Tag Archives: poetry

Guest post: Observations on Edward Thomas’ manuscript poems

This guest post comes from Rachel Carney, writer and blogger at http://www.createdtoread.com.


What I love about archives is the fact that they provide an opportunity to discover things you’d never see for yourself in the printed copies of a writers’ work. As we celebrate the centenary of the poet Edward Thomas, who lived and fought during the First World War, it is an incredible privilege to be able to see his personal handwritten letters and notebooks – to read the poems written in his own hand, and to see the very pages on which he wrote.

You can see some of these in a new online exhibition, featuring highlights from the world’s largest collection of Edward Thomas papers. Special Collections and Archives will also host an onsite exhibition, launching tomorrow on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference.

The following manuscripts of Thomas’ poems were all written in 1916, the last year of his life.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in pencil, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

On first glance, ‘The Trumpet’, written by Thomas in September 1916, seems to be a rousing call to arms, but on closer examination, there is much more to this simple poem than you might think. To begin with, as his biographer Matthew Hollis explains, “he did his best to conceal that it was a poem at all”. It was written whilst Thomas was based at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Trowbridge, and he was afraid, it seems, to let on to his fellow soldiers that he was actually a poet.

We wouldn’t necessarily know this unless we had the original manuscript, which he sent in a letter addressed to his friend Eleanor Farjeon, in which he admitted what he’d done: “You see I have written it with only capitals to mark the lines” because “people are all around me and I don’t want them to know”.

The poem itself is full of ambiguity and irony. Hollis describes it thus: “the form, strident, galloping, heroic… but the content suggesting other tones – the dark stars that failed to illuminate the earth below, the hounding of dreams…” Edward Thomas had always been against the war and the fervent nationalism that it inspired, and it had taken him a long time to make the momentous decision to enlist, and fight for his country. Of all his poems, just a handful refer directly to the war itself, and they are different in style to those of his contemporaries, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke.

Earlier that same month Edward Thomas wrote ‘Gone, gone again’, later titled ‘Blenheim Oranges‘. This is a bleak, depressing verse which focuses on the relentless march of time, as apples continue to “fall grubby from the trees” and the war continues to “turn young men to dung”.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

 

We also hold the original manuscript of ‘As the team’s head brass’, a poem written earlier in 1916, which refers obliquely to the war. In Hollis’s biography, he describes how the poem was deeply significant for Thomas, mirroring his own decision to seek a commission on the Western Front. It pivots around the central phrase: ‘…Everything / Would have been different. For it would have been / Another world.’ These lines, and the fallen elm tree on which the speaker sits, highlight the fact that war changes everything, however remotely removed one might feel from the situation.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

It is fascinating to compare these manuscripts, and see that Thomas’s handwriting varied widely. We can also see his corrections, and observe the editing process in action.

If you visit the exhibition you’ll be able to see some of them for yourself, or come along to our poetry performance event on Friday, where items from the archive will be on display.

 

Edward Thomas 100: Exhibition launch

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

A frustrated writer, suffocated by family life, and crippled by depression and self-doubt, Edward Thomas (1878-1917) found his personal and literary salvation as a soldier in the First World War.

​In 2017, Cardiff University, holder of the world’s largest archive of Edward Thomas’ letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings, will host a major centenary conference and exhibition celebrating his life and work.

Our online exhibition is now live. An onsite, public exhibition, based in Special Collections and Archives, will launch on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference, and will be in place over the summer.

The exhibition features many highlights from the archives: intimate letters to Helen Thomas and Gordon Bottomley, poetry drafts, nature diaries, family photographs, as well as previously unheard archive recordings of family and friends, interviewed by Cardiff University’s Professor R. George Thomas in 1967. Find out more about both the archive and the exhibition in this Wales Arts Review podcast with Prof. Katie Gramich and archivist Alison Harvey.

Other Edward Thomas events taking place in Cardiff this month include a creative writing workshop and open mic poetry night. This year’s Frome Festival will feature Edward Thomas themed talks, walks, and even a cricket match! BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting In Pursuit of Edward Thomas, a programme by biographer Mathew Hollis, and a radio adaptation of Nick Dear’s play, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky.

