Selected Poems of Edith Wharton, edited by Irene Goldman-Price, brings together a collection of the famed writer's poetry, combining better-known pieces such as "A Torchbearer," an elegy for a young acquaintance, with more obscure pieces, such as "Faun's Song." Many of the poems are previously unpublished works found in Wharton's diaries and notebooks, while others have been out of print for many years. The book is divided into sections based on themes--nature, art, public opinion, the supernatural. Most poems are introduced by Goldman-Price's commentary, which provides background on Wharton and a general interpretation of the poem.
While Wharton is celebrated for the novels The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, she is not often thought of as a poet. Goldman-Price's collection re-considers this foundational American female writer as not only a poet but an important public voice. Poems like "Only a Child" (Wharton's first published poem) and "Prophecies of Summer" (written when she was 14) offer insights into Wharton's biography and literary oeuvre. Meanwhile, those like "The Rose" and "The Bread of Angels" challenge established perceptions of Wharton as simply an aristocratic writer and provide fertile ground for new scholarship to explore the connections between her poetry and novels.
Still, Wharton's poems shine most when commenting on what Goldman-Price titles "Courtship, Love, and Heartbreak," or the fraught relationships between men and women. In these poems, Wharton's sentimentality becomes so interwoven with her satirical criticism that it's difficult to distinguish between the two, suggesting that perhaps there is less of a difference between these seemingly divergent rhetorical strategies than readers may think. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor