I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought this book ten years ago.
Yes, I do. I wanted a book of poems. I ordered it through a book club (Book of the Month? Quality Paperback Book Club? Mystery Guild? I belonged to a bunch of them back in the day.) and in the picture in the brochure, it looked like an ordinary hardcover book.
But when I opened it, I was totally disoriented. It was glue-bound like a notepad. It had no page numbers, no table of contents.
The premise of the book is, you can tear out a poem and keep it handy in your pocket, ready to be referred to or to be offered to a friend or to a stranger.
Of course, I would never deface a book by pulling out pages. If I like a poem, I want it right there in my book where I can find it again, not in my pocket where it will get wrinkled or go through the wash, transforming itself into garbage.
Also, it’s really cumbersome opening a book and then reading pages that are bound at the top. You can’t flip through the pages without holding the book sideways.
I started the book several times without getting very far. But I recently committed to reading the entire book from front to back.
Many of the poets were familiar to me. None of the poems were. I don’t know if I am just ignorant, or if it was Bleakney’s intention to promote less-known masterpieces.
There are some poems in here that I didn’t care for at all (that risk goes with anthology territory). But there are also some that were so delightful I felt compelled to turn over the corner for ease of rereading.
For example, here is a Shakespeare sonnet I’m sure I’d never read before:
Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets,
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do they worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
And this beautiful poem by Robert Frost:
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it, it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars, on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
I will reread this book periodically, because I am determined to become familiar with as much poetry as possible. But I recommend it only for people who would willing go to the trouble of reading relatively obscure poetry in an awkward format. Or for people who like to tear pages out of books.