The Family Album Of Favorite Poems, edited by P. Edward Ernest
This book was published originally in 1959 and printed in 1983. It could not be printed today, at least not without dire threats being sent to the publisher and boycotts and a terrible political scene. Reading this book was a sort of melancholy experience not because the book was bad–it was quite good, for the most part, containing more than 500 pages of generally excellent and diverse poetry–but because so many of these poems were ones that had influenced me as a reader and as a writer through their language and through their poetic form and because I do not see so many young people today being raised to appreciate this sort of poetry. Our education shapes the way we look at the world and we are impoverished when we cannot recognize the noble writings of the past and the way that a lot of poetry was designed with clear didactic intent, which is something this book has in spades. Poetry written today often has the same intent, but its intent is far less noble, and the frequent use of dialect in these poems by Robert Burns and others is something that would attract a lot of negative comment today, unfortunately.
Overall this book is a bit more than 500 pages long and is divided into sixteen smaller “books” of poetry that deal with a related theme. So we begin with poetry expressing the reality and earnestness of life and the need to take it seriously (1), and then after that we move to poems that reflect the human spirit (2) as well as love poems (3). There is then a section of poems that deals with the worth of the common person (4) as well as poetry that deals with youth and aging (5) and poetry that encourages martial bravery and courage (6). This is followed by a selection of comic verse (7) as well as poetry relating to God’s creation (8) and ten the relationship of nature to time (9). There are poems about everyday life (10) as well as patriotic poems (11) and songs, a lengthy chapter on story poems and ballads that takes up more than 100 pages (12), old songs and new ones (13), as well as poetry that deals explicitly with faith (14). After this there are poems directed specifically to children (15), and finally poems about Christmas and the New Year (16). After this the book ends with an index for authors, an index for first lines, and an index for poem titles.
Overall, this is a fantastic work of poetry that includes a diverse group of classic poetic works in the Western tradition. I could think of this work as being possible to improve through the addition of translated poetry from Chinese or Japanese traditions, but overall the work does a good job at demonstrating to the reader the fine Western tradition of poetry that helped to provide moral instruction, entertainment, as well as certain expressions that could be used as a way of communicating truths to the world while letting them know that you too were a well-read person who understood the right way to refer to things for maximum resonance. I was personally surprised in reading this book how familiar I was with the language of the poems and how they had appeared in many other writings that I have read as the source of titles or of quotes used in the books, and that was something that pleased me as well. If you are interested in reading classic material that is something that may interest you as well, and if it does, you are fortunate in being responsive to such things. Not everyone, sadly, appreciates noble and good poetry that gives sound life lessons and encourages faith and decency.