George Crabbe (1754-1832) was an English writer of poems and verse tales memorable for their realistic details of everyday life. Hating his mean surroundings and unsuccessful occupation as a surgeon, he abandoned both in 1780 and went to London to be a poet. In 1783, he demonstrated his full powers of verse with The Village, an attempt to portray realistically the misery and degradation of rural poverty, while making good use of his detailed observation of life in the bleak countryside from which he came. In writing this pastiche, the author has sought continuity in the poetics and style of the poet and has described his lived experience in community housing.
The verses have no named characters, but Ramsey exhibits a gift for empathy as he describes the plight of the lower classes through metaphor. However, the pastiche itself can be a barrier. The scansion of the heroic couplets sometimes falters, and many of the concepts can be lost in the anachronistic language. Readers familiar with older poetry may be comfortable with lines such as “Fain would they ask the hoary swain to prove,” but this work will be less accessible to the average reader.
Portraying a small and often unacknowledged slice of life in its rhymes, the book stands as a forceful condemnation of class stratification as well as a respectful homage to Crabbe’s work. Even those readers who struggle with the language will applaud Ramsey’s ambition of conveying 20th-century plights in an 18th-century style, and he succeeds in engaging the reader’s sympathies, as he hopes: “Let this passing song distaste overpower,/ And make you more forgiving from this hour.”
Takeaway: Readers familiar with both 18th-century poetry and 20th-century poverty will appreciate this moving reminiscence in verse.
Great for fans of Giacomo Leopardi, William Blake.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A