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3 Fantastic Books of Poetry in the Rare Book Collection

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 14th, 2014

In honor of National Poetry Month, today’s post features three wonderful books of poetry in the WVU Libraries Rare Book Collection.  To create this list, I looked for the work of famous poets whom many of us learn about in school.  The Rare Book Collection also includes poetry of many other famous poets who did not make it onto this list (such as Walt Whitman and William Blake) as well as lesser known poets (such as Isaac Asimov, David Selby, and those featured in The Poets of Maine).

1. The elaborately decorated Maud, Locksley Hall, and Other Poems, by Alfred Tennyson (1891)

Cover of rare copy of Tennyson's book Maud, Locksley Hall, and Other Poems

Cover of Maud, Locksley Hall, and Other Poems

“This faded leaf, our names are as brief;
What room is left for a hater?
Yet the yellow leaf hates the greener leaf,
For it hangs one moment later.”

(Fourth stanza from “The Spiteful Letter,” p. 371)

This beautiful book is decorated inside and out.  Interspersed with Tennyson’s poems are 97 illustrations by Charles Howard Johnson and three by Frederick J. Boston.  The edges of the pages are gilt, and the cover and spine are embossed with gold and aluminum.  Aluminum was used instead of silver because silver would tarnish.

Can you see what is missing on this book cover?  If you look closely at the photo above, you will see the impression of the title, “Maud,” in the center of the cover.  Those words were meant to be stamped with gold, too!

2. The beautifully illustrated Winter Poems by Favorite American Poets, with Illustrations (1871)

Page 17 Winter Poems, including illustrations by Harry Fenn

Illustration by Harry Fenn, p. 17 of Winter Poems

“A brightness which outshines the morning,
A splendor brooking no delay,
Beckons and tempts my feet away.”

(Second stanza from “The Pageant,” by John Greenleaf Whittier, p. 13)

Winter Poems contains a selection of works by five famous poets:  John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and James Russell Lowell.  The many illustrators who contributed include Harry Fenn and Winslow Homer.  According to a note from the publisher, the book was intended to be popular with the public due to its seasonal content, the reputation of its poems, and the beauty of its illustrations.  Whittier’s poem “The Pageant” (see photo above) “was written expressly for this volume” (p. iii).

3. The classic The Poems of Shakespeare:  To Which is Added an Account of His Life (1807)

The sonnet “Friendly Concord,” on p. 156 of The Poems of Shakespeare

The sonnet “Friendly Concord,” on p. 156 of The Poems of Shakespeare

Rounding out this list of fantastic poetry books is a tribute to the “Bard of Avon,” William Shakespeare.  This particular book is a first American edition.  Though its cover is plain, it contains a biography of Shakespeare as well as 110 poems of varying lengths.

Possibly most famous for his plays, Shakespeare also composed poetry, and his sonnets are well-known.  WVU Libraries is marking the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with an exhibit of Shakespeare’s First Folio and a lecture by Sarah Neville, assistant professor in the Department of English, on April 23, in conjunction with her adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  The play will be performed at the Creative Arts Center April 16-17 and 22-27.  See this WVU News article for more details.

Interested in seeing these and other books of poetry in person?  Give us a call at 304-293-3536, send us a message through the comment link below, or come to the WVRHC during open hours!  We are located on the 6th floor of the Downtown Campus Library.

Blog post by Jane Metters, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.  Credit for identifying these books and sharing their stories goes to Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

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