Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Immortal Poems of the English Language
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Customer Reviews

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When a friend of mine wanted to know what volume of poetry I could recommend, adding the caveat that he wasn't going to wade through a thousand pages. I immediately thought of this book, 'Immortal Poems of the English Language', edited by Oscar Williams. This is an absolutely superb anthology.
The poetry is arranged chronologically by poet - it begins with Chaucer and contemporary anonymous compositions, and proceeds through the various literary time periods to the present day. All of the greats are to be found here: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Yeats, Wordsworth (the list can go on and on) as well as some lesser-known but nonetheless great versifiers such a Peele, Cowley, and Landor.
These are pieces of the English language, from the Middle English of Chaucer (presented without translation or notes) quickly getting to more modern recognisable texts. The poets come from all around the world; English as a literary language was carried forth by the British Empire, and English poetry now belongs, as a product and as an instrument of creativity.
As befits his status as the greatest of English poets, Shakespeare has more pages than any other (29 pages), and some pieces come from the plays rather than his poetry proper. Some poets of giant stature (Chaucer, the first poet in the anthology) seem to get short-shrift here (none of the Canterbury Tales is included; Longfellow and Elizabeth Barrett Browning have less than one page each). However, taken as an accessible, overall compilation, this gives a great insight into the pattern of development of a poetical language.
Being available as a portable paperback, this book has been a frequent travel companion. One of the things I traditionally do on airline flights is to pull out this volume and memorise poems; over the course of time I have memorised hundreds of poems, all from this text.
Perhaps the one thing I would wish for would be a bit more biography about the poets themselves (they appear only as names and dates; one can place them with other poets into time periods). This would, however, significantly increase the size of the volume. Williams has provided a very brief essay on the importance of poetry. Williams himself is represented as a poet in these pages.
While one can quibble at the exclusions and inclusions, it is true that no anthology can ever be complete, and that is true of this one. One unfortunate thing is that it has not been updated to include poets of the past thirty years. It is true that it is difficult to determine what poetry will be honoured and enduring, a nod to some of the more acclaimed poets of this generation would be a welcome addition.
If one is going to have but one book of poetry, it would not be a far stretch of the imagination to believe that it might be this one, and that the owner would be well-served for the acquisition.
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on August 24, 2004
As with all anthologies, there will be a number of reviewers sniffing in an offended manner at the dearth (or glut) of Cummings, Yeats, Aiken, or Pope, but any 600 page anthology, by it's very nature, must be incomplete. I purchased this compilation three years ago for long flights and such and it has yet to disappoint. For the size and price of this work, one would be hard-pressed to do better.

As for content, all the major poets are more or less liberally represented. Cummings gets short shrift, and several of Yeats' most memorable pieces "An Irish Airman Forsees His Death", for one) are excluded. Yet I am certain novice and old hand alike will find this work passes the time admirably.

Having been with me through several housheold moves, military action, and cramped backpacks no self-respecting piece of literature should have to endure, my copy is now fairly falling apart. Yet when it expires, I will buy another copy. No other anthology, especially in terms of price, convenience, and memories, could ever compare.
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on December 31, 2005
I too love this anthology. A passionate love of poetry has been part of my upbringing. Let me say that both my mother, Gene Derwood, and Oscar Williams, my biological father, contributed to the selection of the greatest of the great poetry of the English language. Thus we have the contribution of a husband and wife team. Reviewers have mentioned updating this volume, but what has happened is that modern poetry writing no longer follows a firm tradition. Modern poetry is a shotgun blast. There are no recognizable standards for universal selection. Plath is recognized because you cannot divorce her from her suicide. Ginsberg you cannot divorce from his beard and little clanging bells, a media invention. Bob Dylan you cannot divorce from his being a song writer and media invention. If you are not a media invention and only a poet, what chance do you have? So Immortal Poems represents classic taste before media took over the American mind. The media is immortal these days, not poetry. Selecting from contemporary poets not using traditional standards would be difficult to do. I would still love to do it. For those interested in Oscar Williams there is information now available on the web. Just search it with oscarwilliams and see what their world was like in the twentieth century.
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on June 12, 2001
I own various anthologies of American, British, and modern poetry, but none of them are as portable and densely packed with soul-moving poetry as this six dollar book. You may find it regrettable that the book lacks some of your favorite poems. Sandburg appears but without Chicago, and Poe but no Raven. However, each one of the poems stirs in such a way that you will find the titular adjective "immortal" quite apropriate. My copy has traveled with me over three continents, and now rests on my nightstand. As someone who loves poetry, its the one book that I don't leave home without.
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HALL OF FAMEon November 13, 2004
As other readers have said this anthology contains selections from the great poets of the English language from Beowulf to the middle of the twentieth century. It is the kind of book which can be read and reread for years upon years. I would however take exception to the claim that it is the best anthology of its kind. It does not have explanatory material provides no introduction to the poets, no interpretation of their work. There are other anthologies ( Among them ' The Concise Treasury of Great Poems' by Louis Untermeyer) which do so. Nonetheless the bottom line is that this Anthology contains very much of the greatest poetry in the English language.
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on April 12, 2013
There is a school of thought in literary criticism (called "reader response") that the reader should not ingest preconceptions about a literary work through others' critiques and interpretations, or any particular editor's perspectives on authorial intent or historical context before reading a work, but should engage the work itself and interpret for one's self. This anthology provides responsive readers with just the text--providing students and teachers alike with a vast trove of verse, and empowering teacher and reader alike to seek whatever extraneous information she or he feels necessary. I have not found a more satisfying or comprehensive assortment of authors and titles collected in one volume. My only criticism is that selections sometimes seem to appeal more to the editor's aesthetic sense than to faithful representation of a poet's style. A work most characteristic of Emily Dickinson, for example, would be a few intensely compact lines of free verse, while the selections Oscar Williams chose for this anthology are typically a dozen lines or so with fairly regular meter and rhyme scheme. Intense study into any one poet would require looking into other sources. As a pocket-sized, broad collection of English poetry, this is as good as it gets.
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on May 24, 2013
I grew up with this volume. My parents owned a 1960 edition, purchased that year, the year before I was born. It was the first book of poetry I ever studied. In fact, the first poem I read in it was Dylan Thomas' "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London," a poem that I found chilling and entrancing, although my nine-year-old brain could make little sense of it. I carried that book with me throughout college and my early career in publishing. By 2000, when I finally retired it, the book's pages were brown with age and so brittle that they chipped away at the edges every time I handled it. The binding glue had long since dried out thoroughly, and the pages came out in handfuls. The whole thing was held together with a rubber band. It was a tremendous sight -- a book that had been so well read, so used, so valued and loved that it was disintegrating under my very touch.

