ALTHOUGH nearly one thousand poems are contained in these pages, this volumel is not another effort to outdo the many existing anthologies in length, breadth, and thickness. Differing from other collections in kind as well as degree, this is an attempt to combine the lives of the poets and the work they produced, to trace the record of shifting taste, and to present the poetry as living documents of renewed experience. It is primarily a work of integration rather than of assembly.
Nevertheless, it is as an assembly that the book must justify itself. And it is here that every editor, unhappily but inevitably assuming the defensive, must explain in what way his selections differ from-- and are obviously better than--any other. Struggling to overcome his modesty, the half-apologetic, half-defiant compiler usually indicates that time has revised many of his predecessors' judgments and that he has been chosen to re-estimate the past in terms of the more critical present. He goes on to imply that his function is not only to revalue but to correct; that, much though he admires his famous forerunners, he deplores the errors in the work of P and Q and has therefore restored certain poems to their original purity--in short, that his ear is a little more sensitive, his eye a little sharper, and his mind a little livelier than his dead confreres' and living competitors'.
The editor of this compilation is not less immodest than his fellows, but his claims upon the reader are somewhat different. His book, ranging over six centuries, presumes to be comprehensive enough to include utterances of mind-shaking sublimity without neglecting inspired and equally unforgettable nonsense. But--to stress its chief difference--this is not only a book of poetry, but a book about poets and their poems. The prose paragraphs are not designed to interrupt the reader's progress but to increase his pleasure: to act as living backgrounds for the verse. Sometimes the prose is in the nature of a condensed biography or a fragment of forgotten history; sometimes it is a journey to the source of the poem or a speculation concerning its origin; sometimes it attempts to explain the seeming obscurities which prevent the reader from obtaining complete en-