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Six Centuries of English Poetry from Tennyson to Chaucer: Typical Selections from the Great Poets (1892)

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30 review for Six Centuries of English Poetry from Tennyson to Chaucer: Typical Selections from the Great Poets (1892)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    I’m on a poetry odyssey. Poetry is not a form of writing that I ever took to, always dreading those weeks in literature class when we studied the poets. I rarely understood what the heck the poets were trying to say with their poems. “What do you think this passage was about?” the teacher would ask. I hadn’t a clue but used my best deductive reasoning to answer. Poets were always writing about love, especially lost love…but this particular poem wasn’t about love. Even I could figure that out. It’ I’m on a poetry odyssey. Poetry is not a form of writing that I ever took to, always dreading those weeks in literature class when we studied the poets. I rarely understood what the heck the poets were trying to say with their poems. “What do you think this passage was about?” the teacher would ask. I hadn’t a clue but used my best deductive reasoning to answer. Poets were always writing about love, especially lost love…but this particular poem wasn’t about love. Even I could figure that out. It’s a 17th century poem. People were all into religion back then, right? “God.” I answered. I’m sure the teacher tried to follow up to ask me what made me think it was about God? I’m sure I shrugged and slid down in my seat. Turns out the poem was about a bird or nature or something. I hate being wrong, and I hated not understanding something. I never understood poems and thus I came to avoid them. In recent years, however, I’ve made it a goal to gain an appreciation of poetry at the very least. Even if I never come to love it like others do, I want to understand why they love it. I employed James Baldwin’s “Six Centuries of English Poetry from Tennyson to Chaucer” to do just that. I had read enough poems and books about poetry that I felt confident in embarking on a sort of timeline of English poetry, tracing its development through the centuries. My primary requirement when seeking a book was that it be (a) electronic and (b) free. This late 19th century volume fit the bill on both counts. It turns out that this James Baldwin was a prolific author of educational texts at the turn of the last century of which my chosen anthology was one. His approach to teaching poetry was to have students start with current poets and work backwards. He also suggested tackling the poem first, coming at it without explanation. Some poems were footnoted, especially clarifying particularly obscure or historical references. He supplied an explanation of the poem, why it had been included, and a brief bio of the poet at the end of each poetry section. It wasn’t a bad approach. I took my time working through the poetry text, sometimes reading several poems in a sitting and sometimes setting aside the book for weeks. It did its job. I have a decent working knowledge of the major English language male poets (nary a woman or person of color in the bunch, of course, given the publication date of the collection.) There were poems I appreciated, poems I found humorous, poems I found insightful. I still have not, however, encountered that poem which emotionally moves me. I fear I’m too shallow. Or maybe I don’t suffer in the same way poets do. Maybe my suffering requires a different mode of expression. Depending on what you want to get out of a poetry anthology, this is a good read. It’s limited by its time (see the all white men reference above) which doesn’t make the contents that are there bad – the poetry has merit – it simply makes the collection incomplete.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    I started this on a whim, after mucking about on some poetry website and realizing that I hadn't read much of the "great English poets" besides a few odd verses in school. This collection is in the public domain, and is framed with (rather hilarious) Victorian-era scholarship and ideas about what makes great poetry. The snobbery is entertaining, and I wonder what the editor would have had to say about T.S. Eliot or Allen Ginsberg (haha). I most enjoyed the selections of Tennyson, Coleridge, and I started this on a whim, after mucking about on some poetry website and realizing that I hadn't read much of the "great English poets" besides a few odd verses in school. This collection is in the public domain, and is framed with (rather hilarious) Victorian-era scholarship and ideas about what makes great poetry. The snobbery is entertaining, and I wonder what the editor would have had to say about T.S. Eliot or Allen Ginsberg (haha). I most enjoyed the selections of Tennyson, Coleridge, and Chaucer, but was saddened that one of my favorites Thomas Hood had been left out, though his name is mentioned--I suppose as a mere "humorist" he was not quite classy enough for late Victorian scholars to include here. I'm not such a fan of the overblown, melodramatic and bombastic poetry a la Keats and Shelly, though the editor certainly is. The book is arranged in an odd way, starting with the most recent poets (Tennyson, in this case) and working backwards through time to Chaucer, with the poets separated into their respective centuries. It was a bit confusing at first, but I rather liked starting with the readable and working my way back to the more obscure language and allusions of the 15th and 14th centuries. According to Victorian scholars, by the way, there is pretty much nothing worth reading that came out of the 15th century.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lovmelovmycats Hart

    It was not an easy read. It was worth it though. A good survey. I liked the backwards chronology.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Starseed Indigo

    Wonderful Collection but... The table of contents is unmanageable. I still gave it five stars because it is a wonderful collection. Comes complete with notes. Wished the contents were more interactive so that the reader can select a specific poet rather than needing to page through until you get to that poet in particular.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Naticia

    The 19th century gloss is interesting enough, but the older poems and ballads are amazing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    I'm not about to 'review' all the six centuries of poetry. But I can relate my experience reading them. First, I thought the introductory text by the author was very friendly and inviting. He clearly explains that the centuries are put in reverse chronological order so as to gradually acquaint the reader with the increasingly more antiquated spelling, grammar, and vocabulary of the olden times. I thought this was an excellent idea, and I will say that it really did work. As I traveled from one cen I'm not about to 'review' all the six centuries of poetry. But I can relate my experience reading them. First, I thought the introductory text by the author was very friendly and inviting. He clearly explains that the centuries are put in reverse chronological order so as to gradually acquaint the reader with the increasingly more antiquated spelling, grammar, and vocabulary of the olden times. I thought this was an excellent idea, and I will say that it really did work. As I traveled from one century back to the previous, I could clearly see how the language was changing - and how ill-defined the arbitrary border of a century really was. The poems at the beginning of a century often shared as much in common with the poems at the end of the previous century as they did with their fellows in the same century. Each chapter represents a century and begins with a summation of the general atmosphere of the poets and writing of that period. Then it showcases a poem or two or three from a selection of poets from that century. The vast majority of the book is quoted material by other authors. The poems, obviously, but also most of the commentary about the poems is also quoted from contemporary reviewers. In this way, it was doubly entertaining, because some of the opinions expressed about the merits of the authors were quite over-the-top (both positive and negative). Baldwin does step in and offer some additional text. Many of the poems featured footnotes to explain some of the most arcane language or allusions. Unfortunately, my e-book copy (and based on the format, I'm pretty sure the original print edition as well) had all of the notes not at the foot of the page, but at the end of the poem. Some of these notes were long and included whole stanzas from other poems as examples, so I understand why these were placed after the poems. But it made using the footnotes, at least in e-book form, nearly impossible without a lot of page switching and pain. I simply stopped trying to read them along with the poem and simply read them at the end. Obviously, I lost a lot of their meaning by reading them out of context like that. But it took me months of sporadic reading to get through this collection anyway and I would be darned if I was going to stretch it out any further for any reason. The other problem with the footnotes is that they were completely scatter-shot. Some poems featured them heavily, others had none at all. I could detect no difference in content that would explain the inconsistency. One 16th century poem is as readable (or not) as the next. Perhaps Baldwin explained this choice in the introduction and I simply missed it? I suppose it's also quite possible that literate people in 1892 (when this book was published) simply knew more olde vocabulary and classical allusions than I do. Actually, that's likely now that I think about it. But whatever the reason for the lack, I could have done with a much larger helping of footnotes. More of them and put them on the same page, if you please! Reading and thinking further and further back in time via the window of English poetry was a very interesting and rewarding experience. I made some historical and literary connections I'd never made before. I also feel like I understand the people in these times much better. It helps so much to have seen the parts in the context of the whole. What's really interesting is that while I did prefer the poetry nearest to our own time (my favorite poem, by the way, ended up being one of the first, "The Lotos-Eaters" by Tennyson), I found some real charm in the Fourteenth Century. Amusingly, I think I liked the poems in that century for the same reasons they were derided by the high-brow scholarly-types of a later age: they're simpler, probably intended to be sung, and (at least in the examples given) less concerned with Greek and Latin literary allusion. Reading the English of the 1300's is fun if you approach it as you would an amusing entry in the canon of the "Ermahgerd" Internet meme (for the uninitiated, "Ermahgerd, cherse yer ern adverncher" translates into "Oh my god, choose your own adventure."). Well, take a look at these lines from Chaucer: "Or if men smot it with a yerde smerte: / And al was conscience and tendre herte." Same thing, right? In fact, the whole thing becomes an amusing linguistic exercise as you try sounding the words out in your head in different ways until they sound like a word you know. Also, just a few lines down from that example from Chaucer, I found another gem. Apparently the phrase "manly man" dates back to ancient times: "A manly man, to ben an abbot able." Awesome. I won't claim to have fully absorbed every nuance and idea contained in every poem in this collection. But I did read every word. It was quite the journey. So what's next? Well, now I'm on to Bukowski's Love is a Dog From Hell for a bracingly hilarious jaunt back into present day. But I think I'll be reading more Tennyson before my time with poetry is done. And I've even half a mind to read Spencer's The Faerie Queene (of which I enjoyed the snippet included in this collection) but the fact that it is "one of the longest poems in the English language" according to The Cambridge history of early modern English Literature and is "cloudily enwrapped in allegorical devises" according to Spencer himself, I'm more than a little leery of attempting to mount that particular summit. Obviously my star rating for this book is for the collection itself, not for the actual collected poems therein, works that are considered to be the greatest output of the English writers for six hundred years, a hundred and twenty years ago. Also, if you enjoyed that sentence, you'll likely enjoy this collection. Tags: centuries, poetry, shakespearian, spencerian, couplets, ballads, greek myth, robin hood, the thames, ermahgerd, manly men, werds that merk ner sernse

