Penguin Classics, £40, 1032pp. £36 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, Edited by Patrick Crotty

This is a magnificent anthology. Its size alone (over 1000 pages) would make it outstanding, but more to the point is its scope and adventurousness. It achieves what might seem nearly impossible, a balanced view of Irish poetry from the earliest times to the present. It does a great job of sorting out the unsurpassable from the merely passable. It's undaunted by the magnitude of the undertaking. Of course, like all editors of anthologies, Patrick Crotty isn't without a quirk or two, or an idee fixe of his own. These are most apparent, perhaps, when it comes to contemporary poetry and the vexed question of who's in and who isn't. As Crotty acknowledges in his sterling introduction, it's inevitable that "eyebrows will be raised" over this or that choice. I would have dropped some and added others; but every reader, naturally, will have his or her own opinion.

So what do we have? All the formidable poetic virtues, elegance, precision, intricacy, integrity, find an outlet here, from the sixth-century "Lament for Colum Cille" to Derek Mahon's "Courtyards in Delft". We have passages from William Allingham's "Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland" ("The Hamlet clustering on its hill is seen, A score of petty homesteads, dark and mean"), and many gems of the present, including Seamus Heaney's "A Sofa in the Forties".

Some Ulster Scots poems get in - "Donegore Hill", for example, by James Orr - along with those in Irish (translated) and standard English. The Nun of Beare, poems of the Fianna, O Bruadair, Jonathan Swift, O Rathaille, Peadar O Doirnin, Goldsmith, Yeats, Joyce, Louis MacNeice, Thomas Kinsella, Michael Longley, Michael Hartnett, Paul Muldoon...

Although the national story, the historical narrative, is adumbrated through complementary or contradictory verses, and all the plights and obsessions peculiar to the Irish get a showing, the book avoids an unduly nationalist, or any other kind of, bias. It simply keeps in mind the fact that Irish poets have always had something to react to, or inveigh against, whether new ways taking over from the old, an imposed asceticism in the place of abundance, or the terrible consequences of misgovernment.

You should read this book as an extension of, and not a riposte to, good poetry anthologies of the recent past. Crotty pays tribute to a few of these, Thomas Kinsella's and John Montague's among them. He doesn't mention the Penguin Book's most obvious predecessor, Kathleen Hoagland's 1000 Years of Irish Poetry (1947), with which there is, unavoidably, quite a bit of overlap.

Both rely quite heavily on translation, since a good deal of their chosen material was written in Irish. Like Hoagland, Crotty has included all the great 19th- and early 20th-century translators: Samuel Ferguson, James Clarence Mangan, Kuno Meyer, Whitley Stokes. He has a tremendous advantage, in that new versions of old poems have recently become available in all their amazing variety.

It was (for example) an inspired choice on the part of the present editor to have four translations of Brian Merriman's "The Midnight Court" (c.1780) running in tandem: Ciaran Carson's, Seamus Heaney's, Thomas Kinsella's and Frank O'Connor's, all, in their different ways, as vivid and invigorating as the original ("How dare this old dirt-bird discuss womankind,/When a proof of his manhood no woman can find!").

As well as the more formal poetry that exemplifies the trends of successive eras - the high-mindedly Hibernian, austerely Augustan, rumbustiously rural, or whatever - there are sections devoted to songs and ballads of the type that used to be popular in the street or fair. Some have named authors such as WB Yeats, Thomas Davis or Patrick Kavanagh, but most are anonymous ("The Cow Ate the Piper"; "Johnny, I Hardly Knew You").

I am pleased Crotty found space for that epitome of Belfast aplomb, "The Ballad of William Bloat" ("In a mean abode on the Shankill Road,/ Lived a man named William Bloat"). However, I have to point out that this particular contribution is not anonymous (though it reads as if it ought to be). Raymond Calvert wrote it in the early part of the 20th century. Moreover, his words don't entirely correspond to those transcribed by Crotty.

Some other small errors or peculiarities have crept in here and there. For example, Crotty oddly gives the impression he thinks Padraig Colum's "The Poor Girl's Meditation" is an original poem, when it's a word-for-word translation of the Irish, "Ta me 'mo shuidhe o d'eirigh an ghealach areir". Francis Ledwidge's "Lament for Thomas MacDonagh" horrendously changes "But" to "And" in the final quatrain, thereby undermining the whole point of the poem.

One could go on with this kind of nit-picking. But, viewed as a whole, The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry is so rich in its inclusions, so superbly organised, showing such breadth of scholarship and (in general) felicity of judgement that complaint soon dies away, and applause for a great achievement prevails.

Patricia Craig's memoir, 'Asking for Trouble', is published by Blackstaff

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor