December 12, 2012

Book Review - The Secret Life of Poems: a poetry primer by Tom Paulin

If you love words and how writers use them, try dipping into this little book with an entertaining review of 42 poems by well-known English poets including Coleridge, Tennyson, Byron, Hughes, Larkin and Wordsworth. Starting with a short and fairly painless explanation of technical terms for rhythm, rhyme and metre, each short chapter focuses on one short poem or excerpt, analyzing it for poetical devices to understand how the poet gets his or her effect. A discussion of the historical context and influences adds layers of meaning to each one. For example, did you know that Keats and Wordsworth were dangerously radical and political? Or that many of the allusions in their poems would have been understood by their contemporaries to have political connotations? You can also just read the poems and enjoy them – revisting old friends like Coleridge's :

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

Incidentally, this last word, greenery, was invented by Coleridge in this poem! And yes, I think you should read them to the cat or any other family member willing to listen or just say them out loud to yourself!


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