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markk

markk

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Which Wordsworth is worth keeping?

For the past couple of days my son has been nagging me to go to our big local used bookstore, as he wanted to add to his newly-started collection of One Piece manga. As you can imagine, he didn't have to work to hard to get me to go. While he poured over the manga section I perused the literature shelves in search of a particular book. As I passed through the Poetry section, though, I came across a hardcover copy of the Oxford Standard edition of William Wordsworth's Poetical Works in pretty good condition for an excellent price.

 

Now, I'm a huge fan of the Oxford University Press and its high editorial standards. Normally I snap up a work like this in a heartbeat. The problem is that I already own a copy of a different edition of Wordsworth's poems, this one being the Cambridge Edition that Houghton Mifflin revised and republished in the early 1980s. I did some online research to see which was recommended, but as usual the Internet proved to be unhelpful in providing much beyond cat videos. So after a few minutes spent pondering the situation, I decided to buy it and determine for myself which is the better edition.

 

Once we got home, I began my assessment.

 

 

As you can see, the Cambridge Edition is by far the larger of the two, which matters in a few important respects. Foremost among them is the question of how much space they take up on my shelf, as the prospect of freeing up a few centimeters by replacing the Cambridge with the Oxford Standard was one of the things that drew me to it in the first place (besides, shouldn't poetry books be portable so that they can easily be taken out on trips outdoors to read during rambles or while picnicking in a grassy meadow?). Of course size matters as well in terms of readability, yet here the difference wasn't as great as I thought it would be:

 

 

As you can see, the size of the text in the Cambridge Edition at the top isn't much larger than that of the Oxford Standard edition, and certainly not enough to make a great deal of difference.

 

Far more important, though, is the question of content, and here is where comparisons prove more challenging. The editors of the Cambridge Edition stuck with a largely chronological format with only minor variations. By contrast the Oxford Standard has them grouped in categories that provide for a different ordering. This makes comparing differences between the poems themselves a little difficult, but I can't find any significant ones that distinguish one edition from the other.

 

Finally there's the question of annotation. While the Cambridge Edition has only a limited amount of notes (and they're annoyingly located at the end of the book) this definitely beats the Oxford Standard, which eschews annotation altogether. Yet while in many circumstances this would be a deal-breaker, this is less of an issue for me here as I don't need much context for these poems.

 

As a result, while I'm still comparing the two editions, it looks as though I'm going to replace my Cambridge Edition with the Oxford Standard. So if anyone is interested in a hefty collection of Wordsworth's poetry and is willing to cover postage let me know and I'll send it off to you sometime this week.