Friday, January 25, 2008

THE TOP 500 POEMS edited by William Harmon

The Book: William Harmon, editor; THE TOP 500 POEMS. Columbia University Press, 1992 (fourth edition). Trade paperback, very good condition, some creasing of front cover.
First read: 1994
Owned since: 1994 (best guess)

It's Burns Night, a national holiday for Scots wherever they may be, and since I don't own a collection of Robert Burns's poetry, this is the next best thing. Any collection of "Top 500 Poems" must be arbitrary, but six of Burns's make the cut: "A Red, Red Rose;" "To a Mouse on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785;" "John Anderson, My Jo;" "The Banks o'Doon;" "For A' That and A' That;" and "Holy Willie's Prayer."

The national stereotype of Scots is that they're a dour, pessimistic, thrifty (not to say stingy) people, but Burns is the opposite of that, at least in his poetry. His poems shine with goodwill, humor, and tenderness for his subjects, whether they are working men or mice.

"John Anderson, My Jo" is a love poem between old friends -- maybe a wife to her husband, but maybe just lifelong friends.

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bony brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my Jo.

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill the gither;
And mony a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we'll go;
And sleep the gither at the foot,
John Anderson my Jo.

Happy Burns night, everybody, and tak' a drop for me (since I'm still on antibiotics and can't drink). If you have haggis, feel no need to tell me about it.

What I Read This Week

Nick Stone, King of Swords. I admired Stone's first novel, Mr. Clarinet, very much, and was glad to snag this UK copy of this prequel, set in the 1980s. It's a complex tale of serial murder, a voodoo-based crime network, and deep-seated political corruption; at times it gets a little too complex for its own good, but I applaud its ambition and attention to detail, and look forward to Stone's next book.

Robert B. Parker, Now and Then. The mystery in this book -- the murder of an unfaithful wife and her husband, an FBI agent -- takes a back seat to the continuing mystery of Spenser's relationship with the incredibly annoying Susan Silverman. Many years ago, Susan left Spenser for another man, and Spenser had to kill a few people to get her back; the current case reminds them both of that time, to the point that we never even really learn why the victims in this book had to die. Annoying, and the implication at the end -- that Spenser and Susan might finally actually get married -- annoyed me even more. But we see a lot of Hawk in this book, and that's always good.


Larry said...

And, in St. Louis on, or near Burns Birthday, the Tap Room, our favorite local brew pub, hosts Burns Night. The Scottish Ale is tapped and presented to an expectant crowd to the accompaniment of live bag pipes. Burns' "Ode to a Haggis" is read and then the owner, one Tom Schlafly, reads his always entertaining annual poem, which can be found at,

This year's target the one and only Brittney Spears.

Hope this finds you on the mend.


AnswerGirl said...

Ha -- I believe I went to college with Mr. Schlafly's sister.

It's an awfully small world.