Dec 18, 2007

A New "Library of America" Anthology

Library of America editor David Bromwich has selected one poem by Yvor Winters for LoA’s newly published anthology, American Sonnets. Winters’s sonnet “The Prince” has elicited some comment from critics who have written about Winters. You might want to look it up. Believe it or not, the sonnet has a political theme and importance, politics being an area that few people realize Winters concerned himself with in his poetry. In fact, he wrote a number of other poems that have political implications and purposes, in a broad sense.

But this anthology is remarkable for more than its inclusion of one Winters poem. It features the work of a number of poets whom Yvor Winters judged to have written great poems and who are part of the Winters Canon. For example, Bromwich chose an astonishing 14 sonnets by Jones Very (1813–1880), friend of R.W. Emerson. Very was once almost entirely unknown outside certain small literary circles, but Winters judged him, to the incredulity of many men and women of letters, to have written some of the greatest poems in the English language. Bromwich’s selection offers “Thy Brother’s Blood,” a poem which I consider to be Very’s finest, and a number of other fine choices that Winters would have seconded. The number of Very sonnets chosen is a strong vote of confidence in Very’s achievement, decades after Winters endeavored against the general hostility of critics to bring attention to it with his essay on Very, which was republished in his best-known book, In Defense of Reason.

Further, Bromwich has chosen a downright incredible number of sonnets from Frederick Goddard Tuckerman: 19! The list includes several very fine poems. Tuckerman (1821–1873) is another of those poets whom Winters championed but other critics found negligible, if not laughable, at one time. Now even F.G. Tuckerman and Jones Very are making notable headway into literary culture, it appears. How much is their advance the result of the work of Yvor Winters?

The anthology also offers sonnets from George Santayana, whose poetry was admired by Donald Stanford, who edited essays on his work for the Southern Review; E.A. Robinson, a Winters great whom I have discussed on this blog a couple times; Louise Bogan, another author of poems found in the Winters Canon, (Bromwich chose the great “Simple Autumnal”). Also making appearances are Allen Tate’s well-known sonnet “Subway,” which Winters thought highly of and discussed in his essays; one poem from J.V. Cunningham (author of a dozen poems in the Winters Canon); and two from Edgar Bowers (one-time student of Winters and author of several timelessly great poems). Both of Bowers’s poems I consider among the finest work of the 20th century, “The Virgin Mary” and “The Astronomers.” The latter is an interesting piece of work for being unusually composed in two seven-line stanzas.

Information on the anthology can be found at:

I think it is well worth finding and reading if you’d like to get a sense of the kind of poetry that Yvor Winters considered great and sought to encourage and support in his career.

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