Cover image for The best poems of the English language : from Chaucer through Frost
Title:
The best poems of the English language : from Chaucer through Frost
Author:
Bloom, Harold.
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2004]

©2004
Physical Description:
xxviii, 972 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes indexes.
Language:
English
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780060540418
Format :
Book

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PR1175 .B47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

The great critic presents his personal selection, with commentary, of the finest poems in the English language.

This comprehensive anthology attempts to give the common reader possession of six centuries of great British and American poetry. The book features a large introductory essay by Harold Bloom called "The Art of Reading Poetry," which presents his critical reflections of more than half a century devoted to the reading, teaching, and writing about the literary achievement he loves most. In the case of all major poets in the language, this volume offers either the entire range of what is most valuable in their work, or vital selections that illuminate each figure's contribution. There are also headnotes by Harold Bloom to every poet in the volume as well as to the most important individual poems. Much more than any other anthology ever gathered, this book provides readers who desire the pleasures of a sublime art with very nearly everything they need in a single volume. It also is regarded by its editor as his final meditation upon all those who have formed his mind.


Author Notes

Harold Bloom was born on July 11, 1930 in New York City. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Cornell in 1951 and his Doctorate from Yale in 1955.

After graduating from Yale, Bloom remained there as a teacher, and was made Sterling Professor of Humanities in 1983. Bloom's theories have changed the way that critics think of literary tradition and has also focused his attentions on history and the Bible. He has written over twenty books and edited countless others. He is one of the most famous critics in the world and considered an expert in many fields. In 2010 he became a founding patron of Ralston College, a new institution in Savannah, Georgia, that focuses on primary texts.

