The form of the long poem has been of fundamental importance to Literary Studies from the time of Homer onwards. The Reading Guides to Long Poems Series seeks to celebrate and explore this form in all its diversity across a range of authors and periods. Major poetic works – The Odyssey, The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, The Prelude, In Memoriam, The Waste Land – emerge as defining expressions of the culture which produced them. One of the main aims of the series is to make contemporary readers aware of the importance of the long poem for our literary and national heritage.
How ‘long’ is a long poem? In ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ Edgar Allan Poe asserted that there is ‘a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art – the limit of a single sitting’. Defined against this, a long poem must be one which exceeds the limit of a single sitting, requiring sustained attention over a considerable period of time for its full appreciation. However, the concept of poetic length is not simply concerned with the number of lines in a poem, or the time it takes to read it. In ‘From Poe to Valery’ T. S. Eliot defends poetic length on the grounds that ‘it is only in a poem of some length that a variety of moods can be expressed. … These parts can form a whole more than the sum of the parts; a whole such that the pleasure we derive from the reading of any part is enhanced by our grasp of the whole.’ Along with Eliot, the Series Editors believe that poetic length creates a unique space for a varied play of meaning and tone, action and reflection, that results in particular kinds of reading and interpretation not possible for shorter works. The Reading Guides are therefore concerned with communicating the pleasure and enjoyment of engaging with the form in a range of ways – focusing on particular episodes, tracing out patterns of poetic imagery, exploring form, reading and re-reading the text – in order to allow the reader to experience the multiple interpretative layers that the long poem holds within it. We also believe that a self-awareness about how we read the