"Anthologies are the route by which young people find poets, and this one is full of good introductions to good poets." Helen Vendler, The New Republic
The Oxford Book of English Verseby Christopher Ricks
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… See more details below
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 beforeamong them Philip Larkin and Samuel Beckett, Thom Gunn and Elaine Feinsteinright 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 representedHenryson 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 Walesand 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 entiretyWordsworth'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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Read an Excerpt
Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu,
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth.
Murie sing, cuccu!
Wel singes thu, cuccu!
Ne swik thu naver nu!
Sing, cuccu, nu! Sing, cuccu!
Sing, cuccu! Sing, cuccu, nu!
6 Awe] ewe
7 Lhouth] lows
8 verteth] farts
12 swik] leave off
Ich am of Irlaunde
Ant of the holy londe of irlande
Gode sir pray ich ye
For of saynte charite
Come ant daunce wyt me
Maiden in the mor lay,
In the mor lay,
Sevenyst fulle, sevenist fulle,
Maiden in the mor lay,
In the mor lay,
Sevenistes fulle ant a day.
Welle was hire mete;
Wat was hire mete?
The primerole ant the,
The primerole ant the,
Welle was hire mete;
Wat was hire mete?
The primerole ant the violet.
Welle was hire dryng;
Wat was hire dryng?
The chelde water of the welle-spring.
Welle was hire bour;
Wat was hirebour?
The rede rose an te lilie flour.
1 mor] moor lay] dwelt
3 Sevenyst] seven nights
7 mete] food
9 primerole] primrose
14 dryng] drink
16 chelde] cold
4 from Confessio Amantis [Book Four, lines 371-423]
I finde hou whilom ther was on,
Whos namé was Pymaleon,
Which was a lusti man of yowthe:
The werkés of entaile he cowthe
Above alle othre men as tho;
And thurgh fortune it fell him so,
As he whom lové schal travaile,
He made an ymage of entaile
Lich to a womman in semblance
Of feture and of contienance,
So fair yit neveré was figure.
Riht as a lyvés creature
Sche semeth, for of yvor whyt
He hath hire wroght of such delit,
That sche was rody on the cheke
And red on bothe hire lippés eke;
Whereof that he himself beguileth.
For with a goodly lok sche smyleth,
So that thurgh pure impression
Of his ymaginacion
With al the herte of his corage
His love upon this faire ymage
He sette, and hire of lové preide;
Bot sche no word ayeinward seide.
The longé day, what thing he dede,
This ymage in the samé stede
Was evere bi, that até mete
He wolde hire serve and preide hire ete,
And putte unto hire mowth the cuppe;
And whan the bord was taken uppe,
He hath hire into chambre nome,
And after, whan the nyht was come,
He leide hire in his bed al nakid.
He was forwept, he was forwakid,
He keste hire coldé lippés ofte,
And wissheth that thei weren softe,
And ofte he rouneth in hire Ere,
And ofte his arm now hier now there
He leide, as he hir wolde embrace,
And evere among he axeth grace,
As thogh sche wisté what he mente:
And thus himself he gan tormente
With such desese of lovés peine,
That noman mihte him moré peine.
Bot how it were, of his penance
He madé such continuance
Fro dai to nyht, and preith so longe,
That his preiere is underfonge,
Which Venus of hire grace herde;
Be nyhte and whan that he worst ferde,
And it lay in his nakede arm,
The colde ymage he fieleth warm
Of fleissh and bon and full of lif.
1 whilom] formerly on] one
4 entaile] sculpture
5 as tho] then
7 travaile] trouble
12 lyvés] living
13 yvor] ivory
21 corage] spirit
23 preide] prayed
31 nome] taken
34 forwept] worn out with weeping
37 rouneth] whispers
41 wisté] knew
48 underfonge] accepted
50 ferde] fared
5-6 from Piers Plowman
5 [Prologue, lines 1-45]
In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne
I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were;
In habite as an heremite unholy of workes
Went wyde in this world wondres to here.
Ac on a May mornynge on Malverne hulles
Me befel a ferly, of fairy me thoughte:
I was wery forwandred and went me to reste
Under a brode banke bi a bornes side,
And as I lay and lened and loked in the wateres,
I slombred in a slepyng, it sweyved so merye.
