Category: Poetry

101 Famous Poems

Book cover for 101 Famous Poems, edited by Roy J. Cook
101 Famous Poems

101 Famous Poems, edited by Roy J. Cook. First edition published in 1916.

“Poetry has the power to give us strength, inspiration, and hope, helping us to make meaning from our hectic lives and giving us the opportunity to appreciate new ways of thinking about universal themes and observations.

“Whether you are a newcomer to poetry or a lifelong lover of verse, you will find within the pages of this indispensable compilation the greatest poems of all time, powerful words that have delighted and inspired generations of readers—words that are sure to inspire you today.”

I will be the first to admit that I’m a “newcomer to poetry.” I’ve never disliked poetry, but I’ve also never had much patience with it. I like a terrific story, and that narrative drive is what keeps me reading. As I grow older, however, I’m gaining a greater appreciation for the way poetry can make beautiful language heavenly. The leader of the book club I belong to, on the other hand, loves poetry and has been working to help the rest of us gain a greater appreciation for it. She recommended this book for the group, and I’m glad she did! I started from the beginning, reading a few poems at a time. I’m glad I took this particular approach, because it enabled me to get a much more comprehensive view of a bygone world described by a variety of poets from different time periods. All of these poets are dead, and the world they wrote about is gone—history to us now—but to them the joys and sorrows they wrote about were real.

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Faust and Adam Bede

Faust, Part 1, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German classic)

“The story concerns the fate of Faust in his quest for the true essence of life. . . . Frustrated with learning and the limits to his knowledge, power, and enjoyment of life, he attracts the attention of the Devil (represented by Mephistopheles), who makes a bet with Faust that he will be able to satisfy him; a notion that Faust is incredibly reluctant towards, as he believes this happy zenith will never come. . . . In the first part, Mephistopheles leads Faust through experiences that culminate in a lustful relationship with Gretchen, an innocent young woman.”

Adam Bede, by George Eliot (English Classic)

“The story of a beautiful country girl’s seduction by the local squire and its bitter, tragic sequel is an old and familiar one which George Eliot invests with peculiar and haunting power.”

Black and white cover for Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, with illustrations by Harry Clarke, translated by Bayard Taylor

I suggested the play Faust for my book group because I had seen so many references to it in other literature and understood it to be one of the greatest pieces of literature written in German. I couldn’t remember reading any German literature with the group, which made it a book that would require us to stretch a little. Actually, it made us stretch a lot. I was the only one who had finished the first part on the evening of the review. (Since I was leading the discussion, I was motivated!) I was only able to get through it by relying heavily on a commentary. Because Faust is a play, a considerable bit of action simply isn’t in the text, and for that reason, I do suggest consulting a commentary if you are reading it for the first time and not taking a class.

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