About this Recording
NA207212 - Collection: Popular Poetry / Popular Verse, Vol. 2

Popular Poetry•Popular Verse

Popular Poetry•Popular Verse

Volume II


Verse of some kind seems to be common to all historical cultures. It begins as a craft, a way of ordering knowledge and experience for easy memorizing and maximum impact. However, as it is practiced for its own sake it becomes something more. The play of sound and rhythm with observation and narrative, of vocabulary and syntax with thought and feeling and metaphor, can develop such a grace and complexity and precision that we have to call it something different. It becomes poetry. And of all the languages of the world, English is, by common consent, the richest and most deeply worked mine for this most precious commodity.


However, not all the verse that sticks in the mind is twenty-two carat poetry. Some of our best loved versifiers – notably Victorian ones – indefatigably shoveled out irredeemably low-grade ore which they fashioned into inspiring, moralizing or sentimental recitation pieces. These became, however, so highly valued that they have acquired the warm and glowing sheen of sheer familiarity. They constitute, in fact, some of our favorite verse. Children used to be made to learn them by heart, and somewhere in the mind, if not the heart, they remain. This is, after all, what verse is designed to do – to be remembered.


The result is that while our poetic tradition has its roomfuls of glass fronted display cabinets crammed with priceless heirlooms, it also has its lumber-room. And sometimes the lumber-room is where we want to be – turning up dusty, half-forgotten toys and treasures and nick-knacks, long-neglected but once lovingly displayed on a crowded mantelpiece.


For this collection we have dusted down a few of these old favorites from the lumber-room, but at the same time we have had to recognize that some of them show their age, and don’t appear to their best advantage alongside the real collectors’ items, the pieces that are quite untouched by time. Further, the effect of time on some of the poetic brassware of the Victorian age is that it leaves on it nice verdigris of irony. And while this irony is an essential part of our appreciation of these very heavy pieces, we don’t want it to spread and interfere with the finely balanced and delicately traced effects of the real poetry.

So instead of organizing this anthology alphabetically or altogether chronologically, or even according to subject matter, we have taken the unfashionable step of dividing up our material according to the poetic ambition and achievement embodied in each piece. To the lumber-room collection we have added lightweight verse from earlier ages, together with one or two classic examples of what is called ‘light verse’. This then leaves the poetry, which really is in a class of its own – but also carried in our minds as half-remembered scraps – where it belongs: in a class of its own.


As with all such principles of organization there are borderline cases, which in themselves might seem to make nonsense of the whole exercise, particularly perhaps with the Elizabethans. However, the great poets who kick off the ‘favorite verse’ collection – Marlowe, Raleigh and Shakespeare – are here in relaxed, expansive mood. By contrast, the otherwise unknown poet Chidiock Tichborne, whose ‘Elegy’ opens the batting for the ‘favorite poetry’ collection along with another poet who faced execution on the block, Thomas Wyatt, well illustrate Dr. Johnson’s maxim that death


concentrates the mind wonderfully. Our hope is that these two collections, in their different ways, will remind the listener of at least some of the rewards and pleasures we have inherited in our great poetry and our splendid verse.


Notes by Duncan Steen



About the Readers


TONY BRITTON began his long theater career at the age of eighteen and has since performed all of over Britain and in the West End, including leading roles in My Fair Lady and Gigi. He has appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre in Twelfth Night and Henry V. He frequently appears at Chichester both as an actor and director. He is also well known for his numerous television credits including Don’t Wait Up.


JASPER BRITTON played the lead role in the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production of Richard III and has also worked for the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Britton’s television credits include The Bill and Peak Practice.


EMMA FIELDING trained at RSAMD. She has worked for the Royal National Theatre in Arcadia and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Twelfth Night and John Ford’s The Broken Heart for which she won the Dame Peggy Ashcroft Award for Best Actress and the Ian Charleson Award. Fielding has also appeared in numerous radio plays for the BBC.

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