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The Lives Of The Poets (Phoenix Giants) Paperback – 3 Jun 1999
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Accessible. Amusing. Contentious. Authoritative. Ambitious. Lives of the Poets tells the story of poetry from the fourteenth century to the present day.
Michael Schmidt surveys the rise of English poetry and the language itself from the Black Death to the court poetry of Chaucer and Sir Philip Sidney, the triumph of Marlowe and Shakespeare, the wit of Donne and Marvell, the urbane sophistication of Pope and Dr Johnson, the romanticism of Keats and Shelley, the questioning spirit of the Victorians and ending with the twentieth century, from T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats to Paul Muldoon and Thom Gunn. Each chapter combines commentary and quotation to acquaint the reader with the main themes of the poet's work, what his influences were, what the key works are, as well as bringing in from the margins some neglected voices. An indispensable book for all those interested in poetry who may not want to read an entire biography of a poet and for anyone studying poetry at school or university.See all Product description
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I wished Schmidt had started earlier and put anglo-saxon works such a Beowulf into the chronology, and he also bypasses the Arthurian romances, but that's a small criticism of a wonderful book.
Schmidt clearly knows his onions and his prose style is always exuberant, sustaining interest for the full 900+ pages. Probably, this text is meant to be read straight through as a novel bringing disparate strands of biiographical detail into one morphous whole.In particular the concept of suffering as the only condition for poetic creativity is a frequently recurring motif
There will always be debate about inclusion / and exclusion (Isn't there always with every anthology?) - my only quibble is the inordinate amount of space afforded to the most contemporary of writers compared to the dead white males who, despite their current politcally uncorrectness certainly seemed to have spicier lives than their still-breathing successors.
Rave on John Donne!
After 174 pages I finally succumbed and got my pencil out. The criticism of Phillip Sidney's work on that page struck me with it's brilliance. Schmidt here (for me at least) gets to the heart of Sidney's work, offering an analysis of poetry itself that reaffirms (and indeed deepens) my love for the art form.
A biography, criticism and sampler of most of the English poets to date, I am certain this book will enlighten poetry enthusiasts and give you a fresh insight into poets you already know as well as an introduction to those you don't.
The only caveat I offer is for those who are attempting to gain an introduction to poetry by this volume: start with building an appreciation for the raw form first. Find out whose poetry you like without the burden of criticism and biography. That way you won't stumble at the first hurdle. Try a poetry collection first, such as The Nation's Favourite Poems. This will hopefully whet your appetite.
For those who loved this book I highly recommend the out-of-date but honestly written The Anatomy of Poetry by Marjorie Boulton, for help to appreciate the form and structure of poetry.
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