poems

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there – I do not sleep.
I am the thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
As you awake with morning’s hush
I am the swift-up-flinging rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there – I did not die.

However, my absolute favourite has to be a much more modern and excruciatingly funny poem by Jenny Joseph that reads as follows:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tiredjenny
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Also included were several poems that I was familiar with, some I even remembered from school and others that were completely new to me. I really enjoyed The Nation’s Favourite Poems anthology and everybody in the group had different favourites. It was a very popular book. Whether you are a natural poetry reader or not, this book is well worth looking at. I highly recommend it.

Valerie Penny




  1. A lovely book of poems, I’m sure. But why “The Nation’s ….” ?? Could be more Specific ,.perhaps ….?


    • Valerie Penny

      It is a great book, Nadir. I think it is called “The Nation’s Favourite Poems” because the collection was gathered following a national survey.


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