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I was familiar with a lot of these poets before taking up this truly massive undertaking, but there were quite a lot I didn't know. The annotations were helpful, the poets were great, and I liked that the book began with the later poets and went to earlier and earlier poets as you continued, which sort of enabled me to work myself up to the more difficult prospects of reading Old English like Chaucer by warming up with Shakespeare and Spenser first. I feel like not only was I able to simply enjo I was familiar with a lot of these poets before taking up this truly massive undertaking, but there were quite a lot I didn't know. The annotations were helpful, the poets were great, and I liked that the book began with the later poets and went to earlier and earlier poets as you continued, which sort of enabled me to work myself up to the more difficult prospects of reading Old English like Chaucer by warming up with Shakespeare and Spenser first. I feel like not only was I able to simply enjoy the poetry, but, if I so chose, this book enabled me to also learn a lot about British poetry history and the history of the poets themselves. It was just as easy to skim that information for sections I was less interested in the history of, and simply skip right to the next poem. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of British poetry and the history of it. But I would also be comfortable in recommending this to someone who simply wants to read some really great poetry.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Neil Kelland

    Interesting Victorian selection . This book was clearly a primer for students . It was probably used in schools and aptly illustrates how far literary standards in education have fallen since then .As for the poems themselves there are some established classics along with lesser known works illustrating various styles through the centuries .There is very little Shakespeare and no Byron the latter perhaps being regarded as somewhat unsuitable for Victorian age students ..The historical reverse ord Interesting Victorian selection . This book was clearly a primer for students . It was probably used in schools and aptly illustrates how far literary standards in education have fallen since then .As for the poems themselves there are some established classics along with lesser known works illustrating various styles through the centuries .There is very little Shakespeare and no Byron the latter perhaps being regarded as somewhat unsuitable for Victorian age students ..The historical reverse ordering of the poems to lead the reader more easily back to Chaucer's english is an interesting concept which generally works . Being a public domain book it is free and the selection is a good starting point for anyone wanting to explore the story of British poetry .