Than gan I to meten a merveilouse swevene,
That I was in a wildernesse, wist I never where.
As I bihelde into the est, an hiegh to the sonne,
I seigh a toure on a toft trielich ymaked;
A deep dale binethe, a dongeon thereinne
With depe dyches and derke and dredful of sight.
A faire felde ful of folke fonde I there bytwene,
Of alle maner of men, the mene and the riche,
Worchyng and wandryng as the worlde asketh.
Some putten hem to the plow, pleyed ful selde,
In settyng and in sowyng swonken ful harde,
And wonnen that wastours with glotonye destruyeth.
And some putten hem to pruyde, apparailed hem thereafter,
In contenaunce of clothyng comen disgised.
In prayers and in penance putten hem manye,
Al for love of owre Lorde lyveden ful streyte,
In hope forto have heveneriche blisse;
As ancres and heremites that holden hem in here selles,
And coveiten nought in contre to kairen aboute,
For no likerous liflode her lykam to plese.
And somme chosen chaffare; they cheven the bettere,
As it semeth to owre syght that suche men thryveth;
And somme murthes to make as mynstralles conneth,
And geten gold with here glee giltless, I leve.
Ac japers and jangelers, Judas chylderen,
Feynen hem fantasies and foles hem maketh,
And han here witte at wille to worche, yif they sholde;
That Paule precheth of hem I nel nought preve it here;
Qui turpiloquium loquitur etc. is Luciferes hyne.
Bidders and beggeres fast about yede
Woth her bely and her bagge of bred ful ycrammed;
Fayteden for here fode, foughten atte ale;
In glotonye, God it wote, gon hij to bedde,
And risen with ribaudye, tho roberdes knaves;
Slepe and sori sleuthe seweth hem evre.
2 shope] dressed shroudes] outer garments
6 ferly ... thoughte] marvel, seemingly of the supernatural realm
7 forwandred gone astray
8 bornes] brook's
10 sweyved] sounded
11 meten] dreamed swevene] dream
12 wist] knew
14 seigh] saw toft] hillock trielich] choicely
20 selde] seldom
21 settyng] planting swonken] worked
22 wonnen that] effected that which
23 putten hem to pruyde] devoted themselves to fine array thereafter] accordingly
24 contenaunce] display
26 streyte] strictly
28 ancres] anchorites here] their (as below)
29 kairen] travel
30 likerous lifelode] pleasurable means of life her] their (as below) lykam] body
31 chaffare] trade cheven] succeeded
33 murthes] entertainment conneth] know
34 glee] music leve] believe
35 japers and jangelers] jesters and tale-tellers
36 Feynen] invent fantasies] tricks
37 And ... sholde] And had intelligence enough to work if they had to
38 nel nought preve] will not attest
39 Qui ... hyne] He who slanders is Lucifer's servant
40 Bidders and beggeres] those who made a trade of begging yede] went
42 Fayteden] shammed
43 wote] knows hij] they
44 tho roberdes] those robbers
45 sleuthe] sloth seweth] follows
6 [Passus I, lines 140-88]
`It is a kynde knowyng,' quod she, `that kenneth in thine herte
For to lovye thi Lorde lever than thiselve;
No dedly synne to do, dey though thou sholdest:
This I trowe be treuthe; who can teche the better,
Loke thow suffre hym to sey and sithen lere it after.
For thus witnesseth his worde, worche thou thereafter:
For Trewthe telle that love is triacle of hevene;
May no synne be on him sene that useth that spise,
And alle his werkes he wroughte with love, as him liste,
And lered it Moises for the levest thing and moste like to hevene,
And also the plante of pees, moste precious of vertues.
For hevene myghte noughte holden it, it was so hevy of hymself,
Tyl it hadde of the erthe yeten his fylle.
And whan it haved of this folde flesshe and blode taken
Was nevere leef upon lynde lighter thereafter,
And portatyf and persant as the poynt of a nedle,
That myghte non armure it lette ne none heigh walles.
Forthi is love leder of the lordes folke of hevene,
And a mene, as the maire is bitwene the kyng and the comune;
Right so is love a ledere and the lawe shapeth;
Upon man for his mysdedes the merciment he taxeth.