A Century of Poetry: National Poetry Writing Month #NaPoWriMo)

National Poetry Writing Month (aka #NaPoWriMo) begins today! We’ll be providing poetry prompts throughout April, to encourage writers everywhere to write one poem each day in response to the work of Edward Thomas, a poet who fought in the First World War and died exactly 100 years ago, in April 1917, at the Battle of Arras.

We’re incredibly fortunate to hold a collection of material relating to Edward Thomas, including original manuscripts of some of his poems, letters, photos and notebooks. We’ll be launching an exhibition of some of these items later in April, but if you aren’t able to get to Cardiff, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook to receive the daily prompts and find out more about Thomas’s eventful life.

Anyone can take part in National Poetry Writing Month, and you can keep your poems to yourself or post them online for others to see. It doesn’t matter where you live, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever written a poem before – the point is to be inspired and to write something every day.

Here’s our first prompt: the first two stanzas of ‘Adlestrop’, one of Edward Thomas’s most famous poems, written in 1915:

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

Thomas’s poems are full of ‘names’ – of places, birds, trees, people, herbs…

Write a list of names that mean something to you, for example:

  • Names of places you’ve lived
  • Names of people you know

Circle the names that stand out and write a poem using them as a starting point.

If you live nearby, come along to our poetry performance event on 21st April, supported by Literature Wales, which includes an Edward Thomas themed open mic.

There is also an Edward Thomas conference taking place later this month, organised by the School of English Communication and Philosophy.

Edward Thomas 100: celebrating a poetic legacy in April 2017

Photos from the archive.

Photos from the archive.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

One of our most fascinating collections relates to the life and work of a poet – Edward Thomas, who was killed in action during the First World War, exactly one hundred years ago, in April 1917.

Edward Thomas made a living writing travel books and critical reviews. It was a combination of his friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost, and the outbreak of the First World War, which led to him beginning to write poetry in 1914, until his tragic death just a short time later, on the Western Front.

In 2017, Cardiff University, holder of the world’s largest archive of Edward Thomas’ letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings, will host a major centenary conference and exhibition celebrating his life and work, as well as a series of poetry events, supported by Literature Wales. A creative writing workshop on 8th April will be followed by a unique poetry performance evening on 21st April. We’ll also be taking part in #NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) by providing daily poetry prompts, to encourage as many people as possible to be inspired by his writing, and to write their own poems in response.

Letters to Edward from Robert Frost.

Letters to Edward from Robert Frost.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Edward Thomas 100: A Creative Writing Workshop

Saturday 8th April

3-5pm

Venue: Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, Colum Road, Cardiff, CF10 3EU.

Free entry, but places are limited so please book by emailing Rachel at CarneyR2@cardiff.ac.uk

Edward Thomas' pocket watch

Edward Thomas’ pocket watch.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

The Edward Thomas archive is an incredible collection of material and objects relating to his life and work, including original manuscripts of some of his poems, as well as letters, notebooks, articles and objects, such as the watch which he was wearing when he died (it is thought that the force of the blast actually stopped the mechanism at the time of his death).

You will have a unique opportunity to view items from the collection and be inspired to write your own work in response. There will also be a chance to read work produced during the workshop at our performance event on 21st April, and we will publish some of the best pieces written by workshop participants on our blog.

Read more about the workshop tutor:

Bryan Marshall is a Cardiff based poet and fiction writer. He has won first prize and publication in The Word Hut and Darker Times. He’s also had work published in Thief magazine, Postcard Poems, Prose Magazine, and The Ghastling. He regularly performs at spoken word events in Cardiff.

This workshop is free to attend, but places are limited so please book by emailing Rachel at CarneyR2@cardiff.ac.uk


Yes. I Remember Adlestrop: Celebrating the Influence of Edward Thomas on Contemporary Poetry

Friday 21st April

7.30pm (doors open from 7pm)

Venue: Little Man Coffee Company, Ivor House, Bridge Street, Cardiff, CF10 2EE.

Free entry

Edward Thomas has influenced the work of numerous writers, from Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy and W.H. Auden, to Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. This event will celebrate the influence of his work on contemporary poetry.

