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Six Centuries of Great Poetry: A Stunning Collection of Classic British Poems from Chaucer to Yeats Mass Market Paperback – October 3, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Uniquely comprehensive...highly readable...the definitive collection of classic lyric poetry.

From Shakespeare's wise music to Marvell's profundity and wit...from the Romantics' passionate view of man and woman and nature to twentieth-centur poets' confused searching, this outstanding one-volume collection brings us the profound, soul-nourishing experience of great poetry.

Brilliantly selected and arranged by renowned literary masters Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine, the poems here reflect the genius of six centuries of poets. It is the finest anthology of lyric poetry ever published.

"Truth" by Geoffrey Chaucer
"Ophelia's Song" by William Shakespeare
"The Canonization" by John Donne
"To Heaven" by Ben Jonson
"Ode on Solitude" by Alexander Pope
"The Tyger" by William Blake
"The Solitary Reaper" by William Wordsworth
"Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats
"God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins
"Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats

and more than ninety additional classic poems.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Merciles Beautè

Your yën two wol slee me sodenly,
I may the beautè of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hertes wounde, whyl that hit is grene,
Your yën two wol slee me sodenly,
I may the beautè of hem not sustene.

Upon my trouthe I sey yow feithfully
That ye ben of my lyf and deeth the quene;
For with my deeth the trouthe shal be sene.
Your yën two wol slee me sodenly,
I may the beautè of hem not sustene.
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

JOHN DONNE/1573-1631

The Canonization

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five gray hairs, or ruined fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his honour, or his grace,
Or the king's real, or his stampèd face.
Contemplate, what you will approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas, alas, who's injured by my love?
What merchant's ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguey bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us, we two being one, are it.
So to one neutral thing both sexes fit,
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love;

And thus invoke us; you whom reverend love
Made one another's hermitage;
You to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes
(So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize),
Countries, towns, courts: beg from above
A pattern of your love!


A City Shower
In Imitation of Virgil's Georgics

Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more;
Returning home at night, you'll find the sink
Strike your offended sense with double stink.
If you be wise, then, go not far to dine:
You'll spend in coach-hire more than save in wine.
A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Old aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.
Sauntering in coffee-house is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate, and complains of spleen.

Meanwhile, the south, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
While the first drizzling shower is borne aslope:
Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean
Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean:
You fly, invoke the gods; then, turning, stop
To rail; she, singing, still whirls on her mop.
Not yet the dust had shunned th' unequal strife,
But aided by the wind, fought still for life;
And, wafted with its foe by violent gust,
'Twas doubtful which was rain and which was dust.
Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
When dust and rain at once his coat invade.
Sole coat! where dust cemented by the rain
Erects the nap, and leaves a cloudy stain!

Now in contiguous drops the rain comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods but nothing buy.
The templar spruce, while every spout's abroach,
Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tucked up seamstress walks with hasty strides,
While streams run down her oiled umbrella's sides.
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
Boxed in a chair, the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits,
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, ran them through),
Laocoön struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear.

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filths of all hues and odour seem to tell
What street they sailed from by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. 'Pulchre's shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snowhill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn bridge.
Sweepings from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.


Surprised by Joy--Impatient as the Wind

Surprised by joy--impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--

But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.


Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--Those dying generations--at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

WILFRED OWEN/1893-1918

Wild with All Regrets
To Siegfried Sassoon

My arms have mutinied against me--brutes!
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats,
My back's been stiff for hours, damned hours.
Death never gives his squad a Stand-at-ease.
I can't read. There's no use. Take your book.
A short life and a merry one, my buck!
We said we'd hate to grow dead-old. But now,
Not to live old seems awful; not to renew
My boyhood with my boys, and teach 'em hitting,
Shooting, and hunting,--all the arts of hurting!
--Well, that's what I learnt. That, and making money.
Your fifty years in store seem none too many
But I've five minutes. God! For just two years
To help myself to this good air of yours!
One Spring! Is one too hard to spare? Too long?
Spring air would find its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac shoots.

