“The architect who combines in his being the powers of vision, of imagination, of intellect, of sympathy with human need and the power to interpret them in a language vernacular and time— is he who shall create poems in stone.” – Louis Sullivan.

The words “poem” and “architecture” are rarely used together. Nonetheless, both of these types of art become not only a part of one’s daily life but also help to mould it. Regardless of their actual differences, both aim to portray the embodiment of humanity’s magnificence and simplicity of life.

Design inspired by poetry, poetry inspired by design, through the perspective of specific artists, and through the prism of history are all ways to connect poetry and architecture. Architecture and poetry are two forms of expression and communication that are related at times and universally relevant. In the end, both give the consumer a sense of spirituality and motivation. What one gets from lexical and linguistic amalgamation, the other gets from aesthetic, physical, and spiritual amalgamation. Here are a few recommendations of some of the greatest poems that are influenced by architecture and buildings.

  1. ‘The Palace of Art’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Palace of Art” was written in 1832 (and later updated in 1842). A guy builds a palace of artwork for his soul with just about any amount of art in this poem. The palace and its gardens’ art deals with holy, secular, and irreligious themes; moral worth appears to be secondary, and only artistic value is important. The builder has a figurative conversation with his soul, which is referred to as she in Latin. The builder’s soul enjoys the palace at first, but eventually grows tired of it and requests a cottage where she would cleanse her guilt.

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Illustration to ‘The Palace of Art’_©Royal Academy of Arts, London
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The Palace of Art_©The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  1. ‘A Castle-Builder’s World’ by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830-94) was a great and influential Victorian poet. She was Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s two-year younger sister. She chose to write her first poem as a young girl and recited it to her mother. It simply stated, ‘Cecilia never went to school / Without her gladiator.’ She influenced several subsequent poets, that include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ford Madox Ford, and Elizabeth Jennings. Philip Larkin admired her “steely stoicism.”

‘A Castle-Builder’s World’ by Rossetti takes imagery from the Bible yet instead of showing God’s forgiveness she explores God’s vengeance and a world lacking love and hope. Here God is depicted as the architect of the world.

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A Castle Builder’s World_©firstknownwhenlost.Blogspot
  1. ‘The Props Assist The House’ by Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet who was little known during her lifetime, but she is now recognised as one of the most prominent names in American poetry.

In her poem ‘The Props Assist the House,’ she adopts the idea of a house and its scaffoldings (framework) as an analogy for life. In our lifetime, we need support and guidance when we first start, but gradually, we become self-reliant and individualistic as we grow. We even forget that we ever needed support. In this case, the house describes a particular person, and the props are the people in his/her life who ‘build’ that person. What remains to be seen is how every one of these props can be interpreted individually, as well as how the scaffolding fits into everything.

The props assist the house_©acdc.amherst.edu
  1. ‘Architectural Masks’ by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), who trained as an architect, is perhaps the most qualified English poet to write poetry about architecture. During his architectural career, Hardy wrote constantly. He wrote unpublished poetry that romanticised rural life. Thomas Hardy’s dad was a stonemason who influenced him to become an architect. Hardy’s poetry was influenced by Gothic architecture. It served as an effective prototype for artistic unity and sophistication in his works. And his illustrious poetic output includes many poems about buildings.

The poem portrays how facades can deceive us and how people perceive one another through their own constructed norms. Architecture provides viewers/readers with an important element for evaluating residents’ behaviour patterns and events in their lives. Hardy, on the other hand, attempts to break free from these moral prejudices in this poem and offers readers a new perspective.

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Thomas Hardy (1923, portrait)_©Wikiwand
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Architectural Mask_©PoemHunter
  1. ‘The Building’ by Philip Larkin

Philip Arthur Larkin was an English poet, novelist, and librarian who lived from August 9, 1922, until December 2, 1985. His first collection of poems, The North Ship, was published in 1945, accompanied by two books, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), and he rose to popularity in 1955 with the release of The Less Deceived, which was succeeded by The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1965). (1974).

