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The Top 500 Poems Hardcover – Dec 10 1992

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1132 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (Dec 10 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023108028X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231080286
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 6.1 x 23.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #327,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From School Library Journal

YA-- A chronological compilation that tells "the story of poetry in English." Harmon enhances each entry with pertinent information about the work and the poet; his insight adds much to the enjoyment of the collection. The selections are taken from the ninth edition of The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry , chosen because 400 contemporary editors, critics, and poets included them most often in their own anthologies. "The Poems in Order of Popularity" concludes the book. Easy-to-read print with a look of fine calligraphy on high-quality paper add to the appeal.
- Arlene Hoebel, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.


If your library can buy only one volume of poetry, let this be it.


The Top 500 Poems is intriguing in concept and management, and most of us will want to own it. And for this we are grateful.

(Gwendolyn Brooks, poet)

A revealing snapshot of one aspect of Western civilization, even including a list of the poems in order of popularity.

(Globe and Mail)

The merriest poetry anthology of the past decade.... It's everything from 'Sumer is icumen in' to Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' with terse, plain, and rather wonderful commentary by Harmon.

(Buffalo News)

It is rare indeed to come across a book in which wisdom and love come together as powerfully as they do for William Harmon.

(John Frederick Nims, coauthor of Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
To begin, it's important to realize that "The Top 500 Poems" was compiled according to popularity in reproduction, not necessarily in terms of quality. It's also faced with the daunting task of representing English poetry from about 1300 or so until the 1900s. Therefore, it unavoidably has a couple of poems included that seem out of place. For instance, I didn't really need to have "The Purple Cow" or "Paul Revere's Ride" compiled for me, and I wouldn't have included a translated version of the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. I sincerely doubt if any reader of the book has found all the poems included to his or her liking.
However, the overwhelming quality of the bulk of the book more than makes up for the weak patches. "The Top 500 Poems" is well organized chronologically, giving the reader a definite sense of progression through history. The introductory paragraphs to each author are informative and concise, and the commentary after each poem is brief but illuminating. Most important, of course, are the poems themselves, which at their best glow with the energy of the greatest literature. Personal favorites included here are: "Western Wind," "They Flee From Me," "That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold," "The Sun Rising," "To Penshurst," "The Collar," "To His Coy Mistress," "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," "Holy Thursday," "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge," "Kubla Khan," "Ozymandias," "Ode On a Grecian Urn," "Ulysses," "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed," "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," "God's Grandeur," "Sailing to Byzantium," "The Red Wheelbarrow," "Dulce et Decorum Est," "Fern Hill," "Church Going," and "Daddy," to name a few. Many, many more poems equally wonderful are included along with these.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is not intended to be a compilation of the greatest poetry in English - although many of the greatest are included. Harmon has a reverence for poetry which shows in both his commentary and also his choice to simply include poems which were most anthologized elsewhere without imposing his own prejudices on the reader. He freely admits as much in the introduction when he calls the nineteenth century the golden age of poetry and believes the twentieth century poets inferior (don't take offense, contemporary lit fans - he believes the best work of the twentieth century is in prose and blames the media for underexposing poetry in general). If Top 500 had been entirely up to Harmon's judgment, it would contain little besides Lord Byron and his friends. I think it is very important to understand that this is not an individual's opinion on the language's finest poetry, but Poetry's Greatest Hits. If a reader can claim a nodding aquaintance with every poem in this book, they have mastered a very important section of cultural literacy.
By providing 750 years of poetry with commentary in chronological form, the reader watches the evolution of short verse in time-lapse photography. Anonymous ballads preserved by laundresses of old give way over the centuries to tightly structured meditations on passion, to the contemporary picking and choosing among forms or leaving them out entirely. After reading Edmund Spenser's gorgeous Prothalamion, published in 1596, Harmon tells us that T.S. Eliot's Waste Land borrows a line from it. John Donne borrows a line from Christopher Marlowe.
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Format: Hardcover
As the review title indicates, this is a great gift idea for someone who is a nonpoet or does not teach english. True enthusiasts who write their own poetry or actually teach it would probably desire more depth than can be accomplished in a summary compilation of the greatest poetry.
Everyone has their idea of who the greatest poets were/are, and this book is as good of a cursory review of the greatest poets and poetry that can be put together. As a result this book has 3 drawbacks for the true enthusiast. 1) as has been noted by other reviewers, it only encompasses the English poets 2) this is someone elses' decisions on the "best" poetry and may leave out your particular favorite poem(s) (3) no depth to some poets but gives ample space to others, for example - Shakespeare 29 poems, Walt Whitman 5 poems, Edgar Allen Poe 6, Robert Frost 11, Emily Bronte 1, Geoffrey Chaucer 1.
Given the above listed shortcomings that would apply to any attempt to aggregate the "best" poetry, this book does an admirable job. As such, it makes a great gift for your favorite aunt or a bedside companion for yourself. Just realize that if you are a Frost fanatic, you will have to seek something more comprehensive for your favorite poet. Enjoy!
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Format: Hardcover
I love _The Top 500 Poems_. Because it contains poems by e. e. cummings and Stevie Smith, I looked up both poets on my own and read poetry that wasn't taught at my middle school. Now I can skim the book and alight upon poems that were taught in high school or college English classes with a feeling of pleasant deja vu. However, the book is only good, when it could have been great.
First, the editor claims in the introduction that "English-speaking people have produced one of the greatest bodies of literature," which does a disservice to all other bodies of literature. It sounds conceited, as does his editorial voice in some footnotes. Finally, when he defines, in the footnotes to various poems, words that may be unfamiliar to the reader, he often offers definitions for words that are not to be found in the poem or are misspelled. Is he trying to enlighten the reader or to confuse? I read that "whether" means "whithersoever," so I searched the poem in question for "whether" and found "whither" instead. One error would not have bothered me, but this occurs consistently.
The poems are a treasure, the commentary, less so.
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