And, for to knowe it kyndely, it comseth bi myght,
And in the herte there is the hevede and the heigh welle;
For in kynde knowynge in herte there a myghte bigynneth,
And that falleth to the fader that formed us alle,
Loked on us with love and lete his sone deye
Mekely for owre mysdedes, to amende us alle.
And yet wolde he hem no woo that wrought hym that peyne,
But mekelich with mouthe mercy he bisoughte
To have pite of that poeple that peyned hym to deth.
Here myghtow see ensamples in hymselve one,
That he was mightful and meke and mercy gan graunte
To hem that hongen him an heigh and his herte thirled.
Forthi I rede yow riche: haveth reuthe of the pouere;
Though ye be myghtful to mote, beth meke in yowre werkes.
For the same mesures that ye mete, amys other elles,
Ye shullen ben weyen therewyth whan ye wende hennes:
Eadem mensura qua mensi fueritis, remecietur vobis.
For though ye be treewe of yowre tongue and trewliche wynne,
And as chaste as a childe that in cherche wepeth,
But if ye loved lelliche and lende the poure,
Such good as God yow sent godelich parteth,
Ye ne have na more meryte in masse ne in houres
Than Malkyn of here maydenhode that no man desireth.
For James the gentil jugged in his bokes
That faith without the faite is righte no thinge worthi,
And as ded as a dore-tree but if the dedes folwe:
Fides sine operibus mortua est, etc.
Forthi chastite withoute charite worth cheyned in helle;
It is as lewed as a laumpe that no lighte is inne.'
2 lever] dearer
3 dey] die
5 sithen] since lere] teach
6 worche] perform
7 triacle] balm
8 spise] spice (figuratively)
10 lered it Moises] taught it (love) to Moses
11 pees] peace
13 yeten] eaten
14 haved] had folde] earth
15 lynde] linden tree
16 portatyf and persant] quick and piercing
17 lette] hinder
19 mene] intermediary maire] mayor comune] commonalty
21 merciment he taxeth] fine he assesses
22 knowe ... myght] recognize it (love) by instinct, it springs up in the heart by divine power
23 hevede] source
25 falleth] appertains
28 wolde ... woo] wished them no harm
30 pite] pity
31 one] alone
33 thirled] pierced
34 rede] advise reuthe] pity
35 mote] summon to a law court
36 amys other elles] amiss or otherwise
37 weyen] weighed hennes] hence
38 Eadem ... vobis] with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again
39 trewliche wynne] make honest profit
41 But if] unless (as below) lelliche] faithfully lende] give
42 parteth] share with each other
43 houres] the daily services of the church
46 faite] action
47 dore-tree] door-post
48 Fides ... est] faith without works is dead
49 worth] is going to be
50 lewed] useless
7-10 from The Canterbury Tales
7 [General Prologue, lines 1-18]
Whan that Aprill with his shourés soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweeté breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppés, and the yongé sonne
Hath in the Ram his halvé cours yronne,
And smalé fowelés maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmerés for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferné halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
1 soote] sweet
3 licour] juice
11 priketh ... corages] nature spurs them in their hearts' desires
14 ferné halwes, kowthe] distant shrines, known
18 seeke] sick
8 [The Wife of Bath's Prologue, lines 1-34]
`Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age,
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirché dore I have had fyve,
If I so ofte myghte have ywedded bee,
And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
But me was toold, certeyn, nat longe agoon is,
That sith that Crist ne wente neveré but onis
To weddyng, in the Cane of Galilee,
That by the same ensample taughte he me
That I ne sholdé wedded be but ones.
Herkne eek, lo, which a sharp word for the nones,
Biside a wellé, Jhesus, God and man,
Spak in repreeve of the Samaritan:
"Thou hast yhad fyve housbondés," quod he,
"And that ilké man that now hath thee
Is noght thyn housbonde," thus seyde he certeyn.
What that he mente therby, I kan nat seyn;
But that I axe, why that the fifté man
Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?
How manye myghte she have in mariage?
Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age
Upon this nombre diffinicioun.
Men may devyne and glosen, up and doun,
But wel I woot, expres, withouté lye,
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;
That gentil text kan I wel understonde.
