Celebrating National Poetry Month

Story Poems - CountryLife, HannahJane, The Hanging of the Crane

Those of you who follow @PEMLibrary on Twitter know that I have been highlighting poetry from our collections in honor of National Poetry Month.  While writing those tweets I reminisced about the many times I read poetry to my infant daughter; the rhythm of the poems relaxed us during those long nights of teething and to this day, poetry is included in our reading choices.  So, it was enjoyable for me to peruse the collection and find items of interest.  The more I looked for examples for the tweets, the more I realized a blog would also be appropriate to further represent our poetry collection.

I will start with the Mary Saltonstall Parker collection, from which a sampler was already chosen for a recent tweet.  Writing poetry was Mary’s first form of expression, much of which she published.  Along with images of samplers held by the Peabody Essex Museum, her papers include several poetry copy books along with the original drawings for the Salem Scrap Book, which Mary published with S. E. C. Oliver, the illustrator.  In Small Antique Things Mary writes about household objects.

Forethought and Left Behind from Salem Scrap Book by Mary Saltonstall Parker

Poems by Mary Saltonstall Parker, Illustrations by S. E. C. Oliver - Salem Scrap Book, 1897

Verses From Samplers, Mary Saltonstall Parker

From Small Things Antique, 1909

American Samplers, Title Page Following the tangent of “Verses From Samplers,”  I searched the collection to read about the use of poetry on American samplers and came across American Samplers by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe, published by The Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1921.  Not only does this book present an illustrated history of samplers, it also includes An Anthology of Sampler Verse organized by subject and date.  One hundred pages long, this section provides wonderful examples of poetry that have been wrought on samplers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The S'Pekin' Trumpet Cover Plus Poem, "Acrostic"

Note: Poem extracted from page and enlarged for ease of reading.

Another interesting source of poetry is a shipboard newspaper.  The S’Pekin’ Trumpet published on November 2 and 3, 1880 was written aboard the S. S. Pekin during an outbound journey from Southampton beginning on October 13.  The paper begins with a list of the ship’s officers as well as the passengers aboard.  A column, To Our Readers, comments on the importance of the publication, letting readers know that all proceeds from the sale of the newspaper will benefit The Royal Alfred Aged Seamen’s Institution and the Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum.  Along with articles about shipboard life, the publication includes a Poet’s Corner, which contains nine poems, three of which are identified as prize winners.  One poem, entitled “Acrostic” uses the first letter of CAPTAIN ANDERSON STEAMSHIP PEKIN as the first letter of each line in the poem.  The first two stanzas describe the personality of the captain and the last three stanzas describe life upon the ship.

For those of you planning spring and summer weddings, the “Wedding Poem” written in 1817 may be of interest.  This illustrated poem, “Washington Square, An Account of the Marriage of Mary Sloan and Judge William Frick,” composed by Eliza Sloan Buckler, the sister of the bride, was written to celebrate the marriage of Mary Sloan to Judge William Frick.

Wedding Poem, 1817

Wedding Poem, 1817: Drawing of wedding party and 'Canto 1st"

Our manuscript collections include many examples of poetry, one of which is the Lucy H. Cleveland collection, which includes two copy books of manuscript poetry.  As with the wedding poem above, loved ones are the subjects of many poems.  In this collection I found a poem about the death of such a person, dated Salem April 1841.  The poem begins with the following lines:

A living remnant from her early grave!
He lov’d her in the freshness of his youth
With all his soul’s integrity and truth!
Twas “Loves young dream” in that all-blessed hour
When trust and hope impart their holiest power
When all that’s lovely in the world without –
Undim’d by shadow, and untouch’d by doubt . . .

Child Life, edited by John Greenleaf WhittierOne cannot discuss poetry without considering that written for children.  John Greenleaf Whittier’s Child Life, an anthology of poems written by 19th-century authors from various countries about the experience of childhood, was published in 1872.  In the preface to the book Whittier writes that the publication’s selections were “made combining simplicity with a certain degree of literary excellence, without on the one hand descending to silliness, or, on the other rising above the average comprehension of childhood.”  Many of the poems are illustrated; authors include Whittier, Alfred Tennyson, Lucy Larcom, Lydia Maria Child, and Edward Lear among many others.

A wonderful surprise was Robinson Crusoe, written and designed by Lydia L. A. Very and published by L. Prang & Co. in 1864.  A toy book cut in the shape of a standing Robinson Crusoe includes an adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s story in verse form, a wonderful way to introduce anyone to poetry and Defoe’s classic.

Robinson Crusoe, Cover nad Last Page

Robinson Crusoe toy book, cover and last page

Two additional story poems in the collection include “Hannah Jane” by David Ross Locke and “The Hanging of the Crane” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Both are beautifully illustrated with engravings and provide the reader with wonderful stories in poetic form.  David Ross Locke, also known by pseudonym Petroleum V. Nasby, was a journalist and political commentator during the Civil War as well as a poet.  “Hannah Jane” tells the story of a married couple throughout the years of their marriage until the death of Hannah.  “The Hanging of the Crane” tells the story of the cycle of family life.  

I remember my sixth-grade teacher who required that all of his students memorize and recite poetry weekly throughout the year.  At first it was difficult for all of his students, but Mr. Montaigne encouraged us each time we recited a poem of our choice and by the end of the year, all of us were comfortable reciting in front of our classmates.  In the 19th century it was not uncommon for children to prepare for “exhibitions” of their knowledge.  One book in our collection was designed for just that.  Little Pieces for Little Speakers, A Collection of Poetry Designed to Assist Parents and Teachers in Preparing for Exhibitions by Miss S. M. Priest was published in 1875.  The author writes in her preface: “In making these selections the intention has been not only to please, but to elevate the mind, and raise the moral standard of the pupils.”

While searching the stacks I found a beautifully bound book of poems by Jean Ingelow, a British poet previously unknown to me, who as a young girl published verses and tales under the pseudonym, Orris.  Ingelow used her real name in her adulthood when she published her first book of verse at the age of thirty.  Her book of Poems published in 1863 (she was in her forties at the time) was dedicated to her brother, George L. Ingelow.  Most of the poems include one or more engravings.  One of my favorite poems in the book, “Songs of Seven,” recounts the seven stages of a woman’s life.  Poems by Jean Ingelow with stanza from 'Song of Seven'

No poetry collection would be complete without verse about nature, flowers, or country life.  Country Life, published in 1873, is a compilation of poems written by many authors and is illustrated with drawings made from engravings.  In Berkshire with the Wildflowers by Elaine and Dora Read Goodale was published in 1879-80.  Each poem is about an individual flower, most of which are illustrated, which definitely appealed to this avid gardener.

In Berkshires With the Wild Flowers plus Red Clover Poem

Written by Elaine and Dora Read Goodale; illustrated by H. Hamilton Gibson

As you can imagine, I have only skimmed the surface of our collection of poetry.  Throughout April, I will continue to tweet about poetry.  For those of you who do not follow Twitter, please visit PHILCAT to learn more.  All of you are welcome to come to the Reading Room during public hours to enjoy these titles at your leisure.

One thought on “Celebrating National Poetry Month

  1. Many thanks for your buffet of poetry, and for introducing me to new poets to sample. This (April 17) being National Haiku Poetry Day may I go slightly astray and send you a senryu:
    Celebrate and sing,
    Its Haiku Poetry Day.
    You know what to do.

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