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alison Squires

    I'm giving two stars instead of two because these poems must actually be good or they wouldn't have stood the test of time, but this edition is unreadable. The selection is sometimes bizarre, there is no context or explanations given of the poems, and the notes are almost useless. After months of trying to read it, off and on, I'm giving up.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    There are lots of aspects that are interesting about James Baldwin's selection - it showcases the year it was published, the tastes are the time, the importance of the English poet, the dominance of the male writer, the themes that have preoccupied and influenced Engish poetry, the development of creative language use through the centuries, the transformation of folk traditions, tales and rhymes. Six Centuries... works very well as a history of English poetry and poses some interesting questions There are lots of aspects that are interesting about James Baldwin's selection - it showcases the year it was published, the tastes are the time, the importance of the English poet, the dominance of the male writer, the themes that have preoccupied and influenced Engish poetry, the development of creative language use through the centuries, the transformation of folk traditions, tales and rhymes. Six Centuries... works very well as a history of English poetry and poses some interesting questions - what was missed out? Why those poems? Why go backwards in time and observe the language change in reverse? There are comprehensive biographies, further read tips and Baldwin proclaims judgement on each of the poems, it's importance, it's sublime nature, it's beauty. There are a lot of poems in the collection and many don't do a great deal for me on a personal level, not above the historical and linguistic interest. Others are fascinating. Opener "The Lady of Shalott" has a wonderful, sad, Arthurian romance that links folk song to mythology to poetry. The lovely lady "Christabell" has a similar feeling but isn't as memorable. John Keats poetry is sumptouos and moving, full of tragedy and youth that sail above the high-brow Greek influences. Baldwin quotes one reviewer who said Keats could have been among the greatest poets if he hadn't died young - it's not the only time that Baldwin points out the superiority of the aged poet. I can't imagine the same being said of genius rock and roll stars who died youth. Cowper's "Boadicea" was another favourite of mine and I found I tended strongly towards the poems that draw on English history and folklore. Pope's work is impressive and dramatic but the little relatively unknown surprises, like Herrick's "The Mad Maid's Song" are more accessible and satisfying. Then we return to the sixteenth century and the wonders of Shakespeare's language, so unique and beyond what came after it. Nothing of the era comes close but Thomas Wyatt's "A Love Song" is another highlight. The selection of Ballads are fascinating too; "Waly, Waly" with its Scotts dialect, and the "Robin Hood" ballad are my favourites. The language is almost unrecognisable and it is incredible to see the way some words have remained unchanged for centuries and others are almost never spelled the same in two different poems. As Baldwin points out, the fifteenth century represents a bit of a poetic lull; none of the poems here really jump out although it's still interesting to trace the language developing backwards. Even earlier we get an excerpt from The Canterbury Tales which, like Shakespeare, demonstrates why Chaucer is seen as both timeless and vital in the history of English literature. It is like nothing else of its time, nor for centuries after. The way it weaves character in such a few lines is unique in this collection, feeling very different in form and style. Overall, Six Centuries... does it's job well. An interesting history of English poetry, albeit 100 years out of date. 5

