The Facts On File Companion to British Poetry, 17th and 18th Centuries takes its place within a four-volume set on British poetry from the beginnings to the present. As the other volumes do, this one considers British poetry to include that written by English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh poets. Entries address a number of topics, including poets, individual poems, themes important to the periods poetry (such as carpe diem), genres and forms important in the period (such as the elegy, aubade, and ballad), and poetic groups and movements (including the Cavalier poets and the Tribe of Ben). The selection of poets and poems covered in the volume was based on their appearance in high school and college anthologies and textbooks. In addition, other less popular poems were chosen for their historical, cultural, or aesthetic significance. Entries avoid difficult jargon, making this work accessible to students of literature and general readers, but the aim of this book is to provide not only basic information but also appropriate critical commentary.
The 17th and 18th centuries were a particularly fruitful time for poetry, but not all of the impressive poems of the period could be included here. Readers will, however, find generous, although not comprehensive, selections by all of the better known poets of these centuries, such as Ben Jonson, John Milton, John Donne, John Dryden, George Herbert, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift. Their notable contemporaries are also included, though not quite as extensively. As for the time frame covered by this volume, the work of some poets spills from the end of the 18th century into the 19 th century and the beginning of the Victorian age, reflecting the influences and conflict of their day. Arbitrarily designed periods and labels are useful in setting boundaries for reference works. However, they do little to confine poets and their thoughts; thus a smattering of poems published during that "buffer" era is included.
A few comments regarding editorial choices may prove helpful. While most entries are not demand-ingly long, those addressing lengthy works, such as Milton's epics, John Dryden's The Hind and the Panther, John Denham's Cooper's Hill, or James Thomsons A Hymn on the Seasons, must by necessity be longer. For the most part, quotations from poems retain original spellings where those spellings do not prevent understanding. This allows readers a familiarity with the dynamic nature of language that proves to be a part of the delight of a study of literature spanning multiple early-modern centuries. Line numbering references appear in discussions of longer poems; in briefer poems, every line may not be identified by number, but its position within the poem will be referenced. Quotations shorter than four lines separate those lines with the familiar slash (/); longer quotations or those requiring emphasis are set in block form. The terms verse and stanza are both used to reference the groups of lines into which some poems are divided, in order to emphasize the contemporary interchangeable use of those terms. The term verse for some students of poetry more correctly refers to distinct collections of lines applied to the more popular use of rhyme, such as that found in songs or greeting cards, with the term stanza reserved for references to what stuffy academic types label literature. These applications have gone in and out of favor in academia, where such value judgments expressed through rhetoric abound, with a basis in a long history of rhetorical hegemony. The tension on which such reference discussions thrive has strong roots in the 17th and 18th centuries in the "modern versus classics" rhetoric wars and is actually a notable aspect of some of the Companion selections.
Entries on individual works discuss the context during which the work was produced; summarize the works salient elements, such as theme, tone, and figurative language; address the insight provided by various literary critical approaches; and outline the work's influences from previous writings and on future writings. Regarding the last, most entries reflect a work and poet's position in what we must view as a continuum of writing that swept one century's select emphases into the next, while leaving others behind to thrive more comfortably in their own age. The relationships and connections between and among poetry and its writers remain crucial to understanding them. Because literature reflects the concerns of the era in which it is produced, historical events and social and cultural movements and practices are discussed within entries and related to the poet's style, where applicable. A general glossary at the back of the book contains poetic terminology that will prove helpful to those unsure of meanings as applied within individual entries. Each individual entry contains a bibliography of works specific to its subject, and an additional bibliography containing sources of a more general nature appears as another appendix.
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