4 out of 4 stars
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Poetry is one of my favorite literary modes because of its artful and carefully planned use of language. The most excellent poetry uses not only word choice and rhythms to create a literary work that is pleasing to read but also figurative modes to explore concepts in new ways. By my measure, Dr. Jane Chance’s book The Middle Ages is collection of very excellent poetry.
Dr. Chance had a career as a celebrated scholar and professor at Rice University. She had an honorary doctorate bestowed on her by Purdue University. She has twenty-five published books on medievalism and medieval literature. This latest collection of sixty-two poems combines poetry with medieval themes with other themes that readers of various ages and life experiences may find accessible.
My favorite poem was one entitled “To Scheherazade from the Bride Before”. Many people are familiar with the story of Scheherazade of Arabian Nights, but this tells the sad story of one of the anonymous women who were brutally killed after surrendering their virginity. It is sad and simple, poignantly expressing both fear and regret while holding out hope that a different choice might allow the next woman to live. It turns the familiar story on its head without compromising everything treasured about the original.
Another poem that I loved was one called “Her”. This was one of the poems that did not feature any medieval themed content. Instead, it was the thoughts of a grandmother contemplating her apparently unborn granddaughter. The child was still nameless, but the grandmother was rapturously dreaming about her life. The poem was celebrating this small life and unformed identity. It also paired well with previous themes that discussed the struggles and joys of womanhood. In this poem, all that is known about the granddaughter is that she will be born female and may someday join in those experiences.
If I could change anything about this collection, I would ask the author to integrate more of the medieval into the latter parts of the collection. It seemed like the medieval themes were only in the first section, while the other three sections focused on other themes, such as sexuality, aging, creation, memory, and self. I enjoyed all four sections, but the medieval selections had an added unique quality that I do not often encounter from other poets who do not have the scholarly background of Dr. Chance.
I rate The Middle Ages by Jane Chance 4 out of 4 stars. The poetry was of excellent quality. It was well-written, both pleasing and interesting to read, and the poems inspired deep thoughts about even mundane subjects. The editing was superior, and I noted no mechanical errors at all. This collection is a book I am glad to own and would certainly revisit from time to time. Readers who particularly enjoy poetry are almost guaranteed to enjoy this collection. Readers who love medieval literature, even if they are not usually especially attracted by poetry, should also give this book a try. Since this collection is so well done, I would also recommend it for people who do not normally love poetry but might be interested in trying some.
The Middle Ages
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