Jonathan Swift: The Complete Poems by Pat Rogers (ed); John Skelton: The Complete English Poems by John Scattergood (ed) - review by David Profumo

David Profumo

Helter Skelter

Jonathan Swift: The Complete Poems

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Penguin 956pp £9.95 order from our bookshop

John Skelton: The Complete English Poems

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Penguin 573pp £6.95 order from our bookshop
 

It is an irony Swift himself would have appreciated that the man who resolved at thirty-two ‘Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly,’ should have become best known as the author of the children's classic, Gulliver’s Travels. But his general image as a poet, if there is one, is nowadays assembled from a handful of notorious verses that typecast him, out of context, as a ‘dirty’ writer – something the plethora of recent books on the poems has done little to replace with any alternative impression, persisting as they do in casting gloom on already obscure areas.

Professor Rogers’ massive edition must, by its sheer size alone, prove that there is more to Swift than catalogues of noisome underwear. It offers about 280 poems in modernised spelling, including a few attributions that differ from Williams’ standard edition of 1937; there is also an excellent ‘Biographical Dictionary’, plus page after page of enlightening notes at the end. What we are not given, due to present Penguin policy, is any critical Introduction, but a textual one that is an admirable mixture of scholarship and common-sense, explaining the morass of bibliographical difficulties concerning the canon. Only in the

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