poetry for troubled times

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home


As we are unable to meet together for our Poetry Breakfasts, I invite you to join us for a virtual session instead.  So, with the help of Tim, Ali and Hilary, I will share ideas for poems, on the theme of each Poetry Breakfast already on our (now redundant) calendar, on a weekly basis.

Today’s theme for the week is ‘Poetry for Troubled Times’ and to be honest, the difficulty was knowing when to stop!  Do please share poems that you are finding helpful …

Although I’m not including it, ‘I thank you God for most this amazing day’ feels very present for me just now as spring magnificently erupts all around us – take cheer, and be of good heart.

Sending you all much love!

Anna x

PS The next theme will be ‘New Beginnings’

Thanks to everyone who told me I had to listen to this!

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

by John O’Donohue

from Benedictus: Book of Blessings

My Love,

tonight Fionnuala is your nurse.

You’ll hear her voice sing-song around the ward

lifting a wing at the shore of your darkness.

I heard that, in another life, she too journeyed

through a storm, a kind of curse, with the ocean

rising darkly around her, fierce with cold,

and no resting place, only the frozen

rocks that tore her feet, the light on her shoulders.

And no cure there but to wait it out.

If, while I’m gone, your fever comes down —

if the small, salt-laden shapes of her song

appear to you as a first glimmer of earth-light,

follow the sweet, hopeful voice of that landing.

She will keep you safe beneath her wing.”


From A Quarter of an Hour by Leanne O’Sullivan, published. by Bloodaxe Books

Leaving Early by Leanne O’Sullivan

by Pádraig Ó Tuama | Poetry Unbound Podcast: A Poem in Gratitude for Health Care Workers

Count that Day Lost by George Eliot

If you sit down at set of sun

And count the acts that you have done,

And, counting, find

One self-denying deed, one word

That eased the heart of him who heard,

One glance most kind

That fell like sunshine where it went —

Then you may count that day well spent.


But if, through all the livelong day,

You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay —

If, through it all

You’ve nothing done that you can trace

That brought the sunshine to one face–

No act most small

That helped some soul and nothing cost —

Then count that day as worse than lost.

I worried  by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,


Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, Beacon Press

Thank you for this Steve – an inventive and thoughtful addition to our list today!
Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast

Thank you Hilary for choosing these two wonderful poems!

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast

Toaster by by Olga Dermott-Bond

Each Sunday morning
the bread would often get stuck
or launch itself high
across the kitchen
where dad would catch it, juggling
each flapping bird with
blackened wings. His dance
made us laugh. Tea, marmalade,
homemade jam, honey –
again and again
we would wait for its metalled
cough, to watch salmon
leaping through currents
of sun. I ate six slices
one weekend, enthralled
with how happiness
was the colour of butter,
best eaten hot. Toast.
I believed I could
save each tiny crumb of you,
thinking aged just four
that every Sunday
would stay like this, love landing
soft, the right way up.

from Hilary’s copy of Ten Poems about Breakfast, published by Candlestick Press

Today by Billy Collins
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
This larger dome of blue and white is just what we have, here, today.



  1. Tim Cook

    Ah, so many possible interpretations! (The mark of a well-chosen theme, surely). Poems to cheer you up – there are thousands. Optimistic poems to show the light at the end of the tunnel – that’s why Fergal Keane’s choice (see above) was so apt, as he said himself. Or poems to record the troubled times in themselves – that’s what the War Poets were doing. Or almost everything Housman applied his skills to… (no, I know that’s not really fair!).
    I’ve settled for Yeats’s “Easter 1916“: too long to put up here, but easy to find online or in anthologies, it’s the one with the repeated refrain “A terrible beauty is born”.
    And… Linda has just gone instantly for Shelley’s Ozymandias – yet another take on the theme, clearly, the slightly world-weary “everything turns to dust in the end” version.

    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you so much Neil, and thank you for all your posts sharing such wonderful poetry – we need it, deeply. I’ll post all of this next week! Love, Anna

      • Ruth Walmsley

        Mark and I are so enjoying your selection of poems. A balm for the soul and deep feelings of thankfulness for living where we do, having the friends and family we cherish and having the time to sit and listen to poetry in the stillness of a sunny Spring afternoon in the garden.

        Bless you, Anna, and Tim and Ali and all the poets who penned their thoughts and dreams and memories.

        • Anna Dreda

          Thank you Ruth, I’m so glad you and Mark are enjoying the poems, I’m loving putting them together and seeing what people choose to add as well. Lots of love, Anna x

  2. Pam Vincent

    All Right? by Simon Armitage

    It was all winter

    no clouds, no leaves

    the sky was all sky

    It was all frost

    and all the best stars were mirror ball bright.

    Then I noticed this guy on the bridge

    this one solitary guy

    with a 10 yard, 20 yard, 50 yard stare in his eye

    Looking onto the tracks

    looking straight down the line

    I’ve never been one for meddling

    I don’t like to pry

    but I wandered across

    and heard myself saying

    “All right?”

    A train went past

    …. so whatever he said in reply

    got atomised

    Then he spun on his heels

    and veered off into the night

    and I slept all the better

    for not just passing him by.

    Come spring

    Come shine

    the station buttered with warm light

    I saw him again

    on the edge of platform 9 9 9

    But he nodded and smiled

    and silently mouthed,

    “All right”.

    then jumped on a train and rode away into his life.

    I also like Lockdown by Simon Armitage, in which he addresses the issues of our current crisis. Both these poems can be found on simonarmitage.com

    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Pam, I remember hearing Simon read this poem at Concord College a few years back, he may have read it at Wenlock, too. Great poem – and yes, I think Lockdown is very special.

  3. Heather Rodenhurst

    Have long wanted to come to a Poetry Breakfast but live a fair stretch away up in north Shropshire, so really delighted to get the chance now. Thank you very much for this beautiful selection. Poems are pretty much the firmest stones I’m finding to step across the river in these days and there are some great ones here to add to my cache. I especially liked Leaving Early and Toaster.

    • Anna Dreda

      It’s lovely to have you here Heather! Welcome! Anna x


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