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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, ...
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.
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, 134135):
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
Posted March 12, 2009
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 13, 2009
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2005
Posted July 6, 2005
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 3, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 24, 2009
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Posted February 19, 2009
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