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Selected Poetry (ed. Pat Rogers),
By A Customer
This review is from: Selected Poetry (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
This is a good selection of Pope's poems -- perhaps containing his best work. (Although a complete edition, such as John Butt's one-volume compression of the massive -- and Dunciadical -- Twickenham edition, will contain more pleasures, including Pope's occasional poetry, some of which is very good.)
The introduction is unusually good, a rumbustuous defence of Pope against the long-standing (and surely fading) conception of poetry as simple, sensuous and whatever: the Palgravian imprisonment of poetry into the idealistic lyric.
Pope's poems are, of course, fantastic. (Although I'm not sure that I feel as much for them as I do for a few other poets' work: lack of experience? or does Pope, for all his gifts, really lack some of the -- what? -- inwardness? tenderness? yielding attitude to life that poetry embodied for the Romantics?) I haven't learnt to love 'Windsor Forest' (Pope seems here -- and elsewhere -- to have learnt from Ben Jonson, whose 'To Penshurt' is perhaps the originator of this genre), and confess that 'The Rape of the Lock' is too refined for my taste. The humour in 'The Dunciad' seems to stretch much further -- such as the diving into the river in Book Two (surely taken from Jonson's concluding poem in his 'Epigrams') where one dunce relates how the mud-nymphs ("Nigrina black, and Merdamente brown") fell in love with him.
Pope's verse-letters and satires are fantastic too: crisp, like nothing else in English. (The epigramaic sharpness, and concern for making satire a work of art, again more akin to Jonson than Dryden.) Passages like this description of a Lord's library:
His study! with what authors is it stored?
In books, not authors, curious in my lord;
To all their dated backs he turns you round:
These Aldus printed, those De Suel has bound.
Lo some are vellum, and the rest as good
For all his Lordship knows, but they are wood.
-- Or this devasting portrait of a bluestocking:
Wise wretch! with pleasures too refined to please,
With too much spirit to be e'er at ease,
With too much quickness ever to be taught,
With too much thinking to have common thought,
You purchaise pain with all that joy can give,
And die of nothing but a rage to live.