Harvard Classics Volumes 41 & 42: English Language Poetry Parts 2&3

Well, dear readers, the toughest part of the Harvard Classics is behind us. The English poetry collection was immense, took a long time to read, but left a lasting impression upon me.

I’ve never been much of a poetry guy, and reading 850 poetic works from 600 years of English literary tradition hasn’t really changed that, but I did manage to find a few I liked along the way, and I certainly have a better standing for what poetry is and why it is important.

The time period covered in the second two volumes is roughly the 150 years from the late 18th century to the turn of the 20th century. The cut-off date, which was perfectly reasonable for a collection created before World War One, leaves out many major names we associate with the literary form today: Yeats, Frost, etc. That goes with the territory of reading old collections.

It’s impossible to talk about all of the individual parts. That’s the weird thing about reading lots and lots of poetry: you forget most of it within a couple of hours unless it makes a serious impression upon you. To use a lowbrow metaphor, you can think of reading a poetry collection like this like watching every episode of a long running non-serialized TV show. You enjoy, follow and pay attention to every episode as you watch it, but over time, eventually just a few stand out that you remember in detail.

I found my taste in poetry was pretty uninteresting. Tennyson, Longfellow and Wordsworth stood out as my favorite poets. Lord Byron and Shelley didn’t particularly enthrall me, even though I enjoyed their dramatic works.

The nice part of the second two parts is the breadth of topics covered by poets expanded dramatically, culminating in the romantics who basically wrote about anything that struck their fancy. There were still plenty of poems about love, death and religion, however.

I generally preferred poems with a narrative to them rather than an extended observation.

I suppose that’s it for my thoughts and reflections on this collection at the very broad level. I can genuinely say my knowledge of poetry has increased tenfold since I started and so I think I got as much out of it as I could in a single pass. I actually bought hardcopies of these volumes so I can peruse them in years to come, which is really how they should be used.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.