Yes, there's the orderly. He'll change the sheets
When I'm lugged out. Oh, couldn't I do that?
Here in this coffin of a bed, I've thought
I'd like to kneel and sweep his floors forever,--
And ask no nights off when the bustle's over,
For I'd enjoy the dirt. Who's prejudiced
Against a grimed hand when his own's quite dust,--
Less live than specks that in the sun-shafts turn?
Dear dust--in rooms, on roads, on faces' tan!
I'd love to be a sweep's boy, black as Town;
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?
A flea would do. If one chap wasn't bloody,
Or went stone-cold, I'd find another body.

Which I shan't manage now. Unless it's yours.
I shall stay in you, friend, for some few hours.
You'll feel my heavy spirit chill your chest,
And climb your throat on sobs, until it's chased
On sighs, and wiped from off your lips by wind.

I think on your rich breathing, brother, I'll be weaned
To do without what blood remained me from my wound.

"Sailing to Byzantium" by W.B. Yeats reprinted by permission of The Macmillan Co., New York, and A.P. Watt and Son, London.

"Wild with All Regrets" by Wilfred Owen reprinted by permission of the publishers, New Directions, New York, and Chatto and Windus, London.


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Dell (October 3, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440213835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440213833
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.5 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A.Trendl VINE VOICE on July 18, 2000
You'll find all of these poems elsewhere... in thick, expensive volumes. You know who to expect here, and, depending on your knowledge of poetry, might be, as I was, pleasantly surprised and introduced to unfamiliar poets. Buy this book because you can. Read it because the poems are great.

One-stop shopping for all your British poetry needs? Not quite. While that fellow Anonymous gets a few selections, as does his various colleagues and peers, consider this a sampler. A few selections from everyone. Yes, yes.. a 589 page sampler. That's the beauty of it.

I'm a Hopkins fans, and was pleased to see his best pieces. I expected those. New to me were Marston, Oldys, Googe, and a myriad of others. Now I am intrigued to read more of their work.

Portable, and easy to stuff in a coat or briefcase, you'll like the friendly size of the book. The poets are indexed by last name, but organized by chronology in the text itself. The typography is readable (not that teeny tiny stuff some publishers think is good for anthologies).

What more could you want?

I fully recommend this book.

Anthony Trendl
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nosferatu on June 8, 2003
This book should be in the collection of every person that desires to write poetry. Study it from cover-to-cover before beginning your own writing. I especially like the way it is arranged "historically" - chronologically - so you can more easily understand the changes that occurred during the English history of poetry.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Reverse Angle on August 23, 2005
Verified Purchase
I first bought this at a school book fair while still in junior high. Half a lifetime later it is still a treasure to me, albeit a well-worn treasure. Time for a new copy. I only wish for Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God, and Hopkins' Hurrahing in Harvest ... "Up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour/Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier/Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies? ..." This is missing, but there is still enough (and but the beholder wanting). I wish, also, there were more high school English teachers who are excited, passionate about the great poets, but they've become mired in the cult of relevancy. Such a loss. Such a loss.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By LostBoy76 on March 23, 2002
This is an excellent collection of British poetry, and all for the price of a paperback novel. A relatively large selection of poets are represented, focusing mostly on the Elizabethan poets up to the nineteenth century, wisely leaving most of the modern stuff out. Not only are the classic poets like Shakespeare, Herrick, Milton, and Wordsworth present, but also some of the more often overlooked poets such as Emily Bronte, Henry King, and Sir Walter Raleigh. If you are a lover of poetry you probably already own a larger collection of poetry and don't need a relatively small volume like this one. If, however, you are only just discovering the beauty of poetry, this is a worthwhile purchase. "Immortal Poems of the English Language" is also excellent for new poetry lovers. I just wish more people loved this beautiful and uniquely human form of emotional expression.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 1998
If you want a good collection of "famous" English poetry, but don't want to spring for the pricey "New Oxford Book of English Verse," this is a very good choice. It's acceptably thick (589 pages), and covers over 120 poets. The editors allot 10-30 pages each to the big names, so you get a good overview of their work. The book has a good-sized, attractive typeface, and is well-indexed.
Drawbacks are minor, but include its age. It was published in 1955, and includes almost no 20th century poets, women, or minorities. There's no biographical or critical data, just the poems themselves. But as a resource for classics, this is a great collection, and a real bargain.
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