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Poetry in Aldeburgh – National Poetry Day

Poem of the Day

To celebrate National Poetry Day 2016 and its theme of messages, here is an extract from a classic WH Auden poem that forms one of his collaborations with Benjamin Britten, the famous English composer and Aldeburgh resident. Here, Auden’s verse acts as a closing commentary to a short film documentary on the postal service scored by Britten and produced by the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit. The film showcases the Postal Special train that travels the length of Britain delivering letters and the poem’s fast rhythm fits the visuals and evokes the movement of the Postal Special.

You can watch the closing minutes of the film Night Mail (including Auden’s poem) here (3 mins)

Watch the full film Night Mail (22 mins)


WH Auden, from ‘Night Mail’ (1936)

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door,

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.

Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.

In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

You can read the full poem here


Writing Prompt – Post a Postcard

Write a poem on the back of a postcard and then send it to yourself or a friend.  The poem should convey at least one piece of news, however you choose to interpret that.  This could be an epistolary poem, or addressed to no specific person.  If you’re used to typing poems onto a computer screen that by default presents an A4-proportioned page in portrait orientation, this will be an opportunity to see how your poetry alters when using a pen or pencil to write onto a small area of card.  The act of posting a handwritten message is a disappearing ritual and your poem may have an unseen audience during its journey, in the form of the messengers running the postal service.


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