Edward with his son Merfyn, 1900.

Edward with his son Merfyn, 1900.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Lucy Newlyn (from Oxford), Jonathan Edwards (from South Wales) and Glyn Edwards (from North Wales), will read their own poems and talk about the influence of Edward Thomas on their work. Local writers will also share poems written specially for the occasion, and there will be an open mic on the same theme.

The event will also include a pop-up exhibition, featuring highlights from the Edward Thomas archive.

More about the poets:

Professor Lucy Newlyn is both an academic and a poet, having lectured at Oxford University since 1984, where she is now an Emeritus Fellow of St Edmund Hall. Her first poetry collection Ginnel was published by Oxford Poets/Carcanet in 2005, and a second collection, Earth’s Almanac, was published by Enitharmon Press in 2015. She has been literary editor of the Oxford Magazine since 2011. She has a longstanding interest in the work of Edward Thomas, and has co-edited Branch-lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry and published other work related to his prose and poetry.

Edward and Helen Thomas.

Edward and Helen Thomas.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Jonathan Edwards’ first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014) received the Costa Poetry Award and the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award. It was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. He works as a teacher and the poems of Edward Thomas, rich in their treatment of people, nature and time, are among his favourite to teach.

Glyn Edwards has been Writer in Residence at a number of literature festivals including the ‘Poem for October’ project at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse.  He has had work published in the Wales Arts Review, The Lonely Crowd, The Lampeter Review and a variety of other publications. His debut poetry collection, ‘Conversations’, will be published in 2018, and will include poems written in response to Edward Thomas and Robert Frost.

Please share our events on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @CUSpecialColls for regular poetry prompts throughout April.

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Second best, or Second and Best?

In Latin, the word “secundus” can mean both “second” and “favourable.” Today, many book collectors focus on first editions, but our modern fixation with firsts is a relatively recent phenomenon. The entry on “The Chronological Obsession” in John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors states that “the average 19th-century collector was as much interested in the finest looking or best-edited edition as in the first.” Second and subsequent editions often incorporate new information and new insights that make them textually superior to their predecessors. In this week’s blog post, we’ll examine some of the reasons you may want to look favourably on the second edition of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

lyrical_ballads_2vols

The second edition of Lyrical Ballads (London: T. N. Longman and O. Rees, 1800) from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection.

Lyrical ballads was originally published in 1798. It consisted chiefly of poems by Wordsworth with four contributions by Coleridge, although neither poet’s name appeared anywhere in the volume. A five-page “Advertisement” in the first edition asserted that many of the poems were “to be considered as experiments… written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” Going sharply against the contemporary fashion for highly sophisticated verse, Wordsworth and Coleridge eschewed the “gaudy and inane phraseology of many modern writers” in favor of “a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents.” 

tintern_abbey

The opening of “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” in Lyrical Ballads (London: T.N. Longman and O. Rees, 1800)

The collection began with Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancyent Mariner” and ended with “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” works which are now hailed as the beginning of a new literary epoch. At the time, however, critical reception of the volume was cool, particularly in response to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Reviewers complained about its use of antiquated spelling, archaic vocabulary, inverted word order, and general inaccessibility. In 1799, Wordsworth wrote that he believed that Coleridge’s poem had been harmful to the Lyrical Ballads, and considered omitting it from the second edition.

ancient_mariner_pogany

Illustration by Willy Pogány for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1910).

In 1800, Wordsworth and Coleridge began working towards the publication of a second edition. The process turned out to be a long and difficult one, with the volume finally leaving the press in January 1801 (although the title page bears the date 1800). This edition would add a second volume of new poems, including “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known,” “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways,” and “Lucy Gray.” This time, the title page bore Wordsworth’s name, although the preface acknowledges the poetical contributions of “a Friend” which have been included “for the sake of variety.” “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was moved near the end of the first volume and heavily edited by Coleridge, who removed some of the elements which had so offended critics in the first edition. He modernised around 40 spellings and terms, deleted 46 lines and added seven new ones.

