"Comic verse," writes editor John Gross, "is verse that is designed to amuse--and perhaps that is as far as any attempt at a definition ought to go." In The Oxford Book of Comic Verse, Gross has combed the annals of literature in English from the middle ages to the present, gathering poems that provoke laughter, smiles, and even reflections on the human condition--but always poems that amuse.
From limericks to social satire, The Oxford Book of Comic Verse offers a remarkable collection of outstanding light poetry. Gross has brought together the finest writers in the history of the English language--from Chaucer and Skelton to Shakespeare and Swift, Lord Byron to Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson to John Updike--offering delightful examples of their comic verse. Many of these lines dance with whimsy, such as John Skelton's Colin Clout ("For though my rhyme be ragged,/ Tattered and jagged,/ Rudely rain-beaten,/ Rusty and moth-eaten,/ If ye take well therewith,/ It hath in it some pith"); others float heavier thoughts on light rhymes--as in Matthew Prior's succinct Human Life ("What trifling coil do we poor mortals keep;/ Wake, eat, and drink, evacuate and sleep."). The range of writers who have composed comic verse is astonishing, as is the delight of the poems themselves. Here we read T.S. Eliot mocking himself ("How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!/ With his features of clerical cut"); poet and Soviet historian Robert Conquest, mingling his two professions in a limerick ("There was a great Marxist called Lenin/ Who did two or three million men in/ --That's a lot to have done in/ --But where he did one in/ That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in"); and Wendy Cope commenting on her disillusionment with poets ("I used to think all poets were Byronic./ They're mostly wicked as ginless tonic/ And wild as pension plans"). And along the way, we are treated to witty song lyrics as well, from First World War soldiers' tunes, to Irving Berlin, to Cole Porter, to Lorenz Hart ("When love congeals/It soon reveals/ the faint aroma of performing seals/The double-crossing of a pair of heels/I wish I were in love again!").
Whether it comes from anonymous popular culture or the icons of the literary canon, comic verse has been a source of pleasure and diversion through the ages--a combination of wit, verbal artistry, and even serious contemplation. This collection, compiled by one of our finest critics and anthologists, brings this tradition into the hands of today's readers, offering hours of delight.
Now in a more readable format, this sweeping collection ranges from the early 1600s through the 1980s and includes 140 essays by 120 of the finest writers in the history of the English language. John Gross, former book critic for The New York Times, has collected classics and rare gems, representative samples and personal favorites, intimate essays and learned, serious reflections and hysterically funny satire, by both British and American writers. The authors Gross has gathered form a gallery of genius, all indispensable masters of rhetoric, from Samuel Butler to Samuel Johnson, from George Eliot to George Bernard Shaw, from John Dryden to Ben Franklin, from E.B. White to Joan Didion. Including book reviews and travel sketches, history lessons and meditations, reflections on art and on potato chips, these essays sample four centuries of eloquence and insight in a collection that is at once immensely enlightening, edifying, and entertaining.About the Author:
John Gross is the author of The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969) and editor of The Oxford Book of Aphorisms (1983), among other publications. He was editor of the Times Literary Supplement from 1974 to 1981, and is currently theatre critic of the Sunday Telegraph.
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