Thursday, November 13, 2008

Donne to Dryden

Recently Acquired:
The Centuries’ Poetry
Vol. 2, Donne to Dryden

Edited by Denys Kilham Roberts
Penguin Books
Melbourne, London, Baltimore
(1949, reprinted 1952)

This stately fifty-six-year-old paperback smells exactly like the little used bookstore it came from, where minds diverge and each volume is a tiny tempest of dust. It contains the dignified remains of thirty-seven poets, orderly, proper, and in many cases dull, and of course I love them dearly.

I’m particularly moved by this opening line from John Milton’s sonnet on his blindness, which has been going around in my head for several days now:

When I consider how my light is spent, . . .

Lo these centuries later, I can’t help thinking of light in other terms — as one’s talent, perhaps, or love, or quickly passing time on earth.

I love the little biographies in back, too, in which we learn that William Cartwright (1611-43) was the son of an innkeeper at Cirencester, and that Richard Corbet (1582-1635) was the son of a gardener, and that after a dissipated youth, Charles Sackville (1638-1706) became sixth Earl of Dorset and developed a sense of responsibility in public and private affairs.

I plan to read each and every one of them, and to try to imagine the lives they so succinctly betray.

Poets included: John Donne, John Webster, Sir Henry Wotton, Edmund Bolton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, Richard Corbet, Thomas Heywood, George Herbert, Phineas Fletcher, Thomas Carew, William Browne, William Drummond of Hawthornden, Francis Quarles, Robert Burton, Thomas Randolph, Sir John Suckling, William Cartwright, George Wither, William Habington, James Shirley, Richard Crashaw, Robert Herrick, John Cleveland, Sir Richard Fanshawe, Richard Lovelace, John Milton, Abraham Cowley, Edmund Waller, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Stanley, Thomas Traherne, Thomas Shipman, Henry Vaughan, Charles Cotton, Charles Sackville, John Dryden, and “Anonymous.”

This entry, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, added to And I Quote, “A random selection of books and authors, some famous, some forgotten.”


Doug P. Baker said...

I absolutely love that kind of book. Especially the ones that were compiled fifty to one hundred years ago, or else were compiled one hundred fifty to three hundred years ago. That fifty year skip is a time that would have multiplied the "dull" and forgotten the gems. And the fifty recent years overlook genius in pursuit of 'originality,' whatever that is.

Quarles and Marvel should be especially fun in your new old book.

William Michaelian said...

In fact, the little biography on Quarles ends this way:

“His Divine Emblems, published in 1635, was the most popular book of verse in the seventeenth century and, as Horace Walpole said, Milton was forced to wait till the world had done admiring Quarles.”

Doug P. Baker said...

Oh, that's funny! Too bad FQ isn't better known these days. But reputations vascilate, his day will come again.

William Michaelian said...

As luck would have it, Andrew Marvell’s poem, “To His Coy Mistress,” is presented and discussed in the 11/17/08 edition of Carol Rumens’ blog, Poem of the Week.