A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Do not go gentle into that good night.” ~Dylan Thomas
Somewhere between being National Humor Month and National Pecan Month, April is also National Poetry Month. Haiku’s, sonnets, epitaphs, free verse, limericks, and so many more make up the various styles that poetry can be written. The most commonly recognized style of poetry is verse with rhythm and rhyme, such as the ever-popular words:
“Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you”
…Or the other humorous variations that people have created. And people can definitely be creative with the verse.
But essentially, I am going to discuss just a few of the poetry collections that are included in the Wilson Collection. Both the Arion Press and Limited Editions Collection are fond of poetry. Between the two clubs in the Wilson Collection, there are at least 60 books of poetry included. I am only going to discuss a handful of books from the collection that I believe are the most unique and beautiful:
A Child’s Garden of Verses
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Illustrated by: Roger Duvoisin
Published by LEC: 1944
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Illustrations by Roger Duvoisin.
This book by Robert Louis Stevenson happens to be my favorite work of poetry in the entire Wilson Collection. It could be that I am a child at heart, but it’s also because Stevenson’s way with words is exceptional. We all most famously recognize Stevenson’s name from his other works of literature - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island. But his inspiration to write a children’s book came when he went to the south of France in 1884 and came across a book of reminiscent childhood verses by Kate Greenaway.
The world that Stevenson creates in his “book of verses about his childhood” is purposefully nostalgic and warming; welcoming to both adults and children. Adults love the imaginative world that is reminiscent of their childhood and children love the rhythmic pattern that’s created, no matter the words used. And when these children grow older into adults themselves, this book becomes another addition to their memory, and they will see the words in a new light.
For the illustrations created for the book, the LEC did not come by this artist on purpose. Roger Duvoisin came to the LEC office, wanting to show his illustrations for a new edition of Mother Goose. The LEC was not interested because they said that they were not publishers of children’s books. However, his illustrations proved to be too beautiful with its brilliant color that was unprecedented. The LEC referred his beautiful drawings to its apprentice club – The Heritage Press.
It was at this time that the LEC requested that Duvoisin illustrate their future copy of Stevenson’s book. A picture will be coming soon of Duvoisin’s drawings, in the meantime, here is a little sample of A Child’s Garden of Verses:
At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back…
Sonnets from the Portuguese
Author: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Illustrated by: Valenti Angelo
Published by LEC: 1948
My “little Portuguese” is what Robert Browning called his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Why? Because when they were honeymooning in Italy, she showed him her series of Sonnets that eventually grew to world fame. His favorite poem of hers “Caterina to Camoens,” was what spurred the enduring nickname. In the LEC’s newsletter discussing Browning’s work, they say that leaving Shakespeare’s Sonnets aside, her sequence of sonnets are the loveliest in any language. They also say “…these Sonnets gave voice to the world’s love”:
“How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways….”
“...the face of all the world is changed by thee,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul.”
Pretty powerful, right? And also so easy to understand and empathize with. But the LEC not only wanted to provide this beautiful poetry to its members, it also wanted to provide a physical book and illustrations that matched the poetry’s elegance.
Valenti Angelo is a gifted artist that was born in Italy and came to the United States when he was young. When his family came to the United States, Angelo had no formal education and immediately went to work in a photo-engraving establishment. Needless to say, this path led him to the eventual road of being an artist. And his particular talent – his remarkable use of gold!
Though Angelo lived most of his life in California, he eventually relocated to New York. He illustrated The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night for the LEC, and eventually illustrated another copy of The Rubaiyat (despite the Club’s initial refusal since they already published a copy). As mentioned, his talent was the use of gold. For Sonnets from the Portuguese, Angelo decorated the beginning of each sonnet with an enormous initial letter.
Go Your Stations, Girl
Go Your Stations, Girl by Carl Martin
Author: Carl R. Martin
Introduced by Andrew Hoyem
Published by Arion Press – 1991
This book of poetry is unique to the collection because of the author. Typically, the books published by the Arion Press are classic literature or notable poetic works, and are illustrated by prominent, modern artists. In this special case, Carl Martin was an unknown author when he submitted a manuscript of his poem “You’re a Miracle” to Arion Press hoping to have it printed.
The Press was intrigued by the first poem he sent, and asked for the rest of his manuscript. Three years later, the manuscript arrived and proved to be worth the wait. Before the Press printed the manuscript, they requested biographical information about the unknown author.
Carl Martin was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1954. April 1st to be exact, he described himself as “a true April fool.” He graduated from Oak Ridge Military Academy in 1972, having been the first African American student to graduate from the school. To provide some context, Oak Ridge also happens to be a school that stopped its studies during the Civil War, to fight for the Confederacy.
Martin was the editor of the school newspaper and the center forward of the soccer team during school. After living a year in Richmond, Virginia and studying for a semester at Virginia Commonwealth University, and then living in Philadelphia for a year, Martin received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. He explained that he wrote most of his book Go Your Stations, Girl during a 2-week period in the early 1980′s.
Here’s a small excerpt from his first poem submitted, “You’re a Miracle”…
She dropped a bale on the animism of the moment.
Why not? Why not reap the crest on the wings of
that organ that stood out in your house of cards?…
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, edited and introduced by Helen Vendler
Edited and Introduced by Helen Vendler
Published by Arion Press – 1997
Many people recognize Shakespeare for his ever-famous plays such as A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Romeo & Juliet. But Shakespeare is also known for writing some of the most beautiful sonnets in the English language. It is arguable that his poetry is his most popular work, above his plays. I’ll leave that up to debate. I would just agree that his writing style was unprecedented at the time and still remains to be.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets have been published in many ways since they were written, so I’m sure it confused the subscribers of the Press when they found out that they would be receiving a copy of Shakespeare’s popular work. But what made this particular edition unique was the addition of the introduction by Helen Vendler, a foremost leader in poetry and has written several other intro’s for Arion Press books.
Vendler is also a professor in the Department of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard. She spent 9 years studying Shakespeare’s sonnets, while she was teaching, on vacation, on leaves, and even on sabbatical.
From her intro, Vendler says:
“what is it about the sonnets that makes them still available,
four hundred years after they were written?
It is, above all, the elementary nature of their vocabulary…
Never was feeling more simply expressed:
anyone who can read can read the Sonnets…”
Here is a small sample of Shakespeare’s sonnets:
“Love alters not with this brief hours and weeks,
but bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Sonnet #1.
Would you like to see these books? They are all housed in the Wilson Room (East Reading Room), on the 3rd floor of the Main Downtown Library (next to the Fine Arts area). Currently and through May, several of the collection’s poetic works are on display in the Wilson Room.
The Wilson Room is open to all visitors during regular Library hours. If you are interested in viewing more books from the Wilson Collection personally, you can make an appointment by calling either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363, or simply respond to this blog post.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next month’s post about travel!