His works include Fallen Angels, Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems, Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life and The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of The King James Bible.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Literary lion Bloom's earliest books, reaching back to 1959, examine the work of Shelley, Blake, and Yeats, poets that now figure prominently in his latest prescription for good reading, a massive collection of the best of 108 British and American poets writing in English from Chaucer through Robert Frost. Declaring poetry a high and ancient art, and discussing its figurative and allusive elements in an instructive essay titled The Art of Reading Poetry, Bloom analyzes the aesthetics of poetry and what poetry does for us and explains what he believes makes one poem better than another. He also provides illuminating assessments of each poet (Milton, Donne, Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, Eliot, Stevenson) and freely concedes what some will condemn, his inclusion of very few twentieth-century poets and evasion of extrapoetic considerations of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and assorted ideologies. However one feels about Bloom's focus, every serious reader of poetry really must begin with the works he so ardently loves and champions (he confesses to reciting Tennyson's Ulysses when he is feeling blue), and this comprehensive anthology is an ideal starting place. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Bloom made his critical reputation with a book called The Anxiety of Influence, where he argued that poetry proceeds on the misreadings by strong poets of their predecessors. In this massive anthology, Bloom's strongly held, and deeply felt, preferences for the most productive misreadings in the language come to the fore brilliantly. Bloom has developed his tastes over a lifetime and specifically casts this book as their summation-"the anthology I've always wanted to possess." An introduction entitled "The Art of Reading Poetry" tries to help nonexpert readers hear what Bloom hears, explaining that "poetic power... so fuses thinking and remembering that we cannot separate the two processes" and naming poetry "the true mode for expanding our consciousness." While the selections that follow are significant, many are predictable; it is the headnotes that make the book indispensable. The heart of the book, of course, is its choice of poems, most rightly well-known, some (from Jones Very to Conrad Aiken) famous in their time, but now obscure: despite his title, Bloom ends not with Frost but with Hart Crane, whose visionary rhapsodies encapsulate, for him, modern poetry's powers. Popular favorites (Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling) also make the cut, as does the 17th-century "Tom O'Bedlam's Song," which Bloom calls "the most magnificent Anonymous poem in the language." The book is filled with hundreds of taste-making turns and asides; it's hard, no matter where one's affiliations lie, not to love Bloom's offhand demolition of T.S. Eliot's essay on Andrew Marvell. Whether one chooses to adopt Bloom's stances or fortify against them, this is sure to be a formative book for experienced readers and neophytes alike. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Six centuries of great poetry and a lengthy essay from critic's critic Bloom. He'll even tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Bloom has assembled selections from 108 British and American poets from Chaucer through Frost. In his cogent and lively introductory essay, "The Art of Reading Poetry"-itself ample reason for reading this volume-the editor says that he selected the poems for "their aesthetic standards" in "reaching the high and ancient art" of poetry that fulfills "man's quest for the transcendental and extraordinary." And what a transcendent journey this is. Both predictable and unexpected titles appear, with particular emphasis on many of the Romanticists, and from these Bloom offers 24 poets' pieces in some detail. Serious students will reap a fruitful harvest from his frequent annotations, presented as commentary before the selected pieces. His freshness of thought shines through in these remarks; even poets like Shakespeare, about whose works so much has been written, resonate anew. Students will appreciate not only the poems, but also the insights into the high art they represent.-Margaret Nolan, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Best Poems of the English Language From Chaucer Through Frost Chapter One The Art of Reading Poetry Poetry essentially is figurative language, concentrated so that its form is both expressive and evocative. Figuration is a departure from the literal, and the form of a great poem itself can be a trope ("turning") or figure. A common dictionary equivalent for "figurative language" is "metaphorical," but a metaphor actually is a highly specific figure, or turning from the literal. Kenneth Burke, a profound student of rhetoric, or the language of figures, distinguished four fundamental tropes: irony, synecdoche, metonymy, and metaphor. As Burke tells us, irony commits those who employ it to issues of presence and absence, since they are saying one thing while meaning something so different that it can be the precise opposite. We learn to wince when Hamlet says: "I humbly thank you" or its equivalent, since the prince generally is neither humble nor grateful. We now commonly call synecdoche "symbol," since the figurative substitution of a part for a whole also suggests that incompletion in which something within the poem stands for something outside it. Poets frequently identify more with one trope than with the others. Among major American poets, Robert Frost (despite his mass reputation) favors irony, while Walt Whitman is the great master of synecdoche. In metonymy, contiguity replaces resemblance, since the name or prime aspect of anything is sufficient to indicate it, provided it is near in space to what serves as substitute. Childe Roland, in Browning's remarkable monologue, is represented at the very end by the "slug-horn" or trumpet upon which he dauntlessly blows: "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came." Metaphor proper transfers the ordinary associations of one word to another, as when Hart Crane beautifully writes "peonies with pony manes," enhancing his metaphor by the pun between "peonies" and "pony." Or again Crane, most intensely metaphorical of poets, refers to the Brooklyn Bridge's curve as its "leap," and then goes on to call the bridge both harp and altar. Figurations or tropes create meaning, which could not exist without them, and this making of meaning is largest in authentic poetry, where an excess or overflow emanates from figurative language, and brings about a condition of newness. Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning is one of the best guides to this process, when he traces part of the poetic history of the English word "ruin." The Latin verb ruo , meaning "rush" or "collapse," led to the substantive ruina for what had fallen. Chaucer, equally at home in French and English, helped to domesticate "ruin" as "a falling": Min is the ruine of the highe halles, The falling of the towers and of the walles. One feels the chill of that, the voice being Saturn's or time's in "The Knight's Tale." Chaucer's disciple Edmund Spenser, has the haunting line: The old ruines of a broken tower My last selection in this book is Hart Crane's magnificent death ode, "The Broken Tower," in which Spenser's line reverberates. Barfield emphasizes Shakespeare's magnificence in the employment of "ruin," citing "Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang" from Sonnet 73, and the description of Cleopatra's effect upon her lover: "The noble ruin of her magic, Antony." I myself find even stronger the blind Gloucester's piercing outcry when he confronts the mad King Lear (IV, VI, 134-135): O ruin'd piece of nature! This great world Shall so wear out to nought. Once Barfield sets one searching, the figurative power of "ruined" seems endless. Worthy of Shakespeare himself is John Donne, in his "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day," where love resurrects the poet to his ruin: Study me then, you who shall lovers be At the next world, that is, at the next spring: For I am every dead thing, In whom love wrought new alchemy. For his art did express A quintessence even from nothingness, From dull privations, and lean emptiness He ruined me, and I am re-begot Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not. Barfield invokes what he rightly calls Milton's "terrific phrase": "Hell saw / Heaven ruining from Heaven," and then traces Wordsworth's allusive return to Milton. Rather than add further instances, I note Barfield's insight, that the figurative power of "ruin" depends upon restoring its original sense of movement , of rushing toward a collapse. One of the secrets of poetic rhetoric in English is to romance the etonym (as it were), to renew what Walter Pater called the "finer edges" of words. The Best Poems of the English Language From Chaucer Through Frost . Copyright © by Harold Bloom. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Frost by Harold Bloom All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.