Wednesday, October 12, 2011


by Tess St. John

Words inspire me ~ books, a well-told story, a beautifully written letter, a sentimental greeting card, or even a sweetly texted message from my husband can make my entire day. For me, nothing compares to a well-placed phrase or the perfect description eloquently captured with words.

Over the years, some of the most articulate writers were British.

Who can forget the first time they read Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare? While I may not have understood each phrase, some were too poignant to forget. Romeo's words below are arguably some of the most romantic ever written.

"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, are far more fair than she."

I could go on for days about William Shakespeare. What a master of words.

First time reading William Blake's Cradle Song, the second verse absolutely pierced the mother's heart inside me. 

Sweet babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles
Little pretty infant wiles.

What about Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales or John Milton's Paradise Lost? And how in the world could there be so much talent in the Bronte family? The list of famous writers in British history is long and impressive.

While writing my first historical romance, I looked for a way to somehow honor these writers. They've given me so much joy, I wanted my characters as affected. So I made my elderly character, who is dying in the first chapter, a poetry lover. He'd saved a young girl by marrying her late in his life, and as he dies, he begins to quote Lord Byron's She Walks In Beauty. When he is too weak for his young wife to hear him, she finishes the last paragraph for him. In so doing, she realizes he is trying to tell her how happy her innocent heart made him.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brown,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Since my dying character was estranged from his children, I needed something that would connect him to them after his death. Something he'd shared with them when they were children. At the reading of his will, I have the solicitor read Richard Crashaw's A Song. And when he finishes, all the man's children are reciting the poem with him.

Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I dy in love's delicious Fire.
O love, I am thy Sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still my behold, though still I dy.
Though still I dy, I live again;
Still longing so to be still slain,
So gainfull is such losse of breath.
I dy even in desire of death.
Still live in me with loving strife
Of living Death and dying Life.
For while thou sweetly slayest me
Dead to my selfe, I live in Thee.

I will leave the history of the poets lives for another post, but I wonder if any of them had a clue how their genius for the written word would impact the world. 

Tell me, are there written words or spoken phrases that inspire you?

Please find out about Tess St. John and her books at her website.


  1. I can understand your feelings completely. I've always had a mad, passionate love affair with words. Thanks, Tess St. John, author of the historical romance series, Chances Are,for sharing your feelings on the Brilliance of Words.

  2. I enjoyed your posting and agree about the poignancy of words. I am a late bloomer in the poetry appreciation department, but now I keep an old anthology of British poets by my bed.

  3. Thanks, Teresa!! I love 'a mad, passionate love affair with words'...that's a wonderful way of saying it!!!

  4. Sophia, I too found most of the poetry I enjoy later in life...I don't think I appreciated it as much when I was younger! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I suppose Gerard Manley Hopkins is my favorite poet... but there are so many. Thanks for posting something by Crashaw. I have his complete poetry, but have hardly opened it since taking a 17th C poetry course long ago.

  6. O, let my books be, then, the eloquence
    And dumb presagers of my speaking breast;
    Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
    More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
    O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
    To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.

    W. Shakespeare

    Thank you for your inspiring post

  7. I admit I bought a giant The Complete Works of Shakespeare just for Sonnet 18.

  8. Thanks, Peter, I love sonnet 23!!!

  9. Suzan...I came so close to quoting William Shakepeare's Sonnet 18...I absolutely love it!!

    Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And often is his gold complexion dimm'd...

    Words to swoon by!

  10. I had no idea how the poets inspired you when you wrote "Second Chances". This gives a new depth to a book I already enjoyed. I've never been much into poetry, but your blog, and the ensuing comments have made me consider pulling out some of my old books and giving them a new look. Thanks!

  11. Hi, Robin!! I remember when you critiqued that first chapter you commented about how my character liking poets was odd, but since he's odd, I felt it worked for the book! Thanks for dropping by!

  12. Very glad to see someone else talking about the influence of poetry on their fiction and thought. I think we underestimate the degree to which poetry was, in the past, the voice of the heart. It's not surprising of course when one recognises that much of a gentleman's education was poetry--Greek or Latin--but still. And composition in poetry was a 'normal' mode of thought for anyone with an education--Beau Brummell used to compose rather neat epigrams, for example. For myself, I'd have to put Sir Thomas Wyatt in amongst the top influences. And of course, Byron--though I detest him as a person--he was a superlative poet and it was a line of his from Don Juan, which stuck with me for years which became the title of my second book: Of Honest Fame. I just couldn't get past the truth of his words without stopping: "The drying up a single tear has more/Of honest fame than shedding seas of gore..." The French and German poets weren't slackers though either--Ruckert is rather fine and I doubt anyone can touch Ronsard for assonant beauty. Cheers -- MM

  13. I agree MM...there were fabulous poets everywhere...I just kept it to English, since that's what I write...but the others are masters also!!! Thanks for posting!

  14. My absolute favourite is Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare, and when I saw it was quoted in the film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility by Emma Thompson, since Jane Austen is my favourite author, I loved it even more :D

    SONNET 116

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come:
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

  15. It is beautiful, Cinta!!


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