Francis Meynell, By Heart

This is an anthology of poetry intended to be memorised.

It was compiled in 1965 towards the end of Meynell’s life, and this shows in the selection of poets; only a handful were born after 1914, and as far as I can tell Rabindranath Tagore is the only one who is not white. Most poems are in rhymed verse, and there are a quite a few extracts from longer poems.

Meynell’s Catholicism also shows in the prominence of religious content, with a number of poems presenting unusual angles on familiar Bible stories.

The publication history is interesting; it was first published by Meynell’s own Nonesuch press, then under the imprint of Bodley Head Children’s (!) books, despite some distinctly adult themes. Another publisher was the Ezra Pound Institute of Civilization, London which seems mysterious until you learn that Pound was a friend of Meynell’s.

Like the original Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, this book seems to belong to a time about 20 years before its actual publication. As anthologies go it is harmless enough. You would need a good memory to commit some of the longer pieces to it, and the presence of extracts will be irritating to some.

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