Personal rating: 4/5
Yearly count: 10
This book is a collection of the world’s most famous poems. The two editors picked poems of which a sentence (often the first one) is very well known. This gives a really interesting collection of poems. They’re in chronological order of author’s birth year and some authors have several poems in their ‘chapter.’ So it also gives a (somewhat skewed) view of the evolution of poetry.
The way this book is laid out the original text on the left page and the translation on the right. Translations were done by a lot of different people, so it’s not just one translator. Where possible, I read the original text – meaning if the poem was originally in English. What I found out by doing that is that translations don’t really work for poetry. I could definitely see quality differences between the original English text and the translation. There’s already a bit of loss in meaning, humor, and language when translating fiction and those problems are exacerbated when translating poetry. It’s good to keep in mind when reading poetry.
Some of my favorite poets are in this book. Homer, William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. I also discovered some new favorites, with Thomas Grey scoring very high with ‘Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard.’ Aside from old and new favorites, I also managed to see differences between poets from different nationalities and in general I responded differently to them. I found out that I don’t really like the French poets. I like the Italians and the English, the old Greek and Latin ones too. The German ones were hit and miss. Asian ones…I don’t really get, most of the time. The worst poem of the entire book was ‘Fisches Nachtgesang’ by Christian Morgenstern, which is…well, just Google it. You’ll see what I mean.
All in all, though, I highly recommend this book. It’s a very good introduction to poetry and it lets you see what you like and what you don’t like. Lovers of poetry will find many of their favorites in here and maybe, like me, discover some new poets to explore.