The Book of Celtic Verse: A Treasury of Poetry, Dreams & Visions brings together Celtic poetry–from Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales–that spans 15 centuries. Rather than organize the collection by place or time period, editor John Matthews arranges the poetry thematically. The five themes include magic, nature, love, war, and vision.
In his introduction, Matthews explains, “In selecting the poems for inclusion in this collection, I have maintained a unifying criterion–that the writers all possess deep roots in the culture, both past and present, that make up the Celtic world, and that their works derive from this culture, either directly, in terms of subject matter, or indirectly, by being born in the Celtic realms.”
While readers will recognize well-established poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Louis Stevenson, the majority of the collection is devoted to lesser-known poets–some of whom are still writing today.
The amount of Celtic verse contained in this succinct and beautifully bound book is impressive. From ancient to contemporary works, each poem evokes a sense of wonder, and it’s evident that Matthews treats the material with reverence. My only critique is with how the material is organized. While the thematic approach is certainly accessible, Matthews does not offer any description of what characterizes certain poems as war poems, for example, and others as love. A brief overview of patterns in certain poetic traditions would help me to better appreciate each category. Likewise, there is a significant overlap among the different themes (for instance, poems in the love section that heavily feature nature), so the categories seem arbitrary.
This is a minor criticism, however, as it is a thoroughly enjoyable collection that can be read straight through or here and there when one wants to be transported to a world of myth and magic.
First published in 2007, this title was re-released on March 8, 2022.