A brilliant book! The 22 loosely connected essays, that form the chapters of this book, are enjoyable and easy to read, but instructive and illuminating at the same time. An accomplised poet, James Fenton clearly understands both the technicalities and the aesthetics of English poetry very well. And in this book I think he does a fine job of communicating both, with a light smattering of his, obviously extensive, erudition.
After reading this book I understand not simply what metre is, and what some of the metrical techniques are, but I also understand how to appreciate metre much better, and how metre contributes to the overall poetic achievement. And that is what I liked. But what is particularly impressive is that this knowledge and understanding is communicated by a series of short and simple essays, which are the book chapters. You can read and learn something worthwhile in ten minutes - or perhaps even less.
Too often in studies of literature a reader can feel oppressed by the erudition of the writer; but not here. James Fenton uses his knowledge of poetry well, it helps him to instruct, and it inspires our apprecation of the peotic concept and of the quoted poet. Perhaps the best example of this is his quote from Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel. I had barely heard of Dryden, but after reading the chapter that quotes Absalom and Achitophel I am left thinking, "I want to read that poem, and more Dryden."
In short if you want to learn about English poetry and be better able to appreciate it, then read this book.