Alan Bennett's anthology of six English poets

Thanks to a London nephew, I'm reading Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin, an anthology of poems by Hardy, Housman, Betjeman, Auden, MacNeice and Larkin, chosen by the English playwright Alan Bennett, with commentary by Bennett between each presented verse.

6a01156e3d83cb970c01b7c6fabe8a970b-580wiThe commentary is more about the disposition of the poets and their subject matter, rather than the art of their verse. But it's breezy and entertaining, and interesting to try to situate the six poets Bennett chooses with one another as a group.

Bennett's critical method is to end-run the cultivated pretensions of each.

For instance, speaking of A. E. Housman and his preoccupation with death in English colonial wars, Bennet writes:

"When the Great War came, and hundreds of thousands of young men died in battle, it might be thought that Housman would have been particularly affected. In fact, he appears not to have been, and this seems shocking. But poets are not statisticians; to them, one death means more than a thousand. When men are dying like flies, that is what they are dying like."

Of Betjman, Bennet praises "his marvelous ear for language." But the praise is qualified. "It's the limited language of the middle class, or of those aspiring to be so, but he was a master of it."

A very English book. I see that the content relates back to a Channel 4 television programme from the 90s! Still I feel well ahead of things, reading this in the fall of 2014, rather than the spring 2015 publication date set in the US.


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