Poetry of the Law

Poetry of the Law

From Chaucer to the Present


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2010
234 pages, 6 x 9 inches
Paper: 
$22.00
158729866X
9781587298660

“Until now there has been nothing like this collection. The poems included here have depth, both chronologically and topically, and Kader and Stanford have written an introduction that will appeal to scholars and nonscholars alike. I admire their choice of which poems to include and think that their discussion of why the book is necessary is intelligent and will whet the appetite of any reader.”—L. H. LaRue, author, Constitutional Law as Fiction: Narrative in the Rhetoric of Authority

Since the time of Blackstone’s “Farewell,” poetry has been seen as celestial, pastoral, solitary, and mellifluous; law as venerable, social, urban, and cacophonous. This perception has persisted even to the present, with the bourgeoning field of law and literature focusing almost exclusively on fiction and drama. Poetry of the Law, however, reveals the richness of poetry about the law.

Poetry of the Law is the first serious anthology of law-related poetry ever published in the United States. As the editors make clear, though, serious need not imply solemn. Instead, David Kader and Michael Stanford have assembled a surprisingly capacious collection of 100 poems from the 1300s to the present.

Set in courtrooms, lawyers’ offices, law-school classrooms and judges’ chambers; peopled with attorneys, the imprisoned (both innocent and guilty), judges, jurors, witnesses and law-enforcement officers; based on real events (think “Scottsboro”) or exploring the complexity of abstract legal ideas; the poems celebrate justice or decry the lack of it, range in tone from witty to wry, sad to celebratory, funny to infuriating. Poetry of the Law is destined to become an authoritative source for years to come.

Contributors: 

W. H. Auden
Robert Burns
Lewis Carroll
John Ciardi
Daniel Defoe
Emily Dickinson
John Donne
Rita Dove
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Martín Espada
Thomas Hardy
Seamus Heaney
A. E. Housman
Langston Hughes
Ben Jonson
X. J. Kennedy
Yusef Komunyakaa
Ted Kooser
D. H. Lawrence
Edgar Lee Masters
W. S. Merwin
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sir Walter Raleigh
Muriel Rukeyser
Carl Sandburg
William Shakespeare
Jonathan Swift
Mona Van Duyn
Oscar Wilde
William Carlos Williams

Table of contents: 

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xiii

from the general prologue to The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer 1

Tydingis fra the Sessioun William Dunbar 2

from Book 5, Canto 9, The Faerie Queene Edmund Spenser 4

Th e Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage Sir Walter Raleigh 8

Sonnet 35 William Shakespeare 10

Sonnet 49 William Shakespeare 11

Sonnet 134 William Shakespeare 12

Into the Middle Temple of My Heart Sir John Davies 13

An Epigram to the Counsellor Ben Jonson 14

Satire 2 John Donne 16

Satire 5 John Donne 20

Arraigned, Poor Captive Bartholomew Griffin 23

Upon Case Robert Herrick 24

Meditation 38: An Advocate with the Father Edward Taylor 25

from “A Hymn to the Pillory” Daniel Defoe 27

The Answer to “Paulus” Jonathan Swift 30

Verbatim from Boileau Alexander Pope 35

The Lawyer’s Farewell to His Muse Sir William Blackstone 36

The Cause Won William Cowper 40

The Rising of the Session Robert Fergusson 41

from “Professions—Law” George Crabbe 44

Extempore in the Court of Session Robert Burns 47

from Sonnets upon the Punishment of Death, IV

William Wordsworth 48

from Sonnets upon the Punishment of Death, VI

William Wordsworth 49

I5214.indb vii 11/25/09 7:57:19 AM

from Sonnets upon the Punishment of Death, VIII

William Wordsworth 50

from Sonnets upon the Punishment of Death, XI

William Wordsworth 51

from Canto 10, Don Juan George Gordon, Lord Byron 52

To the Lord Chancellor Percy Bysshe Shelley 53

Hamatreya Ralph Waldo Emerson 56

Th e Gallows John Greenleaf Whittier 59

from Book 5, Th e Ring and the Book Robert Browning 63

Thought Walt Whitman 65

You Felons on Trial in Courts Walt Whitman 66

I Read My Sentence Steadily Emily Dickinson 67

I Had Some Things That I Called Mine Emily Dickinson 68

The Barrister’s Dream Lewis Carroll 69

The Mock Wife Thomas Hardy 72

from Th e Ballad of Reading Gaol Oscar Wilde 74

Oh Who Is That Young Sinner A. E. Housman 75

The Reeds of Runnymede Rudyard Kipling 76

“Butch” Weldy Edgar Lee Masters 78

Judge Selah Lively Edgar Lee Masters 79

State’s Attorney Fallas Edgar Lee Masters 80

Carl Hamblin Edgar Lee Masters 81

The Inquest W. H. Davies 82

In the Dock Walter de la Mare 84

The Lawyers Know Too Much Carl Sandburg 85

Impromptu: The Suckers William Carlos Williams 86

Auto-da-Fé D. H. Lawrence 89

Justice Denied in Massachusetts Edna St. Vincent Millay 91

from “Early History of a Writer” Charles Reznikoff 93

from John Brown’s Body Stephen Vincent Benét 97

To Edwin V. McKenzie Yvor Winters 103

The People v. The People Kenneth Fearing 104

The Town of Scottsboro Langston Hughes 106

Legal Fiction William Empson 107

Law Like Love W. H. Auden 108

The Judge Is Fury J. V. Cunningham 110

The Verdict Roy Fuller 111

The Trial Muriel Rukeyser 112

The Hand That Signed the Paper Dylan Thomas 115

Dreamsong 86 John Berryman 116

After the Trial Weldon Kees 117

The Law Has Reasons David Ignatow 119

E Is for Earwig John Ciardi 120

In a Corridor at Court Miriam Waddington 121

Law Robert Lowell 122

The Poet Reconciles Herself to Politicians Mona Van Duyn 123

Defendant Alan Dugan 124

Death the Judge Anthony Hecht 125

Strip: 55 A. R. Ammons 126

At the Executed Murderer’s Grave James Wright 128

Tool W. S. Merwin 131

Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse John Ashbery 132

Possession Philip Levine 133

Tailor-Made John Hollander 134

Legal Reform Thom Gunn 135

Police Court Saturday Morning X. J. Kennedy 137

What I Am Trying to Say Charles Wright 138

At the Night Court Charles Simic 139

Criminal Stephen Dunn 140

Outlaw Stephen Dunn 141

History Stephen Dunn 142

The Witness Ted Kooser 144

Punishment Seamus Heaney 145

The Stone Verdict Seamus Heaney 147

Wittgenstein at Chess David Solway 148

The Woods in New Jersey Robert Hass 151

Negligence William Matthews 152

This Week the Court Is Sleeping in Loughrea Paul Durcan 154

The Hanging Judge Eavan Boland 155

Traveling Exhibit of Torture Instruments Thomas Lux 157

Light on the Subject Yusef Komunyakaa 158

Admissions against Interest Lawrence Joseph 159

Twelve Chairs Rita Dove 163

Law Clerk, 1979 Brad Leithauser 168

Mi Vida: Wings of Fright Martín Espada 174

The Legal Aid Lawyer Has an Epiphany Martín Espada 175

The Sentence Glyn Maxwell 176

If You Ask Your Attorney to Be Concise Seth Abramson 177

Notes on Poems and Poets 179

Permissions 191

Index 196

Excerpt: 

From “The Hanging Judge” by Eavan Boland

Come to the country where justice is seen to be done,
Done daily. Come to the country where
Sentence is passed by word of mouth and raw
Boys split like infinitives. Look, here
We hanged our son, our only son
And hang him still and still we call it law.

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