THE BEST POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: From Chaucer Through Frost

Harold Bloom, Selected by . HarperCollins $34.95 (972p) ISBN 978-0-06-054041-8

Bloom made his critical reputation with a book called The Anxiety of Influence , where he argued that poetry proceeds on the misreadings by strong poets of their predecessors. In this massive anthology, Bloom's strongly held, and deeply felt, preferences for the most productive misreadings in the language come to the fore brilliantly. Bloom has developed his tastes over a lifetime and specifically casts this book as their summation—"the anthology I've always wanted to possess." An introduction entitled "The Art of Reading Poetry" tries to help nonexpert readers hear what Bloom hears, explaining that "poetic power... so fuses thinking and remembering that we cannot separate the two processes" and naming poetry "the true mode for expanding our consciousness." While the selections that follow are significant, many are predictable; it is the headnotes that make the book indispensable. The heart of the book, of course, is its choice of poems, most rightly well-known, some (from Jones Very to Conrad Aiken) famous in their time, but now obscure: despite his title, Bloom ends not with Frost but with Hart Crane, whose visionary rhapsodies encapsulate, for him, modern poetry's powers. Popular favorites (Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling) also make the cut, as does the 17th-century "Tom O'Bedlam's Song," which Bloom calls "the most magnificent Anonymous poem in the language." The book is filled with hundreds of taste-making turns and asides; it's hard, no matter where one's affiliations lie, not to love Bloom's offhand demolition of T.S. Eliot's essay on Andrew Marvell. Whether one chooses to adopt Bloom's stances or fortify against them, this is sure to be a formative book for experienced readers and neophytes alike. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Paperback - 972 pages - 978-0-06-054042-5
Library Binding - 978-1-4395-6701-2
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