The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World

Ed. by Richard AldingtonVIKING
MR. ALDINGTON’S new anthology will at once attract the enthusiast for such collections, which have multiplied since the years of the Greek Anthology. He has been wise in including a full measure of indispensable pieces such as Spenser’s ‘ Prothalamion ‘ and ‘ Epithalamion,’ Gray’s ‘Elegy,’ with some extra stanzas for good measure, Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach,’ Frost’s ‘Mending Wall,’ and scores of other poems the omission of which would have been merely a sign of eccentricity. To these he has added many others which on new acquaintance take their place among the older favorites. And Mr. Aldington’s personal preferences will provide much stimulation to applause or disagreement.
On the other hand, the book would be of small use in the classroom. Mr. Aldington has devised a system of what he calls ‘token’ representation, the object of which is to supply a little sample of certain periods or poets as an historical acknowledgment that they existed. Thus, as a ‘token’ that there was an Anglo-Saxon poetry, he includes one short selection from ‘Beowulf’ — not very enlightening to anyone who had no knowledge of the rest of the poem or of the age. It would have been better to print one fine AngloSaxon lyric in its entirety. We should then have at least one complete work of art from a period covering centuries. Turning to the present, John Masefield, Amy Lowell, and E. A. Robinson receive two pages apiece as compared with D. H. Lawrence’s six pages. Does this mean that Lawrence is three times as important as any one of the others, or that Lowell, Robinson, and Masefield are represented by ‘tokens’ to indicate that they existed at all ?
Other eccentricities besides disproportion would mislead a student, however much they may interest the informed reader. For example, sixteen stanzas are cut from the middle of a passage by Sir John Davies without any indication of a cut and the title of the selection is wrong. Peele’s magnificent ‘His golden locks Time has to silver turned’ becomes almost meaningless because of the omission of all reference to the personage to whom it was addressed or the occasion for which it was written. As for the modern period, Mr. Aldington gives an elaborate explanation of his method for dealing with that, which involves ' tokens,’ his desire to avoid a strictly ‘ European ‘ outlook and do his best by America and the Dominions, and to convince the American reader that American poetry is being treated as kindly as possible. All this may explain why the modern section is a hodgepodge, but does not alter the fact that it is a hodgepodge.
The idiosyncrasies that make the book unsuitable as a school or college text should the more endear it, by reason of its controversial possibilities, to the connoisseur of anthologies. Here is one that will never have the smell of chalk on it, and will therefore be the more welcome on the casual shelf. R. s. H.