Virginia Barton

A corner of the Abbey, forever poetry

Catholic Herald, 15 May 1992          


Review: Poets’ Corner edited by Elizabeth Longford (Chapman, £15)


There must be dozens of readers who, like me, were taken as a child to the famous Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

The confused medley of stone, brass, and marble, of shadow and muted sunbeam, was overcast by that longing to go to the loo that spoiled so many childhood “cultural” outings.

Thirty years later the visit was repeated with one’s own offspring. Now one prepares for what will probably be the last and most satisfactory of visits – with the grandchildren.




On second thought, set up the little varmints in some neighbouring chip parlour and go with Lady Longford’s anthology as sole companion. It is first rate company.

With luck the days of the hardback are numbered. Poets’ Corner would have been (and probably soon will be) the ideal paperback. It’s a book you want with you on the spot.

To me, a place like the Abbey causes instant wit-scattering. Lady Longford attaches short biographies to each poet/author – invaluable when you’re trying to remember, for example, to which century Ben Jonson belongs.

The selections of verse or prose that accompany the poets are truly tantalising. One of Lady Longford’s intentions, confessed in the excellent and lengthy introduction, is to tease the reader into further exploration of her subjects’ work. I am sure she has succeeded.

The only serious criticism of the book that I can muster is the absence of illustrations. Had the book been issued as a paperback initially, could not the money saved have been ploughed into illustrations? They are sorely missed in an otherwise mouth-watering volume that one will refer to again and again.


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