British voters keep their heads and say 'If' is the best of all

MARIANNE MACDONALD

Arts Reporter

A poll to find the nation's favourite poem - an event which could have provided Britain's most embarrassing publicity since the survey which found that Rolf Harris was the public's best-known artist - ended respectably, if not with a bang, last night.

After six days of voting the people's choice, with more than double the votes of its nearest rival, turned out to be Rudyard Kipling's If - admittedly redolent of the former O-Level syllabus, but the work of a Nobel laureate none the less.

The rest of the Top 10, however, turned up some surprises. They were Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot; Walter de la Mare's The Listener; Stevie Smith's Not Waving But Drowning; Wordsworth's Daffodils ("He wandered lonely as a cloud"); Keats's To Autumn and his Ode To A Nightingale; WB Yeats' The Lake Isle of Innisfree and He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven and Wilfred Owen's war poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est.

The poll to find the nation's favourite poem began on Saturday and finished at noon yesterday, National Poetry Day. Nominations - of any poem in the world - were made by 7,500 calls to a premium-rate telephone number by members of the public. Votes were cast for more than 200 authors and almost 1,000 poems, with Cargoes, John Masefield's rhythmic tour de force, and Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky both losing an early lead.

The choice of If comes as something as a relief to staff of BBC's The Bookworm, who organised the poll and arranged for the acclaimed Shakespearean actor, Sir Ian McKellen, to read the top choices on BBC1 at 10.20pm tonight.

There had been pessimistic speculation that the public would go for a poem rather lighter in tone, such as Pam Ayres's Oh, I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth, a ditty on the corrosive effect of toffee.

But although it won a following, it was more than balanced by the votes for poems by Byron, Keats, Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, John Donne and Thomas Gray.

The favourite modern poets to emerge from the survey were Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage, while the children's vote was overwhelmingly in favour of Quentin Blake and Allan Ahlberg.

The only great British poet who failed to win a respectable share was, oddly enough, William Shakespeare, even though the bookmakers Ladbrokes had laid odds of two to one that Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day") would win.

In fact, none of the poems chosen by the bookies as top favourites - William Blake's The Tyger; John Donne's Holy Sonnet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet From The Portuguese ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways") and WH Auden's Funeral Blues, famously quoted in the film Four Weddings And A Funeral - came close.

Some poems nominated completely baffled Daisy Goodwin, The Bookworm's executive producer, and poetry experts. Last night, they were trying to identify Anne Marie Cusack's Paradise (15 votes) and Hazel Shrumpkin's My Memories .

Other problems stemmed from the difficulties experienced by the staff drafted in to decipher the names of the poets and poems from the answerphone messages left by callers. They recorded numerous votes for a weird character called Lord Bryon, while other suspicious nominations included Allergy In A Country Churchyard, Golchy et Gwackorum Est, The Rhubarb of O' Mark I Am, AA Milne's Vespas and Not Wading But Drowning.

Ms Goodwin said she was delighted with the results. "The range of votes is incredible. Apart from Hazel Shrumpkin and Anne Marie Cusack, pretty much every well-known poet got votes. It shows that the great British public is a lot more discerning about poetry than anyone would give them credit for," she said.

The Top Ten

1 'If', Rudyard Kipling

2 'The Lady of Shallot',

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

3 'The Listener',

Walter de la Mare

4 'Not Waving but Drowning', Stevie Smith

5 'Daffodils',

William Wordsworth

6 'To Autumn',

John Keats

7 'The Lake Isle of

Innisfree', WB Yeats

8 'Dulce et Decorum Est', Wilfred Owen

9 'Ode to a

Nightingale', John Keats

10 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven', WB Yeats

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us