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The Poems (Bantam Classic) by William…

The Poems (Bantam Classic)

by William Shakespeare

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I am an English major, but by no means a Shakespeare scholar, and I read these poems because it seemed disgraceful for an English major not to have read them. Literary peer pressure can be a very strong thing.

I read this collection slowly, one or two sonnets a night, and gave myself time to think about what I was reading. Of course it isn't all sonnets. This collection also includes the longer poems, "Venus and Adonis," "The Rape of Lucrece," "The Phoenix and Turtle," and "A Lover's Complaint." I'll take each one individually.

"Venus and Adonis" is the story of a goddess, Venus, who falls in love with a human youth, Adonis. Adonis is strangely unresponsive to her blandishments. The poem consists of her trying to convince him to return her advances, and his refusals. I'll say right now that certain parts really made me blush! Female desire is portrayed as a rapacious, unyielding force. In the end Adonis is killed in a boar hunt, and Venus says, "Had I been toothed like him [the boar], I must confess / With kissing him I should have killed him first." Yikes!

"The Rape of Lucrece" tells the story of a woman who is raped by a guest, Tarquinius, in her husband's house. Lucrece's husband Collatinus had boasted of her purity once, and when it was tested she was the only lady found faithful to her husband. It was then that Tarquinius saw her beauty and became inflamed with lust. This is, of course, highly artificial and stylized, and both Lucrece and Tarquinius give great speeches. What I found interesting was how Shakespeare was able to keep the suspense — would Tarquinius really do it? Despite all the high-flown language, I felt as if I were there in his head, weighing the risks against the desire. As the title reveals, he does go through with it, and Lucrece kills herself afterward. In this tale it's male lust that is the destructive force.

"The Phoenix and the Turtle" uses the idea of a phoenix and a turtledove that love one another so deeply that they become one in a metaphysical sense. The primary point seems to be that love can extend beyond the grave. David Bevington, who wrote the notes for this edition, says that the language is reminiscent of theological works discussing the oneness of the Holy Trinity. I think this is a good observation, and it enhances my enjoyment of this short poem.

"A Lover's Complaint" is rather lackluster; a young girl is bemoaning the unfaithfulness of her lover, and enumerating his many attractions. It is a universal theme, but I'll admit it was a bit of a chore to get through.

And the sonnets... the sonnets. Often Shakespeare's more moving sonnets are quoted, the ones that glorify the constancy of love, the virtues of the beloved, the faithfulness of the lover. But I was rather surprised to see how many sonnets seemed to be long, fawning compliments to Shakespeare's patron! Perhaps they are entirely sincere — how could I know? — but the praise is so lavish, it really seems over the top.

And yet I enjoyed many of the sonnets. Shakespeare's adroit turn of phrase is well-used here, and many of the poems mark a very vulnerable honesty on his part. Would that all of us could take the emotional events of our lives and turn them into timeless verse!

If you are interested in Shakespeare's poetry, I recommend you read it slowly over a period of days or weeks. I enjoyed reading a sonnet a night and then turning off my lamp with the ideas of the poem still drifting about in my head. The poems haven't changed my life, but I'm glad I read them. Recommended. ( )
3 vote wisewoman | Jan 28, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (35 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Shakespeareprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alexander, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alexander, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bevington, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maxwell, J. C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rylands, GeorgeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, John DoverEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
The Amazon product descriptions currently below refer to slightly different editions of Shakespeare's Poems.  The edition in the Arden Shakespeare series - ISBN 0416 278701 (and other numbers in later reprints) - is that first published by Methuen, London, in 1960.  

• Introduction - The poems; the text.
Venus and Adonis
The Passionate Pilgrim
The Phoenix and the Turtle
• Appendices - selections from: Golding's 1567 translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis; Chaucer's Legende of Good Women; Painter's Pallace of Pleasure; and Ovid's Fasti.

This edition has been reprinted in paper back many times in several different jacket styles to match the changing look of the Arden Shakespeare series. 

There is a companion volume of "The Sonnets" in the same series.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553213091, Mass Market Paperback)

The Poems

Shakespeare’s greatest achievement in nondramatic verse was his collection of 154 magnificent sonnets that portray a tumultuous world of love, rivalry, and conflict among a poet, an aristocratic young man, a rival poet, and a mysterious “dark lady.” More profound than other Elizabethan sonnet sequences and never surpassed as archetypes of the form, these poems explore almost every imaginable emotional complexity related to love and friendship. Some poems are dark, bitter, and self-hating, others express idealism with unmatchable eloquence–and all are of quintessential beauty, part of the world’s great literary heritage.

In addition to his sonnets, Shakespeare published two long poems early in his career: Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Immediately popular in Shakespeare’s time, they display a richness that can also reward us with insights into the powerful imagery of his plays.

Rounding out this volume are two minor poems, “A Lover’s Complaint” and “The Phoenix and Turtle,” thought to be part of Shakespeare’s early writings.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:15 -0400)

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