Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
Pages: 416
Publication Date: February 23, 2016

English Renaissance PoetryA Collection of Shorter Poems from Skelton to Jonson

selected by John Williams, introduction by Robert Pinsky

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Poetry in English as we know it was largely invented in England between the early 1500s and 1630, and yet for many years the poetry of the era was considered little more than a run-up to Shakespeare. The twentieth century brought a reevaluation, and the English Renaissance has since come to be recognized as the period of extraordinary poetic experimentation that it was. Never since have the possibilities of poetic form and, especially, poetic voice—from the sublime to the scandalous and slangy—been so various and inviting. This is poetry that speaks directly across the centuries to the renaissance of poetic exploration in our own time.

John Williams’s celebrated anthology includes not only some of the most famous poems by some of the most famous poets of the English language (Sir Thomas Wyatt, John Donne, and of course Shakespeare) but also-—-and this is what makes Williams’s book such a rare and rich resource—the strikingly original work of little-known masters like George Gascoigne and Fulke Greville.

Selected by John Williams, introduction by Robert Pinsky


In the beginning, for many poets and readers, there are anthologies. They often provide our earliest source for poems. . . . For me, the most valuable anthology eventually became, and remains, this one: John Williams’s English Renaissance Poetry.
—Robert Pinsky, from the Introduction

John Williams chose well, and framed his choices with clear and concise commentaries. A lifetime cannot exhaust the pleasures of this anthology that distills the most vigorous age of English lyricism. As a guide and a companion it is indispensable.
—Geoffrey O’Brien

The pithy and insightful page-long biographies are well worth pausing to read; then there is verse from 23 poets, as well as a selection of English madrigals, and I’ve barely found a duff line… This isn’t just an anthology of ancient verse. It’s a manual on how to write poetry that has the force, in Thomas Wyatt’s resonant phrase, of having been not just written in ink, but 'graven with diamonds, in letters plain.'
—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian