Book Review: One Hundred And One Famous Poems

One Hundred And One Famous Poems, edited by Roy J. Cook

Does this poem live up to its title of having one hundred and one famous poems?  After all, most people, even those of us who enjoy reading and reviewing collections of poetry [1], would be hard pressed to think of 101 famous poems.  The answer, at least of this review, is a qualified yes.  Some of these poems are very famous and influential, some of them are by famous poets but are not the most famous of their works, and some of them are known because of their subject matter or phrases and sayings from the poem that entered into the public consciousness.  Some of the poems are obscure but lovely, and on balance this is a worthwhile and enjoyable collection of poetry that contains some thoughtful prose supplements as well.  This book is a good poetry resource, not only for reading, but also for pulling out poems and lines that one would want to cite for future reference.  To give one example of these, here is one of my favorites, “Trees,” by Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, who died near Ourcy in the last few months of World War I, and whose poem can serve as a representative sample for the work as a whole:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree (39).”

While each of the poems here is well organized, the collection as a whole appears more random in terms of its order.  Each poem has a title, the poet and his/her date of birth and death.  Some of the poems have a commentary on the life of the author or the election or, in the case of a selection from Henry VIII, the author given for the poem, Jacobean hack playwright John Fletcher.  That said, the poems included are in a random order.  After the poems, which are heavy on Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rudyard Kipling, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Wordsworth, there is a brief prose selection that includes the ten commandments, a reference to the Magna Carta, and the Declaration of Independence.  This is the sort of collection of works that would rarely be made any longer because its themes of patriotism without glorification of war and its fondness for poetry about historical characters like Hiawatha, Christopher Columbus, Paul Revere, and especially Abraham Lincoln cut against the political trends of our contemporary age.

That said, this is a fantastic book nonetheless, and even at nearly 60 years old, this is the sort of book that would be an excellent resource for someone who appreciates poetry or as a short guide to poetry for a homeschool family.  This is a short book that has some great poetry, including some poetry that I did not realize that I actually new, including “The Spider And The Fly,” which I must have read as a child and internalized it without fully remembering it.  If you like good poetry and your tastes are a bit on the old fashioned or classic side, this book is a great resource, and one well worth dealing with the odd choices of poem that the poet occasionally makes.  Of course, there are poets (like William Stafford) who are not included that I would like to have seen, and I would have liked more Emily Dickinson and less Sir Walter Scott, but this book is full of surprises that I would not wish to spoil, except to say that there is one poem by the largely obscure Maltbie Babcock that is a revelation in relation to his more famous work [2].

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: One Hundred And One Famous Poems

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Libro De Amo | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Soul 7: Poetry 4 The Soul: The Black Diaries | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Poets Of World War II | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: We Belong In History | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: Splitting An Order | Edge Induced Cohesion

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