First published in 1970 and edited by Hayden Carruth, The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century includes work by over 130 American poets. The anthology is organized chronologically according to the poets' year of birth and offers a wide selection of poetry from the first sixty years of the twentieth-century.
The poets included range from well-known poets such as Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings, to the lesser-known voices of Joel Sloman, Patricia Low, and Arthur Gregor. Each poet is introduced with a brief biographical sketch and bibliography. Carruth states in the introduction that he eschewed the inclusion of larger biographies, poet's statements, editorials, notes, and other supplementary information in an effort to leave as much space for the poetry and to increase the number of poets that he could include.
As with all anthologies, the major problem in assembling this anthology was the overabundance of material. In the introduction, Carruth sets forth his general "principles of selection":
1. To admit no poem merely because it is famous, but rather to reexamine the entire work of each poet and to choose the poems that seem now, in current taste and feeling, his strongest.
2. To exclude all translations, excerpts from long poems, and poems with extensive notes, epigraphs or other appendages.
3. To give primacy among all criteria to my own feeling, and to select no particular poem that does not seem to me genuine within its given modality, whatever that may be.
Carruth's comments point to the inherent historical value of anthologies: that they are a snapshot of the tastes and values of a particular individual. Rather than establishing a certain canon of poets who will endure the test of time, anthologies give an intimate portrait of the concerns of a generation. The way in which Carruth defines "American" throws light on the social climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is also of interest to see the poets who have endured, and those who have not, over the past thirty-five years. The canon is always in flux; anthologies such as The Voice That Is Great Within Us serve as guideposts along the shifting landscape of American poetry.
The Voice That Is Great Within Us has been reprinted several times, most recently in 2001.