Singing Masters: Poets in English, 1500 to the Present
"Singing Masters" is a book for connoisseurs of poetry. It spans five centuries of verse in English, but it is in no way a literary history or encyclopedic survey of the genre. It is instead a celebration of the poetry that has most delighted, engaged, and challenged one man over his long and distinguished career as literary scholar and critic.
Russell Fraser's focus is on seventeen poets, including chapters on Donne, Herrick, Wordsworth, Milton, Shelley, and Marvell, with reference to many other poets along the way. The effort is not to be comprehensive, or even chronological (as the author points out, poetry, unlike the sciences, does not get better and better), but to record the impact of poetry on one man's sensibility, necessarily different from anyone else's. The account is personal--the distillation of a lifetime's experience. However, paying close attention to previous critics, "Singing Masters" is not impressionistic.
The title comes from Yeats, a poet who wanted his predecessors to be the "singing masters" of his soul. Similarly, author Russell Fraser pays homage to his predecessors among the major critics. He doesn't read his poets in a vacuum, but locates them in their lives and times while simultaneously focusing on the work itself. In this book, the poem is the thing, and the basic questions explored are language-centered: what kind of poem is before the reader and whether it succeeds and why.
Russell Fraser is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Michigan, where he held the Austin Warren Chair in English Literature and Language from 1983-95. He is the author or editor of sixteen books, including a two-volume biography of Shakespeare; a biography of R. P. Blackmur; "The Dark Ages and the Age of Gold; The Language of Adam: On the Limits and Systems of Discourse; Shakespeare's Poetics"; and "The Three Romes."
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Shakespeare at Sonnets
Sex and Science in Donne
Herrick among the Goths
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