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Hull Royal Infirmary(The building mentioned in the poem)_©Paul Glazzard

The poem appears confusing at first until it reaches its conclusion. It proves to be thought-provoking. The poem, named ‘The Building,’ does mention a structure, but it is assumed to be a hospital. While the poet does not mention the word “hospital” throughout the poem, the use of phrases like “ominous nurses,” “patient,” “death,” “disease,” “illness,” “ambulances,” “check-ups,” and a few others lead us to believe he is referring to a hospital. The poem reflects Larkin’s pessimism and concentration on ‘deprivation,’ but it also contains a great deal of empathy for others’ suffering, as well as Larkin’s anxieties about growing older.

  1. ‘Ruins of a Great House’ by Derek Walcott

Born in 1930, Derek Walcott was in St Lucia, British West Indies, and has been using the English language to explore the origins of his culture in his poetry. He has had to deal with the dilemma of writing in English, the tongue of those who oppressed many of his ancestors, as a black poet (and dramatist).

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Derek-walcott_©Owlcation

The reader is presented with vivid visuals and stark contrast in Ruins of a Great House. This is an originally impartial speaker who describes the ruined state of a property before moving back in time to contemplate the injustice of the English empire (to which the house belonged) that enslaved many people but yet whose poetries are praised today. But later the compassion within him reminds him that England too was once colonized and suffered a great deal. With this thought, he finds comfort in the great manor and thinks of it as one belonging to a friend.

References:

  1. Interesting Literature. 2022. 10 of the Best Poems about Architecture and Buildings. [online] Available at: <https://interestingliterature.com/2020/06/buildings-poems-architecture/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  2. Archinomy. 2022. Poems Archive – Archinomy. [online] Available at: <https://www.archinomy.com/poem> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  3. Journal. 2022. 9 Poems About Architecture – Architizer Journal. [online] Available at: <https://architizer.com/blog/inspiration/collections/poems-about-architecture/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  4. Primary, P., 2022. Why Is Poetry Important? 5 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Classroom. [online] Proud to be Primary. Available at: <https://proudtobeprimary.com/reasons-teach-poetry-classroom/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  5. impracticalcriticism. 2022. Felicia Dorothea Hemans – The Homes of England. [online] Available at: <https://impracticalcriticism.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/felicia-dorothea-hemans-the-homes-of-england/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  6. Stuvia. 2022. Summary A* analysis of Christina Rossetti\’s A Castle Builder\’s World. [online] Available at: <https://www.stuvia.com/doc/890181/a-analysis-of-christina-rossettis-a-castle-builders-world> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  7. Study Mode Research. 2022. An Analysis Of Emily Dickinson’s The Props Assist The House. [online] Available at: <https://www.studymode.com/essays/An-Analysis-Of-Emily-Dickinsons-The-Props-85932768.html> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  8. Reviews Rants and Rambles. 2022. An Analysis of the Poetry of Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928). [online] Available at: <https://vinhanley.com/2015/05/18/an-analysis-of-the-poetry-of-thomas-hardy-1840-1928/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  9. Poemanalysis.com. 2022. The Building by Philip Larkin – Poem Analysis. [online] Available at: <https://poemanalysis.com/philip-larkin/the-building/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  10. Owlcation. 2022. Analysis of Poem Ruins of a Great House by Derek Walcott. [online] Available at: <https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-Ruins-Of-A-Great-House-by-Derek-Walcott#:~:text=Ruins%20of%20a%20Great%20House%20focuses%20on%20history%2C%20colonialism%2C%20literature,was%20a%20hugely%20profitable%20business.> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  11. Poetry, P., 2022. Homage To The British Museum By William Empson – Pick Me Up Poetry. [online] Pickmeuppoetry.org. Available at: <https://pickmeuppoetry.org/homage-to-the-british-museum-by-william-empson/> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
  12. Poetry Foundation. 2022. Church Monuments by George Herbert | Poetry Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56370/church-monuments> [Accessed 7 June 2022].
Author

A final-year architecture student who enjoys traveling and learning about culture, architecture, and history. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and scribbling down her ideas. She attempts to capture many perspectives on the world through her writings.

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