Here is a treasure-house of over seven centuries of English poetry, chosen and introduced by Christopher Ricks, whom Auden described as 'exactly the kind of critic every poet dreams of finding'. The Oxford Book of English Verse, created in 1900 by Arthur Quiller-Couch and selected anew in 1972 by Helen Gardner, has established itself as the foremost anthology of English poetry: ample in span, liberal in the kinds of poetry presented. This completely fresh selection brings in new poems and poets from all ages, and extends the range by another half-century, to include many twentieth-century figures not featured before - among them Philip Larkin and Samuel Beckett, Thom Gunn and Elaine Feinstein - right up to Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. Here, as before, are lyric (beginning with medieval song), satire, hymn, ode, sonnet, elegy, ballad ...but also kinds of poetry not previously admitted: the riches of dramatic verse by Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, Webster; great works of translation that are themselves true English poetry, such as Chapman's Homer (bringing in its happy wake Keats's 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer'), Dryden's Juvenal, and many others; well-loved nursery rhymes, limericks, even clerihews.
Ricks has an exceptionally sharp but benevolent eye for what is canonical, and also for what might shine, were the dust blown off it ... his selection is reliable and enterprising ... although authoritative, his book has about it a satisfying openness and variety. Andrew Motion, Financial Times, 9/10/99 Ricks, I am pleased to see, has included no weak poems as concessions to "diversity," the poems in his Oxford Book of English Verse are almost uniformly worth reading, and the ones that fall below the usual level are included for a reason (for example, "Twinkle, twinkle little star") ... Gardner had a taste for the high and the holy. Ricks is more skeptical and more wide-ranging. He has a better sense of humor and he includes more light verse ... Ricks has an unmatched range of knowledge about English poetry ... it remains true that anthologies are the route by which young people find poets, and that this one is full of good introductions to good poets. Helen Vendler, The New Republic, 15/11/99 The event to celebrate is the marvellous new edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse ... a treasure-house laid up in deliberate succession to Palgrave's Treasury ... it could not have been better done. Here are poems to remember, poems to make part of one's being, the movement of one's own mind. David Sexton, Evening Standard, 7/10/99 Ricks has steered a canny course between tradition and innovation ... Someone had to take on the enormous - and political - job of deciding what is pestilence and what is poetry, what is worth keeping and what worth forgetting ... Ricks has performed that Herculean task splendidly. Robert MacFarlane, Independent on Sunday, 3/10/99 hefty and handsome volume ... Ricks shows that, although his tastes are much more catholic, he has as sharp an ear as "Q" for the particular pleasure of lyric ... His is the first Oxford Book adequately to mark out the relations between English and Scottish poetry, and the generosity of his selection from Anglo-Welsh changes the twentieth-century picture ... his selection of poems is rewardingly the work of an exceptional critic. John Kerrigan, TLS 15/10/99
Introduction; POEMS; Index of Authors; Index of Foreign Authors in Translation or Imitation; Index of Titles and First Lines