Preface to New Edition

By favour of the Public, The Oxford Book of English Verse has held its own in request for close upon forty years. The editor would stand convicted of dullness indeed if in these years he had not learnt, revising his judgement, to regret some inclusions and omissions of indolence; the industry of scholars having rescued to light meanwhile many gems long hidden away in libraries, miscellanies, even scrap- books. In this new edition, therefore, I have risked repairing the old structure with a stone here, a tile there, and hope to have left it as weather-proof as when it was first built.

I have added a hundred-odd pages, and close upon Armistice Day 1918, admitting a few later numbers by poets who, whether consciously or not, had indicated before that date the trend of their genius. I shrank, of course, from making the book unwieldy; but in fact also I felt my judgement insecure amid post-War poetry. Although I cannot dispute against Time, this is not to admit a charge of crabbed age: since it has been my good fortune to spend the most part of these later years with the young and to share—even in some measure to encourage—their zest for experiment. The Muses’ house has many mansions: their hospitality has outlived many policies of State, more than a few

religions, countless heresies—tamen usque recurret Apollo—and it were profane to misdoubt the Nine as having forsaken these so long favoured islands. Of experiment I still hold myself fairly competent to judge. But, writing in 1939, I am at a loss what to do with a fashion of morose disparagement; of sneering at things long by catholic consent accounted beautiful; of scorning at ‘Man’s unconquerable mind’ and hanging up (without benefit of laundry) our common humanity as a rag on a clothes-line. Be it allowed that these present times are dark. Yet what are our poets of use—what are they for—if they cannot hearten the crew with auspices of daylight? In a time no less perilous Wordsworth could write

In our halls is hung
Armoury of the invincible knights of old:

—‘armoury’, not museum-pieces, still less tear-bottles. ‘Agincourt, Agincourt, know ye not Agincourt?’

The reader, turning the pages of this book, will find this note of valiancy—of the old Roman ‘virtue’ mated with cheerfulness—dominant throughout, if in many curious moods. He may trace it back, if he care, far behind Chaucer to the rudest beginnings of English Song. It is indigenous, proper to our native spirit, and it will endure.     

A. Q.-C.

Whitsun, 1939

  By PanEris using Melati.

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