Lines have to be drawn in anthologies, as Paul Muldoon is quick to mention in his introduction. Through the poems he has chosen, his erudition and knowledge are beyond doubt, but I still can't help being just a little disappointed with the lines drawn, the poems missing - a very personal disappointment though it may be.
The great and good of canonical English-language poetry are lined up (very occasionally some in translation) from Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Lovelace, Clare, Swift, Pope, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Dickinson, Kipling, Frost, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Moore, Bishop, Hughes and Plath. Of course, there are one or two surprises too!
Delights include Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Windhover"; Elizabeth Bishop's "The Moose" and D H Lawrence's "Bat"... but no doubt everyone will have their own favourites accounted for here. There are also interspersed rhymes from childhood like "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and "Cock Robin" alongside chunks from Whitman's "Song of Myself" or Browning's "The Pied Piper". The alphabetical ordering offers the reader quite an eclectic mix of time and style, as well as some interesting thematic juxtapositions.
Why only four stars then, which seems a little mean? I just wish Muldoon had been a little more daring and selected some more modern poems from the last 50 years or so; poems not yet tried and tested as the majority of this anthology are... and I can't help feeling his refusal to accept work in translation (with certain exceptions) frustrating.
Still, there's so much to admire here in this poetry that "brings out the best in us" as Muldoon observes, that no reader will leave this anthology unmoved.
From Thom Gunn: Considering The Snail
The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth's dark. He
moves in a wood of desire...