When I was eight years old, and living with my grandmother near Miami, I received a copy of Walter Scott's book-length poem Marmion for my birthday. Perhaps my grandmother, English-born and raised in Victorian times, remembered the custom she and her sisters had of reading poetry aloud on winter evenings in those distant days when poetry was written to give pleasure; perhaps she even hoped that the book would persuade me to introduce my scruffy pals to the joys of verse. Not likely: this wasn't a gift calculated to thrill a boy already addicted to the pleasures of snake- and turtle-hunting in the Everglades, and tactfully I shunted it to the side. One day not long after, however, perhaps disappointed in my quarry, I picked the book up and began to read, drawn initially by the old steel engravings and the strange ticklish scent of the stiffly glazed pages. To my own considerable surprise I was hooked like one of my own terrapins after a...


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