The New Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry Paperback – 29 May 2003
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aAn absolutely fascinating selectionanotable for its women poets, its intriguing thematic categories, and its helpful mini-biographies.a (Richard Holmes)
About the Author
Jonathan Wordsworth, a descendant of William, is Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust & retired Professor of English Literature at Oxford. He has edited and written widely on Romantic poetry, including The Prelude: Four Texts (Penguin). Jessica Wordsworth is editing Coleridge's selected poems for Penguin.
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There are two problems. Firstly, the text is centred in the page. Due to the restricted width of the Kindle screen many lines wrap. The verses can only be read comfortably in landscape mode.
A more serious problem concerns the notes. They have not been implemented as footnotes (where the annotated word or phrase is underlined and the note appears at a touch). This would have been wonderful. Instead they appear as a chapter at the end of the book, and have no index or table of contents themselves. The only way to locate the notes for a particular poem is to navigate to the notes chapter via the main contents menu and then use the preview slider (swipe up) to scan through. Annoyingly, footnotes do exist (and this is what misled me into buying the Kindle edition in the first place) but are used only to define obscure vocabulary or dialect. Why does the Notes entry in the main contents not have a "sub" table of contents, as do the other chapters of the book ("Romantic Hallmarks", etc)? The same criticism applies to the Biography chapter and the indexes.
Considering that the notes are one of the main reasons to buy this book - as opposed to a much cheaper un-annotated edition such as Dover Thrift - or indeed to downloading everything from Project Gutenberg, as the verse itself all in the public domain - I do feel rather cheated.
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First of all, there are few volumes of poetry from the Romantic period in print (A comment to those who are unfamiliar with the term "Romantic" in reference to an historical period. This is not a book of "love poems"; it is a book of poems written during the period of roughly 1795 to 1830.) The only way that one who is interested in poems from this era can build a collection of them is to buy more than one book. I know of no single book that can meet an expectation of completeness. Therefore it is silly to get into this type of debate.
What this book does provide is 1000 pages representing the major, and many minor poets of the period.
For those who are not serious scholars it also has three important extra features:
1. It provides an informative introduction to the poetry.
2. It provides about 150 pages of notes on the poems. To me this is a most useful aid to reading, and I am disappointed when an anthology of poetry from a long gone era does not provide it. The notes provide interpretations and explanations of obsolete English terms, classical and obscure literary references, and, in the case of this book, some interesting comments on various lines in the poem.
3. It provides brief biographies of the poets.
What is unusual in the book is that it presents the poems according to various themes such as "Man and Nature", The Romantic Sonnet", and "Protest and Politics". You, as I, may prefer the simple technique of having the contents laid out by poets in alphabetical order, but fortunately there is an index of each poet with all of that author's poems listed under his/her name. This method of organizing the book isn't any less screwy than the one found in "The New Oxfod Book of Romantic Period Verse", in which each section is by year, starting with the poems written in 1785. Thus one poet's works my be spread throughout a huge chunk of the book.
There is a lot of poetry in this book, but if you really, really want to encompass the period you have to buy more books.
To the best of my knowledge those in print at reasonable cost are:
1.The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. It is annotated.
2.English Romantic Poetry An Anthology. This is a Dover Publication. A smaller book of only 240 pages, and typically, for Dover books, it is not annotated. The good news is that it is dirt cheap.
3. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. There are about 250 pages of Romantic Poetry in this massive 2000 page book. The advantage of this volume is that you are getting an annotated book of poems ranging from the beginning of English poetry to the present. The disadvantage is that it is not an inexpensive book.
The notes provided at the end of the books do not interfere with the interpretation of the poem, and only serve as a way to gloss meaning of archiac words or obscure references made to things that would have been common knowledege then. Thus it leaves the reader free to attach any frame of intepretation or meaning to the poem itself, without ever finding himself forced or compelled to take the view of the editors.
Another useful feature the collection has is the inclusion of short write-ups about the poets' lives. They give a brief, but incisive introduction to the poets, and more importantly, places them within the timeframe of the long Romantic Period.
