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The present volume has two distinct aims. It includes, first, a compilation of American poems (mostly short selections) drawn from the era beginning about the commencement of the century and reaching to the present day. As a compilation, therefore, it may be of interest to the general reader, as well as of special service to a student of literature wishing to acquaint himself readily with types of American poetry.
Secondly, the book may, it is hoped, be useful for making an inductive study, both of the chief American poets and, less completely, of the other poets from whose writings extracts are taken according to the plan of the volume. The order in critical study should be, first, the single poem; then the poems of one author, later the poetry of this author's period; finally, the consideration of American poetry as a whole. Thus Bryant's composition, Thanatopsis, is first to be studied, then, by means of successive examination of other poems, a view is to be gained of the whole of Bryant's verse. After Bryant, with increasing attention to the comparison of an author's
poems one with another, Whittier, Emerson, and the other poets of the same group may be studied in a similar way; and the successive inductions collated and compared to show the poetical worth, as a group, of these "Classics." Around this group may then be viewed and with it compared, after similar but more brief special study, the other groups. At the close, therefore, of such an examination, the student should be prepared to arrive at a just estimate of American poetry in its intimate relations!
The teacher or the student, who wishes to make his study more thorough, may employ the volume not merely as a text, but as a hand-book introductory to a careful private reading of the best books on the special fields of the subject. For this purpose, in connection with the introductory sketch to each principal poet, selected bibliographical references are given, directing attention to the works which have seemed to the editor the most effective for rendering each author's personality clear and vivid. Among such references, the editions recommended of the poems may be assumed as first in importance; then the biographies of the poet; lastly his prose works. In the bibliographies, which have been made purposely brief, magazine articles on the poets have not been given mention. Such articles may, in certain cases, undoubtedly be of service, but dealing as they usually do with complex questions rather than with elementary matters, they need to be used, in the case of beginners, with extreme caution, and should hardly ever be regarded either as authoritative in themselves, or as worthy of complete acceptance for
moulding the opinions of any student who has not finished the preliminary groundwork. Good cyclopedias, however, will often be found convenient for giving in a brief space the facts of an author's life. In general, the largest public libraries may of course, be used to advantage by students within reach of them.
For showing, as a further step, the place of poetry as a part of American thought and literature, Richardson's American Literature (G. P. Putnam's Sons) will be found a trustworthy guide.
But even without the opportunities afforded by helps, like these, good work may be done by means of a private collection composed of the works indicated. More valuable, however, than anything else is careful choice and attention in respect to what is noble in the spirit of poetry itself.
The contents have been divided, also for didactic reasons, into two parts; and on the same ground, these parts are further subdivided. In Part I. authors who (with one exception) are no longer living are represented by several poems, and are considered more fully than are the authors in Part II. In the first group, under Part I. are included the authors who, in the general opinion (perhaps in one or two instances in the opinion held by the editor), stand in the front rank; in the second group are selections from certain other prominent poets who died not long ago. Part II. is made up of poems by other authors, with brief notices prefixed in each case: a plan intended to prevent total ignorance on the part of the student of the writers of the great mass of
American poetry, as well as to avoid pronouncing to an unnecessary degree upon the importance of the earlier authors partly forgotten or of contemporary poets who still have a future in which to produce.
Of the subdivisions of Part II., the collection of war-ballads, grouped in subdivision II., explains itself. Between subdivisions I., and III., the following tentative line of demarcation was drawn: poets born before 1820 were placed in subdivision I.; those after 1820 in subdivision III. While such classification may appear somewhat arbitrary, it was adopted as a preliminary toward indicating that decided differences exist between early and later American verse. Most of these differences may be more easily felt than defined. One of the principal distinctions is perhaps that the former tended to rudeness, the latter to refinement of form.
Some exceptions have been made. Certain authors, for instance, who were born before 1820 but who are still living or whose works are comparatively recent, are classed as "Contemporaries."
In taking up the present book for study, the group "Classics," which is placed first, will be found as a rule the most convenient to begin upon; but in this group it may be desirable to omit Poe and Very,' if the book is used for younger classes. At Swords' Points may be taken, without previous
1 The reasons for the insertion of the poetry of Jones Very in the division entitled "Classics" are given in the separate introduction to Very's poems. That one purpose of the volume is to be useful to readers who are somewhat mature, makes the innovation no indiscretion at most. My reservation, as in regard to Poe, would suggest the limitation of the experiment.