7 questions on poetry

Midweek quiz

English Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced plans for children to learn and recite poetry from the age of five. And this week London's South Bank Centre hosts Poetry Parnassus, one of the biggest festivals of verse to be held in the UK. Test yourself on the rhyming stuff.

School teacher

1.) Multiple Choice Question

Questioned in Parliament about his poetry plans, Michael Gove quoted several lines he himself had learned by heart - one from Shakespeare and also "Facts are chiels that winna ding", penned by which poet?

Michael Gove
  1. James Joyce
  2. Robert Burns
  3. Pam Ayres

2.) Multiple Choice Question

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same," are the words above the players' entrance to Wimbledon Centre Court. Who wrote them?

Ball girl places tennis balls on a racquet
  1. Percy Bysshe Shelley
  2. Algernon Charles Swinburne
  3. Rudyard Kipling

3.) Multiple Choice Question

Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey probably contains the bones of more famous writers than anywhere else in the world, among them Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Hardy's body (but not his heart). Which wordsmith was buried upright?

Poets' Corner
  1. Edward Lear
  2. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  3. Ben Jonson

4.) Multiple Choice Question

"___________ is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is." Which classic was damned with faint praise by Dr Johnson?

Reading poetry
  1. The Faerie Queene
  2. Paradise Lost
  3. Beowulf

5.) Multiple Choice Question

William McGonagall is renowned as one of the worst poets in the English language. Which event does his most infamous poem commemorate?

  1. Tay Rail Bridge collapse
  2. Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee
  3. British soldiers imprisoned in Black Hole of Calcutta

Tay Bridge collapse

The death toll was actually 75 when the bridge collapsed as a train crossed it. Fans of Dundee-born McGonagall (1825-1902) who died penniless, have included Spike Milligan and Billy Connolly, who have spoken about its unintentional comic genius.

Tay Bridge collapse

6.) Missing Word Question

They're mostly * as a ginless tonic"

  1. wicked
  2. wild
  3. weak

7.) Multiple Choice Question

"He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation." To which musical wordsmith is the Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney paying tribute?

  1. Bob Dylan
    Bob Dylan
  2. Eminem
  3. Shane MacGowan
    Shane MacGowan


  1. It's a line from A Dream by Robert Burns. "But facts are fellows that will not be overturned /And cannot be disputed," is the translation.
  2. It's from Rudyard Kipling's If, an epic evocation of stoicism in the face of adversity.
  3. It's Ben Jonson (1572-1637), Shakespeare's most famous contemporary. It's not known whether his upright grave was connected to a lack of funds at the time of his death. It's also said that he requested a grave exactly 18ins square from the king.
  4. It's Paradise Lost. Samuel Johnson goes on, in his Lives Of The Poets, to make clear his distaste for Milton's language, politics, religious beliefs and behaviour towards his wife. He does, however, add that "the reader feels himself in captivity to a higher and a nobler mind and criticism sinks in admiration".
  5. The Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 is immortalised by McGonagall's doggerel: "Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay! / Alas! I am very sorry to say / That ninety lives have been taken away / On the last Sabbath day of 1879 / Which will be remember'd for a very long time."
  6. It's "They're mostly wicked as a ginless tonic" - a line from Wendy Cope's Triolet, which goes on to say that most are "as wild as pension plans".
  7. It's Eminem. Seamus Heaney praised the rapper's verbal energy and subversive attitude in 2003. It is not known which Irish poet Eminem admires the most.

Your Score

0 - 3 : Dirty doggerel

4 - 6 : Could be verse

7 - 7 : Immortal bard

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below - also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

Feeling well versed? Read Will Gompertz's blog About poems .