It was originally planned that Coleridge would contribute a lengthy poem, “Christabel,” as the final piece in the second volume. Wordsworth anticipated that it would serve as a capstone for the collection in much the same way that “Tintern Abbey” had in the first, but an unfortunate combination of writer’s block, dwindling finances, and a newborn son in poor health prevented Coleridge from completing the poem. With the printing of the second edition already running behind schedule, it was decided that “Christabel” would be omitted from the publication. Wordsworth composed “Michael, a Pastoral” in its place, while Coleridge took on a more fiscally rewarding commitment to write a daily column for the Morning Post

preface

The Preface to Lyrical Ballads appears for the first time in the second edition.

In preparing the second edition for the press, Coleridge proposed to write a preface which would expand on the brief “Advertisement” which appeared in the first edition, but when he failed to deliver the promised preface before the publication deadline, Wordsworth again picked up the slack. Wordsworth’s preface, spanning 42 pages, outlined his and Coleridge’s poetic aims in composing the lyrical ballads, becoming a kind of manifesto for English Romanticism and earning it a place on the reading list of essentially every literature course covering the Romantic period. Wordsworth further revised and expanded the preface in the 1802 third edition of Lyrical Ballads, but for some collectors and many scholars, the preface’s first appearance in 1800 makes the second edition the preferred one.

Exhibition review: Tennyson’s Women

This guest post comes from Lauren Evetts, Literature MA student in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy.


Tennyson, Tennyson…. Where to begin?! I had just finished the taught element of a module about King Arthur in the 19th and 20th centuries and I had been particularly struck with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the beautiful retelling of Malory’s complete Arthurian legend in poetry form. My assessment was approaching and I really wanted to write a comparison piece, however I was struggling to find an appropriate text to compare it with. Hence my question – where on earth do I begin? I had this amazing, powerful tome of poetry but no approach, no methodology… I was pretty stuck.

All I can say is: Thank goodness for the people down in Special Collections! I thought I’d look for some inspiration amongst the collections and archives and maybe have a chat with the archivists to see what I could find. So I was incredibly pleased when I opened the double doors and right in front of me was an entire exhibition on the very text I wanted to write about! I was absolutely stunned.

Tennyson's Women exhibition at Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, on until March 2017.

Tennyson’s Women exhibition at Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, on until March 2017.

There in the glass cabinets were beautiful illustrations which accompanied Tennyson’s Idylls at the time of each publication. Gorgeous sketches, wood engravings, plates and paintings by Sir Richard Holmes, Gustave Doré, Edmund J. Sullivan, Florence Harrison, Mary Montgomerie Lamb, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rosetti instantly appealed to the artist in me. I had no idea that such renowned illustrators were involved in decorating Tennyson’s work, and each one with a different perspective on the same scenes. The artist who really grabbed my attention, however, was Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, who produced 28 watercolour illustrations to accompany the 1911 edition of the Idylls. Her compassionate and complex portrayal of Tennyson’s women allowed me to gain a completely different stance on the characters and I knew, in that instant, that I had finally found a powerful comparison piece for my essay.

One image which particularly stood out to me was the depiction of Elaine being placed on her death bed.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

‘So there two brethren from the chariot took / And on the blank decks laid her in her bed’. Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Shunned by Lancelot after her repeated declarations of love, Tennyson’s Elaine chose to die rather than live with her unrequited feelings and asked her brothers, after her death, to deck her out like Lancelot’s beloved Queen Guinevere, put a letter for the knight in her hand, place her in a barge and let her float in it past the castle for all to see. Poor, young, naïve Elaine, who could only gain power over her circumstances in death! However, Fortescue-Brickdale’s illustration told rather a different tale.

The first thing I noticed was that Elaine has been positioned quite differently to the way she instructed her brothers to do so in the poem. Her gold covering is drawn right up to her chest, so that we are unable to see if she is dressed in the ‘rich’ clothing she desired, ‘like the Queen’, and her letter to Lancelot is completely hidden – if it is there at all! Furthermore, her face is pale and drawn – typical of a corpse, I suppose, but not smiling as in the text, and definitely not reminiscent of the ‘Fairy Queen’ which the courtly onlookers describe her as when she passes by. So Elaine is not powerful in death, after all. Her letter will go undelivered and she is unable to communicate her final message to the court. She is not sleeping the restful sleep of someone who has completed her final mission, but merely a powerless, young girl who died too young.

In these ways I could see that Fortescue-Brickdale felt that Elaine completely lacked autonomy over both her life and her death. She was dependent on men for her happiness in life and dependent on them to carry out her wishes in death. Although the changes in her illustration are fairly subtle, Fortescue-Brickdale’s depiction invites the viewer to feel Elaine’s helplessness and reliance on a patriarchal system. I found similar motifs in her other artwork and was able to write an argument on the female artist’s sympathy for Arthurian women. Now to wait for the results!

I strongly suggest asking for help from Special Collections and Archives if you’re ever stuck on what to write. In my experience, being able to view the original artwork accompanying Tennyson’s poetry was amazing, and visiting the exhibition really fascinated my inner geek. If you’re not stuck, I suggest going for a visit anyway – there are always incredible exhibitions, the staff are very helpful and know all sorts about all sorts of things. And who doesn’t love a bit of extra help?

Exhibition: Tennyson’s Women

Special Collections and Archives‘ latest exhibition, Tennyson’s Women, compares changing artistic approaches to illustrating the works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).

It examines the visual depiction of female characters in the context of the Victorian medieval revival. Forgotten female illustrators, such as Eleanor Brickdale, Florence Harrison and Katherine Cameron, feature alongside more famous works by Gustave Doré, J. E. Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


Mae arddangosfa ddiweddaraf Casgliadau Arbennig ac ArchifauMerched Tennyson, yn cymharu dulliau artistig newidiol i ddarlunio gwaith yr Arglwydd Tennyson (1809-1892).

Mae’n archwilio darluniad gweledol cymeriadau benywaidd yng nghyd-destun yr adfywiad canoloesol Fictoraidd. Mae darlunwyr benywaidd angof, gan gynnwys Eleanor Brickdale, Florence Harrison, Katherine Cameron a Violet Fane yn cael eu portreadu ochr yn ochr â gwaith mwy enwog gan Gustave Doré, J. E. Millais a Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Lady of Shalott / Y Feinir o Sialót

The Lady of Shalott inspired numerous artists, who were drawn to the story of a woman who commits a specifically visual crime by looking directly through a window. The illuminated manuscript represents the Lady of Shalott happily at work on her tapestry as she weaves the objects seen in the mirror’s reflections.


Bu’r Feinir o Sialót yn ysbrydoliaeth i nifer o ddarlunwyr a gafodd eu denu gan hanes menyw sy’n cyflawni trosedd weledol amlwg wrth edrych drwy ffenestr. Mae’r llawysgrif wedi’i oleuo yn cynrychioli Boneddiges Shalott yn fodlon ei byd yn gweithio ar dapestri wrth iddi blethu’r nwyddau sydd i’w gweld yn y drych.

She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lady of Shalott, illuminated by Gilbert Pownall (c. 1910).

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lady of Shalott, illuminated by Gilbert Pownall (c. 1910).

Most illustrations, however, focus on the moment of the curse when the Lady of Shalott leaves the loom and looks through the window at Lancelot.


Mae’r rhan fwyaf o ddarluniau, fodd bynnag, yn canolbwyntio ar olygfa’r felltith pan fo’r Feinir o Sialót yn gadael yr ystafell gan edrych drwy’r ffenestr ar Lawnslot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume:
She look’d down to Camelot.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Tennyson’s Dream of fair women and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Tennyson’s Dream of fair women and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, c. 1923. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

This moment is represented with dramatic force in William Holman Hunt’s illustration where the Lady of Shalott is tangled in the threads of the tapestry, her hair flying wildly across the picture. Tennyson objected to Hunt’s addition of these features, because they were not present in the text.


Dangosir yr olygfa hon gyda chryn rymuster yn narlun William Holman Hunt o’r Feinir o Sialót yn sownd yng nghlymau’r tapestri, a’i gwallt yn chwifio’n wyllt ar draws y llun. Nid oedd Tennyson yn cymeradwyo’r ychwanegiadau hyn gan nad oeddent yn y testun gwreiddiol.

Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Some poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, illustrated by W. Holman Hunt et al.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Some poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, illustrated by W. Holman Hunt et al. London: Freemantle & Co., 1901.

Florence Harrison and Dante Gabriel Rossetti show the dead Lady of Shalott floating into Camelot, with Rossetti’s Lancelot bending down in the cramped few inches of the wood engraving to stare at her ‘lovely face’.


Darlunia Florence Harrison a Dante Gabriel Rossetti’r olygfa pan fo Boneddiges Shalott yn arnofio i Gamelot, gyda Lawnslot yn narlun Rosetti’n
plygu ar ddarn tila o bren i weld ‘ei hwyneb prydferth’.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
Dead into tower’d Camelot.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, 1912. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
To the planked wharfage came:
Below the stern they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, illustrated by Rossetti etc.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, illustrated by Rossetti etc. London: E. Moxon, 1860.

Elaine

Elaine, the ‘lily maid of Astolat’, became an iconic figure for artists. Tennyson’s poem inscribes Elaine as a specifically Victorian heroine, who wilts away when her love for Lancelot is unrequited.


Daeth Elaine, y ‘forwyn lili o Astolat’, yn ffigwr eiconig ar gyfer arlunwyr. Mae cerdd Tennyson yn cyflwyno Elaine fel arwres Fictoraidd yn benodol, sy’n cilio i’r cysgodion pan ddywed Lawnslot nad yw’n ei charu.

 So in her tower alone the maiden sat […]
Death, like a friend’s voice from a distant field
Approaching thro’ the darkness, call’d; the owls
Wailing had power upon her, and she mixt
Her fancies with the sallow-rifted glooms
Of evening, and the moanings of the wind.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson's Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes?].

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes, London, 1862?]

Elaine’s position in a tower, embroidering a ‘case of silk’ for Lancelot’s shield (which is pictured here by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale), and her final journey down the river towards Camelot, links her thematically and iconographically with Tennyson’s other medieval heroine, the Lady of Shalott.


Mae sefyllfa Elaine yn y tŵr wrth iddi addurno ‘câs o sidan’ ar gyfer tarian Lawnslot (sydd yn y llun hwn gan Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale), ynghyd â’i thaith olaf i lawr yr afon tua Chamelot, yn ei cysylltu’n thematig ac yn eiconig ag arwres ganoloesol arall Tennyson, sef y Feinir o Sialót.

Then fearing rust or soilure fashioned for it
A case of silk, and braided thereupon
All the devices blazoned on the shield
In their own tinct, and added, of her wit,
A border fantasy of branch and flower.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Illustrators of the period focused on the haunting image of Elaine on her death bed/boat as she carries a lily in her right hand and a love letter to Lancelot in her left (this scene is the frontispiece for Doré’s illustrated edition).


Canolbwyntiodd darlunwyr y cyfnod ar y ddelwedd arswydus o Elaine ar ei gwely angau a hithau’n gafael mewn lili yn ei llaw dde a llythyr cariad i Lawnslot yn ei llaw chwith (y ddelwedd hon sydd ar glawr fersiwn darluniadol Doré).

So those two brethren from the chariot took
And on the black decks laid her in her bed.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

So those two brethren. . .
. . . kissed her quiet brows, and saying to her
“Sister, farewell for ever,” and again
“Farewell, sweet sister,” parted all in tears.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Oared by the dumb, went upward with the flood–
In her right hand the lily, in her left
The letter… for she did not seem as dead,
But fast asleep, and lay as though she smiled.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elaine, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Enid

Unlike the iconic episodes that tend to be favoured in artistic representations of Elaine and the Lady of Shalott, illustrations of Enid are more diverse and represent different narrative moments, from the newly-wed Geraint’s admiration of his wife (seen in the first of Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s illustrations here), to her wearing her shabbiest dress and accompanying Geraint on a quest to prove his prowess, convinced as he is of Enid’s infidelity (a moment that is also represented by Brickdale).


