Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection

Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection selected by Michael Rosen

1998

Illustrated by Paul Howard

Many of us may be philistines when it comes to poetry, but children are not.  They delight in the musicality of meter, the humor of limericks, the wordplay of rhyme.  They are adept at memorization – poems are easily engraved in memory in the young and, once owned, are there for a lifetime.  A poem memorized in childhood can be recited on a deathbed.

There are countless anthologies, many excellent, none exhaustive.  It is good to have a number on hand.  Classic Poetry has a particularly rich selection with stylistically diverse illustrations to accompany the poems along with portraits, both visual and text, of the poets.

Some are silly, as only Edward Lear can be.

Far and few, far and few
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Some are musical, none more so than Banjo Paterson’s lyrics that were written as a bush ballad.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, 
Under the shade of a coolibah-tree, 
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled, 
‘Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?....’

Some celebrate the exoticisms of language, as in John Masefield’s “Cargoes”.

Quinquireme of Ninevah from Distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

We should never underestimate the intelligence of children. They might not know a quinquireme from a Spanish galleon on first pass, but they will figure it out.  Their ears will respond even in the presence of nonsense.  Try a poem a day.  Or sit down with an anthology and read it from start to finish. 

Do you have thoughts about this book? Other favorites you would recommend?

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