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America no greater gift than their own characters and lofty lives.
Scarcely any attempt at criticism was made of our writers in this volume; in the companion volume of American Prose, where all but one of the poets appear again, the opportunity has been taken to call attention more specifically to the art, as here to the biographic details. The two volumes will be found to complement each other.
THIS Volume of American Poems has been prepared with special reference to the interests of young people, both at school and at home. Reading-books and popular collections of poetry contain many of the shorter and well-known poems of the authors represented in this book, but the scope of such collections does not generally permit the introduction of the longer poems. It is these poems, and, with a slight exception, these only, that make up this volume. The power to read and enjoy poetry is one of the finest results of education, but it cannot be attained by exclusive attention to short poems; there is involved in this power the capacity for sustained attention, the remaining with the poet upon a long flight of imagination,
the exercise of the mind in bolder sweep of thought. Moreover, the familiarity with long poems produces greater power of appreciation when the shorter ones are taken up. It is much to take deep breaths of the upper air, to fill the lungs with a good draught of poetry, and unless one accompanies the poet in his longer reaches, he fails to know what poetry can give him.
In making the selection for this volume a very simple principle has been followed. It was desired to make the book an agreeable introduction to the pleasures of poetry, and, by confining it to American poetry of the highest order, to give young people in America the most natural acquaintance with literature. These poets are our interpreters. All but one are still living, so that the poetry is contemporaneous and appeals through familiar forms; as far as possible narrative poems have been chosen, and, in the arrangement of authors, regard has been had to degrees of difficulty, the more involved and subtle forms of poetry following the simpler and more direct. Throughout, the book has been conceived in a spirit which welcomes poetry as a noble delight, not as a grammatical exercise or elocutionary task.
With the same intention the critical apparatus has been treated in a literary rather than in a pedagogical way. The editor has imagined himself reading aloud, and stopping now and then to explain a phrase, to clear an allusion, or to give a suggestion as to similar forms in literature. Since several of the poems are
semi-historical in character, the historic basis has been carefully pointed out, and hints have been given for further pursuit of the subjects treated. Words, though obsolete or archaic, are not explained when the dictionary account is sufficient. A brief sketch of the author precedes each section.
It is strongly hoped that the book will be accepted by schools as a contribution to that very important work in which teachers are engaged, of giving to their pupils an interest in the best literature, a love for pure and engaging forms of art. If, with all our drill and practice in reading during the years of school-life, children leave their schools with no taste for good reading, and no familiarity with those higher forms of literature that have grown out of the very life which they are living, it must be questioned whether the time given to reading has been most wisely employed. August, 1879.
THE COURTSHIP OF MILES STANDISH