A Treasury of Great Poems: English and American

By Louis Untermeyer | Go to book overview

V
Toward the Golden Age

BETWEEN the twelfth and fifteenth centuries English literature was diffused as it was diverse; it was composed for no one type of audience and no special class. The ballads were written primarily for the entertainment of the common people, but even in so "courtly" a writer as Chaucer there is much that is forthright, racy, and vulgar -- in the sense of vulgus, pertaining to "the people."

As we approach the sixteenth century, literature grows more patrician; with Wyatt, Howard, Raleigh, and Spenser poetry becomes the expression of an aristocracy. The aristocratic spirit remained dominant for almost two centuries, when it gave way to a literature written with organized society as its background, a literature concerned with the middle class and written chiefly by the middle class. Another century brought another change. Society itself was challenged by the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century; the "romantic" period of Wordsworth and Shelley was devoted to the idea of individualism. But, as the "new learning" began to lure the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century man of culture, civilization was reflected in an increasing "elevation" of manner. The social sense, as V. de Sola Pinto wrote in THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE, "was established by the Tudors, and exploited by the Stuarts, till it came to an end at the Revolution of 1688," when James II fled to France.

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A Treasury of Great Poems: English and American
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • In Praise of Poetry vii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xlvii
  • I - The Bible 1
  • II - Foundations of the English Spirit 61
  • III - The Popular Ballad 123
  • IV - Early Songs of Unknown Authorship 163
  • V - Toward the Golden Age 175
  • VI - Elizabethan Songs of Unknown Authorship 253
  • VII - William Shakespeare [1564-1616] 271
  • VIII - Anatomy of the World 319
  • IX - Gallants, Puritans, and Divines 389
  • X - The Rise and Fall of Elegance 503
  • XI - Pure Vision, Pure Song 595
  • XII - The Spirit of Revolution and Romance 633
  • XIII - Faith, Doubt, and Democracy 777
  • XIV - Challenge to Tradition 889
  • XV - The World of the Twentieth Century 1023
  • Acknowledgments 1229
  • Sources of Reference 1233
  • Index 1235
  • Index of First Lines 1265
  • A Note about the Author *
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