THE BLOG

The Definite Article Poetry Anthology - Part One

08/10/2014 10:19 BST | Updated 01/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The poems that touch the soul...

Every week for nearly four years I have been asking a mix of celebrities 25 searching questions for The Definite Article, my interview column in the Daily Mail's Saturday magazine Weekend (back page, folks!).

One of the questions is "The poem that touches your soul..." and it has produced some illuminating answers that have led me and many millions of readers to some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking poetry ever written.

From the great romantic poets like Keats and Shelley, to giants of the 20th century such as Larkin and Kipling, the interviewees have unearthed literary gems that have moved them to tears, enriched their spiritual beliefs, or simply fuelled their professional drive. Some have even given a nod to unlikely heroes of the genre, including Spike Milligan and Pam Ayres, for giving them a smile.

I first really discovered poetry whilst studying English Literature for A-level at Orpington College in the early 1980s. Thanks to the intellect, passion and patience of our lecturer Alva Ramsden, a motley crew of sleepy, hungover teenagers were guided through many complex works, not least some of T.S. Eliot's most demanding poems. My love for poetry, and particularly for Eliot, was forged and survives to this day. My young son's middle name is Eliot and my friendship with Alva continues.

To celebrate National Poetry Day on 2nd October, I have selected just a special few from the archive of The Definite Article to create this unique anthology, with the original comments from the celebrities from our interview. For copyright reasons, it is not possible to add the text of the poems here, but by Googling the title you will find them stowed away on a pirate ship somewhere upon the internet ocean. They are worth seeking out. I hope they will move and inspire you.

1. Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby

An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin

It provokes a wistful sense of what is irredeemably lost, but inspires a compelling optimism in the thought that 'what will survive of us is love'.

2. TV property presenter Sarah Beeny

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

My mother, Ann, read it to me when I was about seven and it always reminds me of her. She died from breast cancer when she was 39 and I was only ten. I read that poem to my boys recently and they looked at me and said, "Mummy, you are crying", and then they all started crying, too. It is such a sad story - about a Highwayman's sweetheart giving up her life to save him from the soldiers.

3. Actress Amanda Burton

Digging by Seamus Heaney

It reminds me of Ireland and of men working the land. His poetry in general had such a big impact on me. I was lucky enough to meet him three months before he died in August 2013 and I was able to thank him for touching me so deeply with his work.

4. Journalist and TV interviewer Piers Morgan

Your Laughter by Pablo Neruda

I used it to woo my wife, who has a great laugh.

5. Radio presenter Johnny Vaughan

Walking Away by Cecil Day-Lewis [father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis]

This poem is so gentle and beautiful that it always gives me goosebumps. It is about letting go of the things you love the most. It is so deep that it gives you plenty to chew on long after you have read it.

6. Actress Felicity Kendal

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

The words are so passionate and sexy. Its message is not to waste life by f****** about because one day it won't be there.

7. Call the Midwife actress Jenny Agutter

Into My Heart an Air That Kills by A.E Housman

It only has two verses and deals with how we have to move on in life and can never go back. There's a sadness and a powerful honesty to it. I came across it when I was 15 and filming Walkabout [1971] because it was used at the end. So, it has a particularly poignant connection because that film was such an incredible experience.

8. Singer Mick Hucknall

Roads to France by Tony Walton

It is set in the First World War and that first line - 'And finally I realised that all roads led to France' - is so powerful and succinct. If you're in a trench, there's nowhere to go. It encompasses the futility of war in one simple sentence.

9. Adventurer Ben Fogle

Risk by Anonymous

It tells of the importance of taking risks in life and underpins everything I believe in. I scrawled it on a wall in the kitchen and, if I am ever in doubt, I read it for confidence in my decision-making. It ends with the line: 'Only a person who risks is free.'

10. Comic Ruby Wax

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

This really moves me because it is about telling someone to fight against death. It is so painful and raw.

11. Actor Simon Callow

Shakespeare's Sonnet No.49

This is about the anguish of love. The last couplet - 'To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws, Since why to love I can allege no cause' - is the most devastating in the English language. I have been there!

12. Crime writer Ian Rankin

Meeting the British by Paul Muldoon

It's about the British army meeting the Native American Indians in the 18th century, but is written from the perspective of the Indians. It has a killer twist in the last line: 'They gave us six fishhooks and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.' The drama of that line knocks you back.

13. Actress Diana Quick

So Many Different Lengths of Time by Brian Patten

Although it is about death, he really nails what life means - that if there is any eternity, then it is in the memories of those who are left behind. It particularly resonates with me now because I am 67, an age when people close to me have started to die.

14. BBC world affairs editor John Simpson

Ulyssees by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Tennyson talks of an old king striking out with a bunch of elderly followers, who are not as strong as they used to be, but they have big hearts. It's like a blueprint for my life and I find it inspirational.

15. French chef Raymond Blanc

Le Dormeur du Val [The Sleeper of the Valley] by Arthur Rimbaud

I read poetry most nights to calm me down and this one is very special. It's about a soldier found dead in a valley and I first read it when I was 14. It was so moving it felt like a knife going into my flesh.

16. TV presenter Phillip Schofield

A Shropshire Lad by A.E Housman

It is poignant and beautiful and I love its sense of missing home and longing for the past.

17. Singer Ronan Keating

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

This is such an inspiring poem, which I keep on my iPhone and read regularly. I love it because it echoes the spirit in which I have led my life. I have always taken the tougher road, the path that means you are always setting yourself challenges.

18. Baroness Trumpington

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

I lost three boyfriends at Dunkirk, another one and a cousin at El Alamein. I really knew the pain of losing people I loved and that poem brings back the raw emotion. It sums up my friends, how they felt about England, and that awful loss. It was a devastating time that I can never forget.

19. Artist Jack Vettriano

A Man's A Man For A' That by Robert Burns

It is a deeply beautiful and poignant poem that basically says, after all the strivings and achievements of any life - big or small - a man is a man, just that.

20. Comic actor Adrian Edmondson

Summoned By Bells by John Betjeman

It is funny, but tear jerking, and the section about boarding school really gets me - the feeling of being abandoned. I went through the same experience when I was a teenager and reading it is quite cathartic.

21. Interviewer Rob McGibbon

Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot

Little Gidding has been with me since I first began studying it in 1981. I am still excavating it depths and forever finding new things to love. This labyrinthine poem brings Eliot's epic Four Quartets to an inflamed end. To me at least, the poem symbolises one man's dogged pursuit of his destiny and his devotion to find spiritual enlightenment. One line touches my soul more than most: "With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling".