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(From Guardian Unlimited)
Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village is both a marvellous descriptive poem and a powerful political essay. Polemic comes alive when it is grounded in detail, and Goldsmith conducts his argument using an expansive array of vivid supporting material -- topographies, interiors, and sharp human portraits. The passage chosen for this week's poem is the best-known of those portraits. It provides an affectionate, humorous moment of respite from the surging emotions that carry the poem on its flood-tide of nostalgia, lamentation and invective.
Goldsmith's "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain" is fictional, or at least a composite. The poet is blending recollections of the Irish village of his boyhood, Lissoy, and the fruits of his more recent …