Eek wel I woot, he seyde myn housbonde
Sholde leté fader and mooder, and take to me.
But of no nombre mencion made he,
Of bigamye, or of octogamye;
Why sholdé men thanne speke of it vileynye?'
5 on lyve] alive
10 sith] since
14 nones] occasion
21 axe] ask
26 glosen] comment
30 woot] know
31 leté] forsake
9 [The Pardoner's Tale, lines 711-49]
Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile,
Right as they wolde han troden over a stile,
An oold man and a povré with hem mette.
This oldé man ful mekely hem grette,
And seydé thus, `Now, lordés, God yow see!'
The proudeste of thisé riotourés three
Answerde agayn, `What, carl, with sory grace!
Why artow al forwrapped save thy face?
Why lyvestow so longe in so greet age?'
This oldé man gan looke in his visage,
And seydé thus: `For I ne kan nat fynde
A man, though that I walked into Ynde,
Neither in citee ne in no village,
That woldé chaunge his youthé for myn age;
And therfore moot I han myn agé stille,
As longé tyme as it is Goddés wille.
Ne Deeth, allas! ne wol nat han my lyf.
Thus walke I, lyk a restélees kaityf,
And on the ground, which is my moodres gate,
I knokké with my staf, bothe erly and late,
And seyé "Leevé mooder, leet me in!
Lo how I vanysshe, flessh, and blood, and skyn!
Allas! whan shul my bonés been at reste?
Mooder, with yow wolde I chaungé my cheste
That in my chambre longé tyme hath be,
Ye, for an heyré clowt to wrappe in me!"
But yet to me she wol nat do that grace,
For which ful pale and welked is my face.
But, sires, to yow it is no curteisye
To speken to an old man vileynye,
But he trespasse in word, or elles in dede.
In Hooly Writ ye may yourself wel rede:
"Agayns an oold man, hoor upon his heed,
Ye sholde arise;" wherfore I yeve yow reed,
Ne dooth unto an oold man noon harm now,
Namoore than that ye woldé men did to yow
In age, if that ye so longe abyde.
And God be with yow, where ye go or ryde!
I moot go thider as I have to go.'
3 povré] poor
5 see] look upon
6 riotourés] revellers
7 carl] churl
17 han] have, take
18 kaityf] wretch
19 moodres] mother's
21 Leevé] dear
24 cheste] coffer containing valuables
26 heyré clowt] hair clout, cloth
28 welked] withered
31 But] unless
33 Agayns] in the presence of (respectfully)
34 yeve yow reed] advise you
10 from Troilus and Criseyde [line 1800-end]
The wrath, as I bigan yow for to seye,
Of Troilus the Grekis boughten deere.
For thousandés his hondés maden deye,
As he that was withouten any peere,
Save Ector, in his tyme, as I kan heere.
But weilawey, save only Goddés wille!
Despitously hym slough the fierse Achille.
And whan that he was slayn in this manere,
His lighté goost ful blisfully is went
Up to the holughnesse of the eighthé spere,
In convers letyng everich element;
And ther he saugh, with ful avysement,
The erratik sterrés, herkenyng armonye
With sownés ful of hevenyssh melodie.
And down from thennés faste he gan avyse
This litel spot of erthe, that with the se
Embraced is, and fully gan despise
This wrecched world, and held al vanite
To respect of the pleyn felicite
That is in hevene above; and at the laste,
Ther he was slayn, his lokyng down he caste.
And in hymself he lough right at the wo
Of hem that wepten for his deth so faste;
And dampned al oure werk that foloweth so
The blyndé lust, the which that may nat laste,
And sholden al oure herte on heven caste.
And forth he wenté, shortly for to telle,
Ther as Mercurye sorted hym to dwelle.
Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for love!
Swich fyn hath al his greté worthynesse!
Swich fyn hath his estat real above,
Swich fyn his lust, swich fyn hath his noblesse!
Swych fyn hath falsé worldés brotelnesse!
And thus bigan his lovyng of Criseyde,
As I have told, and in this wise he deyde.
O yongé, fresshé folkes, he or she,
In which that love up groweth with youre age,
Repeyreth hom fro worldly vanyte,
And of youre herte up casteth the visage
To thilké God that after his ymage
Yow made, and thynketh al nys but a faire
This world, that passeth soone as floures faire.
