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Who is a major, who is a minor poet? Inevitably, in his introduction, W. H. Auden offers a stimulating rationale for distinguishing between the two. To paraphrase him, one cannot say that a major poet always writes better poems than a minor poet. Nor is it a matter of pleasure the poet gives an individual reader – Auden himself confesses to not liking Shelley but being ‘delighted by every line of William Barnes’, but not doubting for a moment the former is a major poet and the latter a minor one. One does not always enjoy what one most admires. Yet everyone is to some extent familiar with the work of the major nineteenth century poets and few have had the chance to read the patriotic poems of Thomas Campbell, several of which rank among the finest such poems in English literature, the songs of Tom Moore or his political and social satires, the humorous verse of Thomas Hood, the superb lyrics of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, the odes of Coventry Patmore, the satirical poems of Samuel Butler. These poets and many more are discerningly represented in this anthology which puts into the limelight every genuine minor poet (they must have written at least one good poem) born between 1770 and 1870.
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