  11. 5 out of 5

    Renaissance

    Attracted to this book because of my preference for Tennyson, especially his "Crossing the Bar" ("Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea,...") which is not included in this anthology. This publication was first copyrighted in 1892--but the poetry itself is timeless. The commentaries and notes are written in the Victorian style prevalent at the time and, of themselves, insightful and entertaining. Rediscovering English poetry Attracted to this book because of my preference for Tennyson, especially his "Crossing the Bar" ("Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea,...") which is not included in this anthology. This publication was first copyrighted in 1892--but the poetry itself is timeless. The commentaries and notes are written in the Victorian style prevalent at the time and, of themselves, insightful and entertaining. Rediscovering English poetry is both enjoyable and challenging. I find that I can better grasp the concept, mood and message by not analyzing each word and line, but just reading it (sometime out loud) and getting the sense of the composition. Afterwards, I go back to particular words or lines, plus I read analyses/summaries online and then review the poetry with that knowledge in tow. Reading poetry is a often-forgotten pleasure which enriches the soul and the mind. It requires a greater emotive response than most narrative--it is the music of literature. To date (2.23), have read Tennyson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley. Keats, Burns, Cowper, Goldsmith, etc. to follow.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    A very old but a very good anthology that plays the unusual trick of going back in time. As it starts with Tennyson you already think you are back in time and it's a strange feeling of being drawn further and further back; reading the effects before reading the causes. Perhaps an idea to have a general history book that has the same time travelling direction. It's a recent habit of mine to read poetry books cover to cover but it's a good one. Good anthologists (and Baldwin was a very good one) i A very old but a very good anthology that plays the unusual trick of going back in time. As it starts with Tennyson you already think you are back in time and it's a strange feeling of being drawn further and further back; reading the effects before reading the causes. Perhaps an idea to have a general history book that has the same time travelling direction. It's a recent habit of mine to read poetry books cover to cover but it's a good one. Good anthologists (and Baldwin was a very good one) include all the major landmarks but take you down a number of side streets as well. Reading an anthology from a hundred years ago gives a different perspective. Times change our viewpoints and our views.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I'm not going to give less than five stars to an anthology with Shakespeare, Tennyson and Chaucer in it. An interesting read in part because it works in backwards chronological order, moving from the 19th century backwards, so one can watch the language growing more archaic. Though interestingly, the poetry does not simply get more difficult as it gets older--there are jags and centuries and individual writers who are clear and easy for a modern reader interspersed with very mannered/complex/eso I'm not going to give less than five stars to an anthology with Shakespeare, Tennyson and Chaucer in it. An interesting read in part because it works in backwards chronological order, moving from the 19th century backwards, so one can watch the language growing more archaic. Though interestingly, the poetry does not simply get more difficult as it gets older--there are jags and centuries and individual writers who are clear and easy for a modern reader interspersed with very mannered/complex/esoteric times and writers.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hayley Shaver

    I love this book, and you will too if you love poetry. Be forewarned, some of the English in the book is not like our present day English and some poetic references are obscure. There is, however, an explanation for hard words and references to various gods and things at the end of each poem. Baldwin has done his work well. If you want to read on Gutenberg here's the URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30235/...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charity

    mostly poems by familiar poets, though many new poems. Complete list of poets: (Three I have never encountered before): Tennyson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley,Keats, Burns, Cowper, Goldsmith, (Thomas)Gray, Pope, Dryden, Milton, Herrick,Waller, Jonson, Shakespeare, Spenser, Wyatt, Earl Surrey, Ballads (folk), John Skelton, John Lydgate, Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Gawain Douglas, Geoffrey Chaucr (Proglogue only to Canterbury )

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kilian Metcalf

    This book takes an unusual approach—it starts with Tennyson and works its way back to Chaucer. I gave it four stars because of the biographical information and the notes on each poem. A good overview.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Andrews

    It was neat going backwards, rather than forwards, through time. I'm not qualified to judge the selection, but I enjoyed it. The short biographies and excerpts from critics after each author's poems were nice. The notes were hit or miss.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robert smith

    Good collection Some decent ones. Few and far between are excellent. Just a few baddies in there. Overall a good read for a couple hours.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Willie A McCloud

    More poetry less critique Love James Baldwin! Poetry is my favorite so this was disappointing. Hope my next pick is better than this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kali

    Had some great stuff. Available as a free download.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    This anthology is run in reverse historically so that we start with the authors contemporary, Tennyson and ends with Chaucer. The plan works quite well. This is free on Kindle.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Womack

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pauline

  25. 5 out of 5

    brunobabashay cid

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kay (Brigidsmomma) Compton

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michele Bennett

  28. 4 out of 5

    Vikki Ballard

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eric White

  30. 5 out of 5

    Riddlers Gift

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