When Byron described poetry as ‘the feeling of a former world and future’, he perfectly summed up the power of great poems to speak to us across the ages. Introduced by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, this anthology is a celebration of poetry and the passion it inspires. It gathers together more than 300 of our favourite poems, spanning over 400 years from the Tudor court verse of John Skelton and Thomas Wyatt to Yeats’s ‘Politics’, first published in 1938.
This is a classic collection and a wonderful introduction to poetry, but it contains surprises even for the most well-read. There are famous works: Keats’s ‘To Autumn’, Byron’s ‘She walks in beauty, Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ – and rarer gems: John Hoskins’s haunting ‘Absence, hear thou my protestation’, and ‘On a Bed of Guernsey Lilies’ by the 18th-century visionary Christopher Smart, as well as Kipling’s ‘The Explanation’, an allegorical love poem. The poems are listed alphabetically by title, creating interesting juxtapositions: William Cowper’s castaway’s lament ‘Alexander Selkirk’ is next to Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Althea, from Prison’, and Matthew Arnold’s ‘The Scholar Gypsy’ is followed by William Blake’s ‘The School Boy’. There are sonnets and epistles, complaints and elegies on every subject – love, war, nature, youth and the seasons, and even Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes’.