And loveth hym, the which that right for love
Upon a crois, oure soulés for to beye,
First starf, and roos, and sit in hevene above;
For he nyl falsen no wight, dar I seye,
That wol his herte al holly on hym leye.
And syn he best to love is, and most meke,
What nedeth feynede love's for to seke?
Lo here, of payens corsed oldé rites,
Lo here, what alle hire goddés may availle;
Lo here, thise wrecched worldés appetites;
Lo here, the fyn and guerdoun for travaille
Of Jove, Appollo, of Mars, of swich rascaille!
Lo here, the forme of oldé clerkis speche
In poetrie, if ye hire bokés seche.
O moral Gower, this book I directe
To the and to the, philosophical Strode,
To vouchen sauf, ther nede is, to correcte,
Of youre benignites and zelés goode.
And to that sothefast Crist, that starf on rode,
With al myn herte of mercy evere I preye,
And to the Lord right thus I speke and seye:
Thow oon, and two, and thre, eterne on lyve,
That regnest ay in thre, and two, and oon,
Uncircumscript, and al maist circumscrive,
Us from visible and invisible foon
Defende, and to thy mercy, everichon,
So make us, Jesus, for thi mercy digne,
For love of mayde and moder thyn benigne.
7 slough] slew
11 convers letyng] leaving on the other side
12 avysement] observation 13 herkenyng] attentively listening to
22 lough] laughed
24 dampned] damned
29 fyn] end
33 brotelnesse] frailty
44 beye] ransom
45 starf] died roos] rose
46 falsen] prove false to
50 payens] pagans
61 sothefast] firm to the truth rode] cross
67 foon] foes
11 from The Daunce of Death [stanzas LXIII-LXIV]
Dethe to the Mynstralle
O thow Minstral that cannest so note and pipe
Un-to folkes for to do plesaunce
By the right honde anoone I shal thee gripe
With these other to go up-on my daunce
Ther is no scape nowther a-voydaunce
On no side to contrarie my sentence
For yn musik be crafte and accordaunce
Who maister is shew his science.
The Mynstral answereth
This newe daunce is to me so straunge
Wonder dyverse and passyngli contrarie
The dredful fotyng dothe so ofte chaunge
And the mesures so ofte sithes varie
Whiche now to me is no thyng necessarie
If hit were so that I myght asterte
But many a man if I shal not tarie
Ofte daunceth but no thynge of herte.
[after the French]
1 note] make musical notes
5 nowther] nor
12 sithes] times
14 asterte] escape
16 no thynge of herte] not with all his heart
Adam lay ibowndyn, bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thowsand wynter thowt he not to long.
And al was for an appil, an appil that he tok,
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn in here book.
Ne hadde the appil take ben, the appil take ben,
Ne hadde never our Lady a ben hevene qwen.
Blyssid be the tyme that appil take was,
Therfore we mown syngyn `Deo gracias!'
1 ibowndyn] bound
4 here] their
8 mown] may Deo gracias] Thanks be to God
The Corpus Christi Carol
Lully, lulley; lully, lulley;
The fawcon hath born my mak away.
He bare hym up, he bare hym down;
He bare hym into an orchard brown.
In that orchard ther was an hall,
That was hangid with purpill and pall.
And in that hall ther was a bede;
Hit was hangid with gold so rede.
And yn that bed ther lythe a knyght,
His wowndes bledyng day and nyght.
By that bedes side ther kneleth a may,
And she wepeth both nyght and day.
And by that beddes side ther stondith a ston,
`Corpus Christi' wretyn theron.
2 mak] mate
11 may] maiden
14 Corpus Christi] the body of Christ
I syng of a mayden that is makeles,
Kyng of alle kynges to here sone che ches.
He cam also stylle ther his moder was
As dew in Aprylle that fallyt on the gras.
He cam also stylle to his moderes bowr
As dew in Aprille that fallyt on the flour.
He cam also stylle ther his moder lay
As dew in Aprille that fallyt on the spray.
Moder and maydyn was never non but che
Wel may swych a lady Godes moder be!
1 makeles] without a mate, matchless
2 ches] chose
3 also] as ther] where
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