This is the collected edition of Blake’s poetry that I’ve been using for all of the Blake stuff I’ve been reading and reviewing lately. I decided to throw up a brief review of the collection itself because of a couple of things. I talked in one or two of my other reviews about how heavily I leaned on the notes while reading The Four Zoas, Milton & Jerusalem, essentially reading the notes and the poem page by page in order to really try to understand and appreciate what was going on. The volume is over a thousand pages, but over three hundred of those pages are notes done by the editor of the book, Alicia Ostriker. Also, because of the fragmentary existence of a lot of these manuscripts, Ostriker has cobbled together something like ultimate editions of Blake’s longer stuff, noting which lines are missing in various manuscripts all the way down to noting where a single word or two is changed between different drafts. I really feel like Ostriker deserves a tremendous amount of praise for her work on this volume. And then the book also contains a lot of Blake’s shorter poetry that is taken from his private journal or letters to friends or fragments that Blake abandoned. There’s a rather lengthy piece toward the end called The Everlasting Gospel that’s really wonderful and, in a slightly earthier mode, it’s a kick to see Blake writing comedic/satirical poetry that’s nothing like his published stuff and using incredibly crude language at times. As I’ve gone through the larger works in Blake’s bibliography, I’ve certainly found things I didn’t care for and things that didn’t achieve greatness, but I really can’t do anything but call this collected edition a masterpiece. The entire corpus of Blake, taken as a whole, is just a staggering, unmatched literary achievement and it really does deserve to be read as a whole, not piecemeal. There are doldrums here and a few things that I really didn’t care for at all, but as a literary experience, both Blake and Ostriker have gone above and beyond what could reasonably be expected. 4 stars.
tl;dr – incredible collection has some weak poetry, but Blake’s corpus is an overwhelming, unmatched literary achievement when taken as a whole; Ostriker’s notes & editing are superlative. 4 stars.