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The Oxford Book of English Verse

ISBN 13: 9780192141828

The Oxford Book of English Verse

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9780192141828: The Oxford Book of English Verse
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Here is a treasure-house of over seven centuries of English poetry, chosen and introduced by Christopher Ricks, whom Auden described as 'exactly the kind of critic every poet dreams of finding'. The Oxford Book of English Verse, created in 1900 by Arthur Quiller-Couch and selected anew in 1972 by Helen Gardner, has established itself as the foremost anthology of English poetry: ample in span, liberal in the kinds of poetry presented. This completely fresh selection brings in new poems and poets from all ages, and extends the range by another half-century, to include many twentieth-century figures not featured before ― among them Philip Larkin and Samuel Beckett, Thom Gunn and Elaine Feinstein ― right up to Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.

Here, as before, are lyric (beginning with medieval song), satire, hymn, ode, sonnet, elegy, ballad . . . but also kinds of poetry not previously admitted: the riches of dramatic verse by Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, Webster; great works of translation that are themselves true English poetry, such as Chapman's Homer (bringing in its happy wake Keats's 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer'), Dryden's Juvenal, and many others; well-loved nursery rhymes, limericks, even clerihews. English poetry from all parts of the British Isles is firmly represented ― Henryson and MacDiarmid, for example, now join Dunbar and Burns from Scotland; James Henry, Austin Clarke, and J. M. Synge now join Allingham and Yeats from Ireland; R. S. Thomas joins Dylan Thomas from Wales ― and Edward Taylor and Anne Bradstreet, writing in America before its independence in the 1770s, are given a rightful and rewarding place. Some of the greatest long poems are here in their entirety ― Wordsworth's 'Tintern Abbey', Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', and Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' ― alongside some of the shortest, haikus, squibs, and epigrams.

Generous and wide-ranging, mixing familiar with fresh delights, this is an anthology to move and delight all who find themselves loving English verse.

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Review:

Let's get one thing straight. Christopher Ricks' 1999 version of The Oxford Book of English Verse contains some of the finest poetry the world has ever seen. Judiciously selected and beautifully produced, this anthology will reward both poetry virgins and over-versed roués with its canny and sometimes inspired pairing of lines familiar and obscure, and its original inclusion of translated and dramatic verse (which allows in some of the Bard's great lines). From the 13th-century "Sumer is icumen in" through to Seamus Heaney's "The Pitchfork", Ricks selects 822 poems from more than 200 writers--Shakespeare comes out on top, but there are strong showings from Wyatt, Sidney, Jonson, Milton, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Hardy, alongside memorable nursery rhymes, and some under-anthologised women writers, such as Mary Robinson, Jane Taylor and Frances Cornford.

Anyone who cares about literature in the English language will want this on their shelf. But anyone who cares about literature in the English language will also have serious reservations about what Ricks has done with this most revered of institutions. When Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch wrote his preface to the first edition in October 1900, his agenda was quite clear. He had "tried to range over the whole field of English Verse from the beginning, or from the Thirteeth Century to this closing year of the Nineteenth, and to choose the best. Nor I have I sought in these Islands only, but wheresoever the Muse has followed the tongue which among living tongues she most delights to honour. To bring home and render so great a spoil compendiously has been my capital difficulty." The metaphors of imperial colonialism spoke confusedly as the Muse followed the English tongue throughout the world and the anthologist brought back the rewards it wrought and wreaked. A century later, and the project of "English verse" has lost its imperial certainty. Ricks states categorically that his "does not seek to be a book of Anglophone verse, of verse in the English language whatever its provenance." This leads to some anomalies. He takes American verse only to the 1770s, but is happy to include verse from the Republic of Ireland. As for verse from the Commonwealth (pre-independence)--"I judged reluctantly that pre-independence poetry had not achieved poetic independence (freedom from diluted fashion), had not given to the world such poetic accomplishments as would constitute a claim to the pages of an anthology of the best in English poetry." Discuss.

And so Ricks' "English verse" is, with a few exceptions, "verse from England", and fairly senior verse at that--the juniors here are Thom Gunn, Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney. Ricks admits that "most of us are not good at appreciating the poetry of those appreciably younger than we are." That's a shame, because it denies The Oxford Book of English Verse a proactive role in disseminating the work of young poets (and we're talking under 60 here) from a diversity of backgrounds using the English language. What he has undoubtedly produced, however, is an invaluable record of the past glories of English poetry which will continue to inspire readers and poets, whatever their age, wherever they are. --Alan Stewart

Review:

Ricks has an exceptionally sharp but benevolent eye for what is canonical, and also for what might shine, were the dust blown off it ... his selection is reliable and enterprising ... although authoritative, his book has about it a satisfying openness and variety. (Andrew Motion, Financial Times, 9/10/99)

Ricks, I am pleased to see, has included no weak poems as concessions to "diversity," the poems in his Oxford Book of English Verse are almost uniformly worth reading, and the ones that fall below the usual level are included for a reason (for example, "Twinkle, twinkle little star") ... Gardner had a taste for the high and the holy. Ricks is more skeptical and more wide-ranging. He has a better sense of humor and he includes more light verse ... Ricks has an unmatched range of knowledge about English poetry ... it remains true that anthologies are the route by which young people find poets, and that this one is full of good introductions to good poets. (Helen Vendler, The New Republic, 15/11/99)

The event to celebrate is the marvellous new edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse ... a treasure-house laid up in deliberate succession to Palgrave's Treasury ... it could not have been better done. Here are poems to remember, poems to make part of one's being, the movement of one's own mind. (David Sexton, Evening Standard, 7/10/99)

Ricks has steered a canny course between tradition and innovation ... Someone had to take on the enormous - and political - job of deciding what is pestilence and what is poetry, what is worth keeping and what worth forgetting ... Ricks has performed that Herculean task splendidly. (Robert MacFarlane, Independent on Sunday, 3/10/99)

hefty and handsome volume ... Ricks shows that, although his tastes are much more catholic, he has as sharp an ear as "Q" for the particular pleasure of lyric ... His is the first Oxford Book adequately to mark out the relations between English and Scottish poetry, and the generosity of his selection from Anglo-Welsh changes the twentieth-century picture ... his selection of poems is rewardingly the work of an exceptional critic. (John Kerrigan, TLS 15/10/99)

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