I put it away and forgot about it until a month ago, then came to Amazon and purchased this latest printing. It was wonderful to rediscover some old favorites again: Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," Edwin Arlington Robinson's "The Dark Hills," and countless others.

Unfortunately, within just three weeks, the binding began to fall apart. First a few pages came loose, and then an entire chunk, from roughly page 369 to page 458, broke away clean from the binding. It took just three weeks for the book to look about as bad as my vintage copy from 1960. This volume deserves better. It would be wonderful to see it in hardcover, though I don't believe it has ever been in its 60-year history. Luckily, I found an old library edition that had been converted to hardcover, and it looks like it will wear well.
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on March 10, 2016
A TRUE TREASURE AND MUST HAVE! MANY YEARS AGO I WAS LOOKING FOR A CERTAIN POEM FOR MY HUSBAND. I FINELY CAME ACROSS THIS BOOK AND SURPRISED MY POETRY LOVING HUSBAND WITH IT. MONTY ,MY HUSBAND IS STILL FINDING POEMS TO THIS VERY DAY FROM THIS AMAZING LITTLE BOOK.HE HAS WORN THIS BOOK OUT. MONTY IS A MASTER POET AND LOVES WRITING POETRY IN THE SAME STYLE AS ALL THE GREATS OF THE PAST, THAT HAVE BEEN COLLECTED BY OSCAR WILLIAMS. OUT OF ALL THE BOOKS HE HAS , THIS BOOK IS THE ONE HE CONDENSERS ABOVE ALL OTHERS. I MY SELF DO NOT CARE FOR POETRY NOR DO I HAVE A UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THESE FAMOUS POETS ARE SAYING. COMPLETELY OVER MY HEAD. THE ONE THING I KNOW IS THAT THIS BOOK IS HIS MOST TREASURED. I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD EVER FIND IT AGAIN. AMAZON NEVER STOPS SURPRISING ME, WHEN I'M LOOKING FOR ANY THING NO MATTER WHAT IT MAY BE. I JUST KNEW THIS BOOK WAS MOST LIKELY NOT BEING PRINTED ANY MORE,SO WHEN IT APPEARED , I WAS BLOWN AWAY WITH EXCITEMENT! SINCE THE COPY OF HIS IS SO WORN, I NEEDED TO FIND ANOTHER COPY BEFORE THE OTHER ONE'S PAGES STARTED FALLING OUT. I ORDERED 2 , ONE FOR HIM AND ONE FOR HIS FRIEND WHO WAS SO TAKEN WITH THIS INCREDIBLE COLLECTION OF 597 POEMS IN ONE 637 PAGE BOOK.TO SEE THE GREAT ENJOYMENT THIS BOOK HAS BROUGHT TO MY HUSBAND SPEAKS TO THE VALUE OF THIS ONE BOOK. I WOULD SAY TO EVERY LOVER OF POETRY, THAT TO HAVE THIS BOOK WOULD BECOME YOUR MOST TREASURED OF THEM ALL. ONCE YOU START READING IT, YOU'LL BE WEARING IT OUT, SO I WOULD RECOMMEND YOU BUY 2 INSTEAD OF ONE. FOR SUCH A GRAND COLLECTION OF ALL THE GREATEST POETS IN HISTORY AT THIS LOW PRICE IS SURPRISING COMPARED TO OTHER BOOKS OUT THERE WOULD MAKE YOU BELIEVE THIS BOOK MUST NT BE VERY GOOD. BUT IF YOU READ OTHER PEOPLES REVIEWS ABOUT THIS BOOK, YOU WILL BE CONVINCED OTHER WISE. AMAZON THANK YOU FOR NEVER DISAPPOINTING! YOUR FAITHFUL CUSTOMER KAREN.
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on December 14, 2014
I will keep this short and sweet. I have bought several anthologies of poems and this is the best by far. This really took my interest in poetry to the next level, and introduced me to many of the great, but lesser known poets.
PLEASE UPLOAD THIS TO KINDLE!!!!!! I would pay $15 for it even. My book is worn down and pages are falling out. Plus anytime you buy old literature, unless your a great intellectual, I find it's best to buy the Kindle Ebook version simply because you can touch a word and it will instantaneously give you the definition. This is especially important in poetry, where every word has been carefully selected by the author, and if you do not know what that word means you may be missing out on the full meaning of a beautiful metaphor, or a poignant statement or allegory etc. I'm reading Dickens now, and I love the instant dictionary.
PLEASE< EVERYONE ASK AMAZON TO MAKE THIS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE.
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on February 12, 2013
I had this book many years ago and it was destroyed by my late siamese cat. I guess he wasn't a fan of the english word. Well I have been looking for this book all over and finally found it here on Amazon and once I recieved it in the mail, I was spouting poetry to my husband around the house much to his dismay! :)
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