How to read poetry

Study Day, Saturday 19 October 2019, 2.00-5.30 p.m.

Price: £50.00 / £45.00 students. Tea and coffee provided.
Venue: Stapleford Granary, Bury Road, Stapleford, Cambridge CB22 5BP

Do you love poetry but sometimes find it difficult to understand? Do you want to get more out of reading poetry?

In this study day, two brilliant young Cambridge scholars will guide us through the basics of reading poetry. Our theme will be love poetry, looking at some great poems from Shakespeare to the present day.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

W. H. Auden famously wrote that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’, but the words with which he followed that memorable phrase are often forgotten. Poetry ‘survives’, Auden went on to say, ‘in the valley of its making’ – ‘it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth’.

This Study Day will discover poetry in the valley of its making: where it survives, what it makes happen, and what it has to do with mouths. Along the way we will explore the basics of reading love poetry, the significance of various poets of the past 400 years, and the joys of reading aloud.

Set text: we recommend you buy one collection of poetry for the Study Day:

Laura Barber, ed. Penguin’s Poems for Love (Penguin, 2010). Other poems will be supplied as needed.

Oliver Goldstein on The Forms of Love

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 begins with the famous line: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’ This lecture will explore some of the ways that poets from Petrarch to Frank O’Hara have written about love throughout history. It will think about the verse forms in which they have written, how these poets address themselves to lovers, the enduring appeal of sonnets, and the importance of counting. 

Tennyson book cover red.jpg

Anna Nickerson on Loving and Losing

Tennyson thought that ‘tis better to have loved and lost | Than never to have loved at all.’ But what does it mean to write a poem for someone who is no longer there? In this lecture, we'll read poems written for late lovers, lost lovers, and dead lovers. And we'll spend some time with three poets who knew all too much about loving and losing: Alfred Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, and Thomas Hardy.

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti

Bookings can be made on the Stapleford Granary website. If you prefer to book by cheque or PayPal, please email us or use our contact form.


• Simon Avery, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Woman Question, British Library website.
• Cambridge Authors: Tennyson. Faculty of English, University of Cambridge.
• Holly Furneaux, An Introduction to Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H., British Library website.
• Simon Avery on Christina Rossetti, gender and power, British Library website
• Poetry Foundation (US) on Christina Rossetti’s life and work.
• Elizabeth Mayne, Love Poetry in Renaissance Literature, British Library website.
Thomas Hardy Society website.