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The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer through Robert Frost

Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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 as his final meditation upon all those who have formed his mind.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060540425
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/7/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 1008
  • Sales rank: 181,284
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. His more than thirty books include The Best Poems of the English Language, The Art of Reading Poetry, and The Book of J. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including the Academy’s Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism, the International Prize of Catalonia, and the Alfonso Reyes Prize of Mexico.

Biography

"Authentic literature doesn't divide us," the scholar and literary critic Harold Bloom once said. "It addresses itself to the solitary individual or consciousness." Revered and sometimes reviled as a champion of the Western canon, Bloom insists on the importance of reading authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer -- not because they transmit certain approved cultural values, but because they transcend the limits of culture, and thus enlarge rather than constrict our sense of what it means to be human. As Bloom explained in an interview, "Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. He exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage."

Bloom began his career by tackling the formidable legacy of T.S. Eliot, who had dismissed the English Romantic poets as undisciplined nature-worshippers. Bloom construed the Romantic poets' visions of immortality as rebellions against nature, and argued that an essentially Romantic imagination was still at work in the best modernist poets.

Having restored the Romantics to critical respectability, Bloom advanced a more general theory of poetry. His now-famous The Anxiety of Influence argued that any strong poem is a creative "misreading" of the poet's predecessor. The book raised, as the poet John Hollander wrote, "profound questions about... how the prior visions of other poems are, for a true poet, as powerful as his own dreams and as formative as his domestic childhood." In addition to developing this theory, Bloom wrote several books on sacred texts. In The Book of J, he suggested that some of the oldest parts of the Bible were written by a woman.

The Book of J was a bestseller, but it was the 1994 publication of The Western Canon that made the critic-scholar a household name. In it, Bloom decried what he called the "School of Resentment" and the use of political correctness as a basis for judging works of literature. His defense of the threatened canon formed, according to The New York Times, a "passionate demonstration of why some writers have triumphantly escaped the oblivion in which time buries almost all human effort."

Bloom placed Shakespeare along with Dante at the center of the Western canon, and he made another defense of Shakespeare's centrality with Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, an illuminating study of Shakespeare's plays. How to Read and Why (2000) revisited Shakespeare and other writers in the Bloom pantheon, and described the act of reading as both a spiritual exercise and an aesthetic pleasure.

Recently, Bloom took up another controversial stance when he attacked Harry Potter in an essay for The Wall Street Journal. His 2001 book Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages advanced an alternative to contemporary children's lit, with a collection of classic works of literature "worthy of rereading" by people of all ages.

The poet and editor David Lehman said that "while there are some critics who are known for a certain subtlety and a certain judiciousness, there are other critics... who radiate ferocious passion." Harold Bloom is a ferociously passionate reader for whom literary criticism is, as he puts it, "the art of making what is implicit in the text as finely explicit as possible."

Good To Know

Bloom earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1955 and was hired as a Yale faculty member that same year. In 1965, at the age of 35, he became one of the youngest scholars in Yale history to be appointed full professor in the department of English. He is now Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and Berg Visiting Professor of English at New York University.

Though some conservative commentators embraced Bloom's canon as a return to traditional moral values, Bloom, who once styled himself "a Truman Democrat," dismisses attempts by both left- and right-wingers to politicize literature. "To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all," he told a New York Times interviewer.

His great affinity for Shakespeare has put Bloom in the unlikely position of stage actor on occasion; he has played his "literary hero," port-loving raconteur Sir John Falstaff, in three productions.

Bloom is married to Jeanne, a retired school psychologist whom he met while a junior faculty member at Yale in the 1950s. They have two sons.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Harold Irving Bloom (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York and New Haven, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 11, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Cornell University, 1951; Ph.D., Yale University, 1955

Read an Excerpt

The Best Poems of the English Language
From Chaucer Through Robert 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" ortrumpet 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 Robert Frost
. Copyright © by Harold Bloom. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Okay

    While I respect Bloom as a staunch advocate of reading and aesthetic merit in literature, I have to disagree with many of his selections here. Also, he doesn't include any poems by Cummings, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes \or many other prominent poets. And his views on Edgar Allan Poe are inconsistent and archaic.

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  • Posted January 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A delight to read anytime, anywhere

    Harold Bloom has done an outstanding job of compiling a group of the greatest poets through centuries of work. His written passages that precede the author's works are great insight, even if you do not fully agree with them. <BR/><BR/>I also enjoy the fact that he put in Chaucer and others' original works, not whatever he felt would read easiest. Bloom allows you to witness the creativity and brilliance of the author's work, without too much of his own personal influence.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2005

    19 minutes 19 hours

    its about a girl who waits for her guy to come and help her get out of trouble but its not working out beetween him and her....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2005

    the manipulator of its lovers

    manipulator, deceiver of human you vamp you have vandalise human image and now man because of you man cannot visualise his dreams for your sake man commit rituals your love maximise prostitution among girl in the nation and your love is the root of all evil money you have brought the nation to astake you have increase the rate of malpractise in school examination now adays for your sake does not test one's ability but render one foolyou have bring discrimination and take away fair treatment in schools.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2004

    Awesome!

    Picked this up at a bookstore- and loved every single page of it. Well worth a read especially considering that Bloom, as the reviews say, is wonderfully eccentric! You may not agree with everything he says about poetry but it is throught provoking.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2004

    Worth Having

    The Best Poems is a great collection to have. It is something you can read on a rainy day, when you are in love, when you are angry, or when you simply want to explore a whole other world. This is the kind of book that will just fit in anywhere. Keep it in your den and bring it down whenever you need a great quote or some insight on life. With so many modern poets writing about no-so-lovely things (with the drugs, the negativity, etc.) it is refreshing to go back into these times of past when the roses smelled just a little sweeter. As long as you are celebrating poetry month, I might suggest a book of poems by an author named Geraldi called Lowilo. The book is reminiscent of the great poets like Frost and Longfellow. It is (mostly) rhyming, which is also refreshing because it is safe and innocent in it's way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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