That said, this anthology is really for the casual reader, one who may have a personal interest in Romantic poetry (and an interest that will prove rewarding, I might add) or simply wish to explore new poets before reading more of their work. As such, you will not find certain poems that other anthologies might choose for the sake of its significance in the corpus of the poets' work. For instance, Blake's "Auguries of Innocence" (To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour) is strangely missing from this collection.
But otherwise this is a great collection and a portable copy that one can take around and read while on the bus or the train, or even during the lunch break. The poets are never presented in a way that is meant to intimidate the new reader with the history and grandness of the poet, but are instead presented in what I can only call a "friendly" manner.
If one is more interested in an anthology that goes a little further than this, in terms of analysis or textual help, "Romanticism: An Anthology" by Duncan Wu would be an excellent choice. The 3rd edition is now currently available.
The anthology is divided into sections, some of which are grouped by theme (love narratives, politics) and others by genre (sonnet, ode, etc.) and each section is given an introduction. The numbering of the poems starts over with each section, making it a little clumsy and better suited for personal, not classroom, use. Nevertheless, the section themes are well chosen, some being expected ("Man and Nature") and some a little novel ("Comedy and Satire.")
The most impressive thing about this anthology is its women poets. Women are very well represented (though still not as well as the Big Six) and their poems in this anthology make me want to go out and read more of their works, especially those of Charlotte Smith and Felicia Hemans.
I do feel that a little more room could have been taken away from the members of the Big Six (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats) to make way for the poets whose reputations are beginning to rise at this time. Wordsworth, in particular, is a little over-represented with over seventy selections. Every one of his selections is good, but not all are essential.
My only real gripe with this anthology (in all honesty, I'd give it four-and-a-half stars instead of four) is its representation of John Clare, who has about a dozen selections. Although I'd like to see more selections, my real problem is with which poems were chosen to represent him. Clare is now considered by many poets and scholars to be England's greatest nature poet, which is why I was surprised to see only one Clare poem in the "Man and Nature" section of this anthology. Clare took issue with the way his fellow poets represented nature, especially in poems like Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," in which real natural scenery is nearly abstracted out of existence. He insisted on accurate descriptions of nature and by the time he hit his stride in the 1830s, even his "plain" descriptive poetry is incredibly powerful and able to evoke emotion in the reader just like any Wordsworth or Keats poem. The one Clare nature poem here is, in fact, that most Wordsworthian Clare poem I've ever read, showing that the editors are still judging Clare by the High Romanticism which he consciously differed from.
All in all, this is a solid anthology. Definitely a companion for the poetry lover to lug around on trips or walks. I'm excited about its representation of women poets, but don't judge Clare based on the selections in this anthology. He is much better, and much more original, than he appears here.
The introduction is so-so, spending its first page or two explaining how there's no fixed meaning to the term 'romantic' as applied to poetry, but then offering some useful historical information and an overview of the poets' responses to contemporary events.
Wordsworth is the star of the volume, as you'd expect from the editors' last name. Shelley's political work is slightly emphasized. Adonais and The Fall of Hyperion and Christabel are excerpted only; these are strange and uneven works for the newcomer so this decision is probably justifiable. Little attention is given to Thomas Lovell Beddoes and John Clare.
Taking a knife to the irrelevancies, this book is a good introductory anthology of the more accessible great poems of the era. Its length partly drowns out its light but steady adherence to contemporary university fashions, which are probably invincible market pressures on poetry anthologies at this time. Penguin's previous romantic anthology, edited by David Wright, was far too short and had willful and eccentric selections. The New Oxford Anthology of Romantic Period Verse, though almost as long, lacks Wordsworth's Two-Book Prelude, the finest poem of the period, and is even more obsessed than the present volume with political and feminine writings; all, may I emphasize, as drenched in convention and artificiality and simple-mindedness as an anthology of random poems by the people who live on your block would be.
So this is the best readily available anthology of the period in print.
In all, the book is printed on paperback-style paper which makes the book easy to read and light to carry. The book is relatively inexpensive. I used this book for a college course on Romantic poetry.
An alternate to this book is Volume D - The Romantic Period of the six volume set of the Norton Anthology of English Literature.