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, ranging 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.
W. H. Auden
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A. E. Housman
X. J. Kennedy
D. H. Lawrence
Edgar Lee Masters
W. S. Merwin
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sir Walter Raleigh
Mona Van Duyn
William Carlos Williams
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.