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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "... I paint the cot | As truth will paint it, and as bards will not: ...", 28 May 2008
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Selected Poems (Paperback)
This selection is edited by Gavin Edwards of Saint David's University College, Lampeter. His introduction is only six pages and is really what would otherwise be called a note to the text. The endnotes act more as a commentary on the poems, but even these are not really sufficiently informative. I found it far more insightful to read these poems in conjunction with Neil Powell's insightful biography and critique `George Crabbe: An English Life' (2004).

The selection commences with four early works: `Fragment, Written at Midnight', `The Hall of Justice', `Sir Eustace grey' and `The Village', from which comes the title of this review. In this last work, Crabbe relays his feelings and description of his origins at the Suffolk fishing port of Aldeburgh - "... where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er, | Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor; | From thence a length of burning sand appears, | Where the thin harvest waves its withered ears; | ...". "Here joyless roam a wild amphibious race, | With sullen woe displayed in every face; ...". "Yet why, you ask, these humble crimes relate, | Why make the poor as guilty as the great? | To show the great, those mightier sons of Pride, | How near in vice the lowest are allied; | ..."

`The Borough', a poem in 24 letters (1804-09) follows. This edition includes only letters 19-22 inclusive, i.e. The Parish Clerk, Ellen Orford, Abel Keene, and peter Grimes. Extracts from Crabbe's preface appear as an appendix to the book.

Whilst only four of the 24 poems in `The Borough' are included, all 21 of Crabbe's `Tales' (1812) are featured. The whole of his preface is presented in another appendix, where he relates, "I present not my Tales to the Reader as if I had chosen the best method of ensuring his approbation, but as using the only means I possessed of engaging his attention." These are miniature narratives in poetic form, and Crabbe has a gift for perceptive characterisation.

Neil Powell notes that in many of these tales Crabbe also "seems to be wrestling with demons of his own." He says, "There are reflections ... but the mirror is a distorting one." Crabbe's `Tales' are not just a further stage on from `The Borough' in his development as a poet, but are also a consequence of his earlier work: "Crabbe had discovered how to create a compelling character-based narrative by using personal experience as a submerged force, a poetic undercurrent."

In his preface, Crabbe wrote in a very-longwinded way to say that he had taken his tales from life, and that we are all interested in the lives of others, but, as Powell deftly illustrates, "the premise was, in any case, simply untrue: the low characters in his poems have a great deal in common" with Crabbe himself.

There then follows three selections from the 22 in Crabbe's `Tales of the Hall' (1819), and again, his preface is contained within this edition as an appendix. It is interesting, when reading all three appendices in this volume, to remark how laboured is Crabbe's prose compared to his poetics. All of his poetry flows, but there are awkward moments, as in the last line of this stanza from `Delay Has Danger': "But dare she thither once again advance, | And still suppose the man will think it chance? | Nay, yet again, and what has chance to do | With this? - I know not: doubtless Fanny knew."

Crabbe wrote for moral instruction as well as for aesthetic reasons, but whereas much of his morality relies on class distinctions and assumptions that are no longer held in early 21st century society, so the poems have acquired a socio-historical as well as a literary interest for the modern reader. This is a fine and judicious selection of Crabbe's work, but it lacks an engaging introduction that would set Crabbe's works and world in context.
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Selected Poems
Selected Poems by George Crabbe (Paperback - 28 Mar. 1991)
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