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Bill R. Moore
- Publié sur Amazon.com
William Wordsworth, whose long career stretched from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth, was the most influential English poet since Milton or even since Chaucer. He virtually invented Romanticism, exerting a profound influence on fellow English poets as well as succeeding generations, launching a movement that spread throughout the world. Wordsworth is of course most famously the Poet of Nature; Romanticism's nature love began with him, and he wrote many of the most famous and best nature poems of all-time. However, he also wrought a wealth of other innovations, namely drastically changing Enlightenment poetry's grand neo-classical diction to more closely mirror natural speech. He helped make ballads and other simple traditional modes accepted as serious poetry but mastered a variety of forms, focusing particularly on sonnets and blank verse. Anyone even remotely interested in English poetry must be familiar with at least his most famous works.
There are many Wordsworth collections, but this is the best for anyone wanting a comprehensive, easily available, and inexpensive one. It has every authorized poem in the format set out in the last compilation Wordsworth published, beginning chronologically but soon categorizing by subject. Also here are The Prelude and The Excursion, his two epic works, which are usually published separately or only excerpted. Finally, there are several supplements: the original versions of two early poems that were drastically changed, several uncollected poems, and a few that Wordsworth did not publish. To have all this in one volume is simply incredible; Wordsworth's collected poems usually stretch over several volumes, and the two epics are often separate books. When one takes the price into account, the value is near-unbelievable.
However, this is not for everyone. Like all books in this series, it is a value edition. There is thus only a very short Introduction, an even shorter Bibliography, and almost no notes. Most will think these small losses, especially as Wordsworth always strived for clarity and made few literary allusions; some biographical and historical references will be lost on many, but this does not preclude understanding or enjoyment as with many writers. Anyone needing a scholarly edition must certainly look elsewhere, especially as this does not have multiple versions of major poems as some books do; it also lacks certain unpublished or unfinished ones and, more distressing for casuals, Wordsworth's famous Lyrical Ballads Preface. A more substantial issue is the extremely small print; this is of course inevitable in order to fit so much in one volume, but the smallness is such that many will be unable to read. Anyone who has a problem with such things should definitely check out the type before buying. Also annoying is the absence of an alphabetical title index; there is a table of contents and first line index, but this is often inadequate in a nine hundred page book with hundreds of poems. However, these complaints are very small - nay, almost negligible - considering the convenience and price.
A more fundamental issue is that many, even true fans, will not want a complete edition. Wordsworth became a full-time poet in his late 20s and was prolific well into his 70s, but even his greatest admirers agree that nearly all his major work was written by the time he was forty-four. Having read nearly all his best writing before, I approached the remainder almost with dread; even this Preface warns of it. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find the later work not nearly as bad as everyone says, though certainly below his work up to 1814. The lesser work presents two main obstacles. First, Wordsworth gradually moved away from the self-conscious simplicity that was essential to his great early work and that he himself touted, though he sometimes returned to it. This simplicity has always had critics, and those turned off by it may even be glad for the change, though undeniable quality difference elsewhere makes it unlikely. Second, and more important to most, is that Wordsworth became ever more politically and religiously conservative, and his writings reflect this. As a young man he was greatly influenced by the republican ideas of the early French Revolution and wrote numerous liberal poems. Afterward, though never a curmudgeon, his conservatism became more and more crusty to the point where he wrote a sonnet series supporting capital punishment and a poem condemning illustrated books and newspapers. Thomas Hardy, who saw Wordsworth's work more objectively than nearly anyone, said that poetry should convey impressions, not convictions and that Wordsworth forgot this as he aged. Many will agree. Everyone from Byron to Browning wrote poems lamenting or attacking the conservative turn; even Matthew Arnold, a true admirer, slighted the infamous Ecclesiastical Sonnets. The early work is also not entirely great; the much-maligned Peter Bell, nothing less than an embarrassment, remains one of the worst works from a major poet. All this means that, though true fans and scholars will of course want all the poems, casuals will be better off with a Selected Poems.
In the end, though most readers will likely be better served by other editions, this is perfect for certain ones - not something for all but all for some.