Review of Immortal Poems of the English Language by Shola Balogun

July Online Open Mic

I love seeing artists supporting artists, and today we have Shola Balogun’s review of the book Immortal Poems of the English Language edited by Oscar Williams! Read his take on the book and then go check out the book as well!

This is a review of Oscar Williams’ anthology, Immortal Poems of the English Language -by Shola Balogun

Immortal Poems of the English Language Edited by Oscar Williams

Immortal Poems of the English Language, the anthology edited by Oscar Williams, provides a highly wide-ranging flavour of poetic souls from Geoffrey Chaucer to Dylan Thomas. It crisply re-presents and depicts an ideal blending of the British and American celebrated poets and poetry, taking the reader into the classical culture with its songs and ballads, to the mighty lines of Christopher Marlowe, to the mystical poems of William Blake, to Edward FitzGerald’ s admirable translation of the Persian Omar Khayyám’ s the Rubáiyát.

In the introduction to the anthology, the editor Oscar Williams, the American poet and admittedly a distinguished anthologist, having quoted Robert Frost that, “It is absurd to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound- that he will never get over it. That is to say, permanence in poetry, as in love, is perceived instantly. It hasn’t to await the test of time. The proof of a poem is not that we have never forgotten it, but we knew at sight we never could forget it”, states,

“A poem is immortal not only because it continues to be read by generation after generation of readers but also because each sensitive reader, having once experienced the poem, absorbs the experience and continues to feel it always, and further, because a true poem expresses an immortal human truth. Anyone who knows how to love, or to suffer, or to think, anyone who wishes to live fully, needs and seeks poetry” (“Introduction” p. 9).

The expression of poetry is not limited or restricted to any single language. It is factually visible in traditional societies whose indigenes, though are not ‘readers’ of poems, can still tell when what is essentially collective is poorly personified or modified. A poem can be the work of a single creator but the expanded experience must be collective. And that is where the permanence in poetry lies. That is the proof that a poem can never be forgotten. In poetry, for the agonizing experience of love or suffering to be impressed on the minds of others, it has to be remarkably recalled, decidedly intense and creatively emotional.

Interestingly, the anthology with its 637 pages absorbs every piece of what constitutes living arts from the best of poets. The timelessness of poetry gives me the impression that this anthology, though published in 1952, is still much relevant today. The purpose of this review is to celebrate the 68 years of the Pocket Books printing of this anthology in memory of Oscar Williams (1900-1964), poet and editor of this anthology.

Williams, Oscar, ed. Immortal Poems of the English Language. Pocket ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952. 637 pages

ISBN: 0- 671- 49610-7

Author of Review:

Shola Balogun is a Nigerian poet, playwright, filmmaker, and literary critic. He studied Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Balogun is the author of Praying Dangerously: The Cry of Blind Bartimaeus and The Wrestling of Jacob. He also screenplayed The gods Are Liars, Wrestling with Shadows and Deliverance from The Rod of the Wicked, based on the messages of Dr. D.K.Olukoya, which have been made into short films. His work has appeared in journals and anthologies, most recently in Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City and The Tau: The Literary and Visual Art Journal of Lourdes University. Balogun lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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