Help us choose the January 2012 selection to read for the MR Literary Club! The poll will be open for three days.
In the event of a tie, there will be a one-day run-off poll. In the event that the run-off poll also ends in a tie, the tie will be resolved in favour of the selection that received all of its initial nominations first.
Select from the following works:
The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
"I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease....observing a spear of summer grass."
So begins Leaves of Grass, the first great U.S. poem and indeed, arguably the greatest poem in all U.S. literature.
The publication of Leaves of Grass in July 1855 was a landmark event in literary history. Nothing like the volume had ever appeared before. Everything about it - the unusual jacket and title page, the exuberant preface, the twelve free-flowing, untitled poems embracing every realm of experience - was new. The 1855 edition broke new ground in its relaxed style, which prefigured free verse; in its sexual candour; in its images of racial bonding and democratic togetherness; and in the intensity of its affirmation of the sanctity of the physical world.
It was a small volume, self-published by a failed Brooklyn journalist and carpenter. At first a commercial failure, this book was the first stage of a massive, lifelong enterprise by Whitman as he continued to expand it throughout his life. Six editions and thirty-seven years later, Leaves of Grass had been recognized as one of the central masterworks of world poetry. It was unprecedented in its unapologetic joy in the physical and its inextricable link to the spiritual.
“The most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Whitman's best poems have that permanent quality of being freshly painted, of not being dulled by the varnish of the years." - Malcolm Cowley
The poems of John Keats
“I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death,” John Keats (1795-1821) soberly prophesied in 1818 as he started writing the blankverse epic Hyperion. Today he endures as the archetypal Romantic genius who explored the limits of the imagination and celebrated the pleasures of the senses but suffered a tragic early death. Over the course of his short life, Keats honed a raw talent into a brilliant poetic maturity. By the end of his brief career, he had written poems of extraordinary beauty, imagination and generosity of spirit.
His work has survived better than that of any of his contemporaries. T. S. Eliot has paid tribute to the Shakespearean quality of Keats' greatness and Edmund Wilson counted Keats as “one of the half dozen greatest English writers.”
“No one else in English poetry, save Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating felicity of Keats, his perception of loveliness. In the faculty of naturalistic interpretation, in what we call natural magic, he ranks with Shakespeare.” - Matthew Arnold
This nomination opens any of his poems to reading and discussing but suggests a central list:
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art
La Belle Dame sans Merci
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Ode to a Nightingale
Endymion: A Poetic Romance
The Eve of St. Agnes
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Also, not as a central list but as additional possibilities if so inclined (though any of his poems could be read):
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
One of the great poems written in simple, haunting and very beautiful language. At the same time it embodies profound feelings and themes.
"water, water, every where,
and all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
nor any drop to drink"
Coleridge's masterpiece is this classic 1796 epic poem from the Romantic period, one of the 19th century’s most enduring narrative poems. It’s a chilling tale told in magnificent language involving clashes with sea monsters, a boat swarming with zombies and a dice game with Death; a story of ghostly adventure, terror, retribution, and in the end a work of penitence.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of the greatest of English writers, and a world of fantasy that nevertheless reflects the human condition emerges from his famous tale of a doomed sea voyage.
“He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small.”
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, translated by Seamus Heaney
First written in Anglo-Saxon in the eight century, Beowulf is the classic Northern epic and one of the world’s most famous epics, of a hero’s triumphs as a young warrior and his fated death as a defender of his people. This is the story of a young man who travelled far across the sea to fight two terrifying monsters-one who could rip a man apart and drink his blood, the other who lived like a sea-wolf at the bottom of a dark, blood-stained lake.
The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed in the exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels in this story to the historical curve of consciousness in the twentieth century, but the poem also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating.
The translator, Seamus Heaney, is also a poet and playwright, and is a Nobel Prize Winner 1995 and winner of the Whitbread Award.