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The Waste Land, by TS Eliot

Read by Mark Colvin

'April is the cruellest month / Breeding lilacs out of the dead land...' Thus begins the poem by which TS Eliot (1888-1965) will forever be remembered, an imperishable evocation of an utterly perishable world: 'I will show you fear in a handful of dust...' The Waste Land is the voice - or voices - of the 20th century, written four years after the end of the Great War, when loss or death touched every family in Europe. The jazz age is beginning; the world has changed. Yet the poem is a mantra for the surviving souls, bereft of their sons and lovers. The Waste Land is the song of songs of that terrible, beautiful century.

Cover image: © Caroline Barbera / Picturetank

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Dylan Thomas: Requiem for the Welsh bard

Read by Bob Ellis and Bruce Venables

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), the Welsh genius who gave us Under Milk Wood, is less remembered for a short collection of exquisitely realised poems, as assonant as Gerard Manley Hopkins' and as visceral as Arthur Rimbaud's. Of few writers may it be said that without them their country's cultural identity would be much diminished: Thomas was one such poet; so were Yeats and Shakespeare. Here, writers Bob Ellis and Bruce Venables take the poet by the scruff of the neck, and robustly convey the lavish tone and scalding sensibility of Thomas's finest, shorter works.

Cover image: © Eric Flogny / Aleph / Picturetank

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The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll

Read by Judy Nunn, Isobel Kirk, and Bruce Venables

The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits) written by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1874 is much more than a 'nonsense poem'; it is a kind of tragicomedy. A bunch of loveable buffoons set off in pursuit of a dream, in a story in search of a climax. The poem appeared at the height of the British Empire's sprawling power, when Englishmen ruled the world. The notion of a verse ballad about a bunch of heroically ridiculous ones, on a quest for a monster in a distant land, is richly satirical - and magnificently entertaining, as Judy Nunn, Isobel Kirk and Bruce Venables demonstrate in this heart-lifting recital.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by ST Coleridge

Read by Bob Ellis

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is a phantasmagorical journey into the human soul, uniquely rendered by Bob Ellis in this historic interpretation. 'It is an ancient mariner / And he stoppeth one of three...' Thus begins Coleridge's ballad of a voyage - a voyage like no other, told by a 'grey beard loon', the ancient mariner, to a wedding guest who is late for a wedding. What unfolds in the listener's head, as the ship strays off course - with terrifying consequences for the crew - is a tale of horror, faithlessness and redemption.

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Coleridge: drunk on the milk of paradise

Read by Bob Ellis

Few poets were as troubled as Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). The original Lake Poet seems a parody of the drug-addled, nature-loving, alternative man. Yet Coleridge was the authentic version. He and William Wordsworth revered the natural realm. Coleridge, however, did everything to escape himself, to a realm of dreams fuelled by opium. The result, Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight and Dejection: An Ode, are among the most haunting poems in English. Our reader, the gravel-voiced Bob Ellis, immerses himself in the spirit of a poet on the edge of sanity.

Cover image: © Laurent Weyl / Collectif Argos / Picturetank

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Shakespeare's Sonnets - as you've never heard them before

Read by Judy Nunn and Isobel Kirk

Shakespeare's Sonnets are the poet's passionate expression of his platonic - some believe sexual - love for a younger man, his 'fair youth'; and for an unidentified woman, his 'dusky' or 'dark' lady. The poems are inexpressibly beautiful and deliciously honest - by turns playful, self-admonitory, searing and grief-stricken. In this sublime and joyful celebration of Shakespeare's Sonnets, Judy Nunn and Isobel Kirk recite - and swoon over - a selection of the finest, and unravel the mysteries of Shakespeare in love.

Cover image: © Franco Zecchin / Picturetank

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