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English / Reading / Poetry
Guide to British and Irish poetry
  Poems for children (including nursery rhymes)
  Writing poetry
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Reading poems or rhyming verse can be an enjoyable way to learn English. This page introduces some British and Irish poetry (of different styles).

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Below is a list of some of the most famous British and Irish poets:

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
D H Lawrence (1885-1930); see also: English/Reading/Literature
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Geoffrey Chaucer (1345-1400), eg: "Canterbury Tales"
John Keats (1795-1821), eg: "Ode to a Nightingale"
John Milton (1608-1674), eg: "Paradise Lost" (1667)
Lord Byron (1788-1824), eg "Don Juan"
Percy Shelley (1792-1822), eg: "Adonais" (1821)
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Robert Burns
(1759-1796); see also: Travel/Tours/Scotland/Edinburgh
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936); see also: English/Reading/Literature
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), see also: Travel/Tours/England/Grantchester
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), eg: "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798)
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
T.S.Eliot (1888-1965), eg: "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats"
Ted Hughes (1930-1998)
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
William Blake (1757-1827), eg: "Songs of Innocence" (1789)
William Shakespeare (1564-1616); see also: English/Reading/Literature
William Wordsworth (1770-1850), eg: "I wandered lonely as a cloud"
William Yeats (1865-1939) (Irish)

Out-of-copyright poems are available at or
A large selection of poems is available from "Representative Poetry On-line" published by the University of Toronto English Library at

The BBC have a section on their website about poetry:

The Nation's Favourite Poems
Publisher: BBC Consumer Publishing (Books)
Date: September, 1996
Cassette tapes

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A limerick is a particular style of humorous verse which originated in Ireland (Limerick is a town's name). It always contains 5 lines. The first, second and fifth lines should rhyme, and so should the third and fourth lines (which are shorter). The longer three lines normally each have between 7 and 9 syllables (they should have the same number, but sounds can be changed sometimes). The shorter two lines normally each have 5 or 6 syllables. However, strict rules are not followed. The word order can be changed around and some unusual grammar or pronunciations can sometimes be used. The most important thing about a good limerick is that it should have something clever or funny about it.

A limerick usually describes a person. It often starts with a line such as "There was a young man from Peru": "young" could be replaced by any other adjective (for example: old, big, tall, wise), "man" could be any noun used to describe someone or an animal (for example: girl, boy, woman, bear), and "Peru" could be any town or country's name or could be anything else used to describe the person. Here is an example:

There was a young lady so bright
She travelled much faster than light
So she started one day
Running far, far away
And returned on the previous night

This one doesn't say where the person came from in the first line, but instead describes her as "so bright". This description is playing with words: the word "bright" can mean either "intelligent" (the normal meaning when applied to a person) or "shining" (as in the phrase a "bright light"). Note that the first, second and fifth lines rhyme (bright, light, night), and so do the third and fourth (day, away). A second example:

There was an old man from Gloucester
And a beautiful girl he did foster
But she fell from his yacht
And this buoy marks the spot
Where the grieving old man says he lost her

This one isn't funny, but can be used by an English teacher to show how difficult it can be to guess how English words are pronounced from their spellings. Gloucester is the name of an English town. You might think it would be pronounced "glue-ses-ter", but actually it is pronounced as "gloss-ter" and therefore rhymes with foster (a foster parent is someone who takes care of another person's child for some reason). The pronunciation of "beautiful" is also not obvious from its spelling, and neither is the pronunciation of "yacht" (it sounds like "yot", and therefore rhymes with "spot", which in this case means place). A "buoy" is a floating object used to mark somewhere in the sea, but a more natural spelling would be "boy". The last line only rhymes with the first two because the first letter of a word starting with "h" is sometimes dropped in songs or in conversation. In this case the last two words must be pronounced as "lost-er". A final example:

There is a young man from Japan
Who writes limericks which never do scan
As for his rhymes, well I'm sorry
But they make me feel poorly
And in the last line he just puts in as many words as he possibly can

This one breaks all of the "rules" about the structure of limericks, but that is what makes this one clever and amusing. The first, second and fifth lines do not have the same number of syllables, so the rhyme doesn't occur where the listener expects to hear it; the last line includes far too many sounds to make this clear. The third and fourth lines don't rhyme either, although the clever point is that they might do when a Japanese person tries to read them (because the "l" and "r" sounds are the same in Japanese). This limerick makes fun of the kinds of mistakes which a foreign student of English might make if trying to write a limerick. Limericks are often rude or make fun of people, but try not be offended by them: they are never meant to be taken seriously!

The Penguin Book of Limericks
Editor: E.O. Parrott
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date: January 1987
Loopy Limericks
Editor: John Foster
Publisher: Collins
Date: October 2001

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The Real Mother Goose is a collection of nursery rhymes first published in 1916. See:
For some of the most well-known nursery rhymes, together with suggested origins:

The Works
Editor: Paul Cookson
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Date: August 2000
DK Book of Nursery Rhymes
Editor: Debi Gliori
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Date: October 2000

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To study the words (lyrics) of pop songs which have reached "number 1" in the UK charts since October 2002, see: Britain/Music/Lyrics.

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[To be completed]

Rhyming Dictionary
Publisher: Chambers
Date: April 2003

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Fun with the English language: Ideas/Fun
Improve English writing skills: English/Writing
Improve English speaking skills: English/Speaking
Improve English listening skills: English/Listening

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