Saturday, January 06, 2007

Five best poetry collections

Clive James ranged over the whole of twentieth-century poetry to come up with a "five best" list for Opinion Journal.

Number One on his list:

The Tower by W.B. Yeats (Macmillan, 1928)

Every collection of William Butler Yeats's poems, from "Responsibilities" (1918) onward, is tremendous, but "The Tower" is my favorite. "That is no country for old men. The young / In one another's arms . . ." Not a bad start. I wouldn't fancy even the most determined enthusiast's chances of finding the book second-hand today. It can be found easily, though, in the "Collected Poems," where the groupings of the original individual volumes are sensibly preserved. To avoid getting caught up in the Celtic fairyland of the great man's winsome early days, cut straight to the poems of "The Tower" and you're in the middle of Yeats's full-blown achievement, with the masterpieces arriving one after the other: "Sailing to Byzantium," "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen," "Leda and the Swan" and "Among School Children." The last poem in the book is "All Souls' Night," one of the greatest poems written in the 20th century. Not a bad ending.

Read about the other four titles on James' list.

--Marshal Zeringue