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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An imaginative selection, 28 May 2005
This review is from: Sea-Fever. Selected Poems of John Masefield. Edited with an Introduction by Philip W. Errington (Paperback)
John Masefield's stock has been steadily sinking since his death in 1967 (not that it was very high then). Significant fresh publications are a rare event. Sympathetic publishers cannot but be aware that those who want to read him are not only rather few but can find virtually all his books secondhand on the internet for a few pounds apiece. All they need is guidance as to which are the most worth reading. There is no consensus about his prose, but there has always been general agreement that his essential contribution to English poetry was the series of substantial narrative poems with contemporary settings that he published between 1911 and 1921, of which the finest are 'The Everlasting Mercy', 'Dauber' and 'Reynard the Fox'. These can be found in any edition of his collected poems. But a new 'Selected Poems' has to offer something more distinctive than simply a reprint of a few acknowledged masterpieces. This new selection gives short extracts from the great long poems (no more satisfactory than such extracts ever are), but it is essentially an anthology of the poet's shorter pieces. It has one supreme merit: it is not simply a selection from the Collected Poems but contains numerous pieces that never made it into the Collected Poems; of these most will be unfamiliar even to Masefield addicts, and a few appear now in print, or at least in book form, for the first time. A good number of these little known or utterly unknown poems are well worth discovery; most have that simplicity and sincerity that characterized this poet, while several are delightful pieces of light verse, even including a few pieces where Masefield is parodying himself. This makes this new publication a 'must' for Masefield addicts even if they already possess the Collected Poems; they will read, and re-read, it with surprise and delight. Meanwhile, the general reader will be entertained by the wide range in matter and manner that makes this book a lively read. At the same time, however, this selection suffers from certain drawbacks. Masefield's prime strength was as a narrative poet, and one would therefore have liked to see more of his (shorter) narrative poems included. Secondly, critical connoisseurs of English poetry who turn to this volume sceptical of Masefield's merits but ready to give him a go may be put off by the inclusion of a quantity of work that is characteristic of the poet but not very good by objective standards. This is a book for Masefield fans, not the unconverted.
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