29 December 2014

That old New Oxford Book of English Verse

. . .  has got its spell on me.

In January I set out to read through this 945-page, 884-item anthology of English verse (1250–1950). A manageable 3-pages per day would give me ample time, accounting for vacations that I would not travel with a large hardcover volume, busy days when I couldn’t sit down to read at leisure, and days when I just plain forgot to pick it up. There was the occasional panic—that the days had passed and I wouldn’t hit my marks. But when I came back to it and read a little, and did the math on completing it this year, I always magically still needed only 3 pages per day to finish.

I think my math skills are not all they might be.

In any case, just before Christmas I finished the anthology. Much of the last hundred years’ poetry was tough slogging. But a lot of it was timely: the poets of World War I, coming up in my reading on this centenary year of The Great War, for example. I was reminded of earlier flings with poetry and poets, and now especially wish to revisit T. S. Eliot.

There must be a comparable anthology of American verse—though not, of course, dating back to 1250—so I’ll look that up and keep it on hand. I don’t think I’ll undertake another year of reading through a collection. But I’d like to think poetry will occupy a more significant role in my reading and reflection than it has for many a year.

Wendell Barry beckons, as does Dante in that John Ciardi translation that came out around the same time I picked up the NOBEV. The poetry and drama of Antiquity forced its way into my year of reading poetry (fascinating to me that classical references continue well into the 20th century); and well look, there on my shelf is an anthology of the same, so I don’t have to go to my grave ignorant. Or ignorantly . . . as the ars moriendi poetry has taught me.

In a year of writing, editing, and teaching, words have provided a great adventure. Poetry keeps the wonder in the adventure. Excelsior!

No comments: