At the weekly Amsterdam book market, I bought this little book, which reminds me of my father's row of World War II pocket books. During the war, presses poured out these tiny, light books of shoddy construction that fit easily into a soldier's or sailor's pack. I think this poetry book must have been treasured because it shows signs of being well read but is still in good shape, with no pages loose.
It comes from a different era, when schoolchildren all memorized poetry and recited it for audiences, when poetry was not considered an arcane and boring specialty of professors.
In the introduction the editor, Ted Malone, writes,
This pocketful of poetry is composed of poems that are favorites with your friends and neighbors and the strangers you pass on the street...These are the poems people quote over teacups and in offices and on battlefields. Poems like these are part of everyday living. If you don't believe it, just stop somebody on Main Street tomorrow and ask, "What comes after 'If you can keep your head when all about...'?" ....
...In the course of my year as a war correspondent in Europe, I was amazed to find out how many front line fighting men carried little books of verse and that USO libraries could never get enough poetry books....It is hard to find words for the thoughts that go with a man into war, into separation from everything he knows and loves, into discomfort and danger and the shadow of death....
Poetry expresses all the somethings that can't be put into ...ordinary words.... poetry is magic. It is the light that never was on land or sea.
I like thinking that the soldier who brought this book to the Netherlands 65 years ago found comfort in poetry, the art of saying long things shortly. I hope he survived the war.