Yn wahanol i’r golygfeydd eiconig a gaiff eu dylunio gan amlaf o Elaine a’r Feinir o Sialót, mae darluniau o Enid yn tueddu i fod yn fwy amrywiol wrth iddynt gynrychioli gwahanol naratifau, o edmygedd ei gŵr newydd, Geraint, at ei wraig (y cyntaf o ddarluniau Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale yma) i’r darlun ohoni wedi’i gwisgo’n flêr yng nghwmni Geraint wrth iddo geisio dangos ei gryfder yn wyneb anffyddlondeb ei wraig (a gaiff hefyd ei ddarlunio gan Brickdale).

And as the light of Heaven varies, now
At sunrise, now at sunset, now by night
With moon and trembling stars, so loved Geraint
To make her beauty vary day by day,
In crimsons and in purples and in gems.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911

Brickdale’s images provide a stunning example of Victorian medievalism and suggest her debt to Pre-Raphaelite illustrations. Brickdale seems to delight in the possibilities of this form, her interest in colour carrying through to designs she made after the First World War for stained-glass windows in York Minster.


Mae darluniau Brickdale yn enghraifft arbennig o ganoloesedd Oes Fictoria ac maent yn dangos mor fawr yw ei dyled i ddarluniau Cyn-Raffaëlaidd. Ymddengys i Brickdale fod wrth ei bodd â’r arddull hwn, gyda’i diddordeb mewn lliwiau’n gyson drwy gydol ei chreadigaethau ar ôl y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf ar gyfer ffenestri gwydr lliw Cadeirlan Efrog.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Colour book illustrations of this quality were still relatively rare in the period and are a counterpoint to the earlier black and white illustrations of Gustave Doré.


Roedd darluniau lliw o’r fath safon yn dal yn gymharol brin yn y cyfnod hwn, ac maent yn wrthbwynt i ddarluniau du a gwyn blaenorol Gustave Doré.

This heard Geraint, and grasping at his sword,
(It lay beside him in the hollow shield),
Made but a single bound, and with a sweep of it
The russet-bearded head rolled on the floor.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enid, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enid, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867

Guinevere / Gwenfair

Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur, who commits adultery with Lancelot, is recast in these illustrations as the ‘fallen woman’ familiar from literature and painting of the period. The images revel in the illicit love affair, with Edmund J. Sullivan’s relatively chaste illustration of the ‘boyhood of the year’ giving way to the passion displayed in the images designed by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale and Florence Harrison.


Caiff Gwenfair, gwraig y Brenin Arthur sy’n godinebu â Lawnslot, ei hail-bortreadu yn y darluniau fel ‘y ddynes odinebus’ sy’n gyfarwydd mewn llenyddiaeth a darluniau o’r cyfnod. Mae’r darluniau’n gorfoleddu ym mhechod y gyfathrach, ac mae darluniau cymharol bur Edmund J. Sullivan o ‘fachgendod y flwyddyn’ yn llai amlwg na chreadigaethau Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale a Florence Harrison.

Then, in the boyhood of the year,
Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere
Rode thro’ the coverts of the deer,
With blissful treble ringing clear.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

The similar poses in these two images suggest that Harrison might have been influenced by Brickdale’s image, although the motif of the embracing couple is common in mid-nineteenth-century book illustration.


Mae’r tebygrwydd yn y ddau ddarlun yn awgrymu i Harrison gael ei dylanwadu gan ddarlun Brickdale, er i’r motiff o gofleidio rhwng cariadon fod yn gyffredin mewn darluniau llyfrau yn y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg.

It was their last hour,
A madness of farewells.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, 1912. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

The illustrations of the penitent Guinevere are equally striking, with Harrison’s heroine wringing her hands in despair.


Mae darluniau o edifeirwch Gwenfair yr un mor drawiadol, gydag arwres Harrison yn griddfan â’i dwylo mewn anobaith.

We needs must love the highest when we see it.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere and other poems, illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie, 1923. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Florence Susan Harrison Estate.

Gustave Doré’s Guinevere is literally fallen, lying prostrate at Arthur’s feet like the adulterous wife in Augustus Leopold Egg’s painting ‘Past and Present’ (1858; Tate Gallery, London).


Mae Gwenfair wedi syrthio’n llythrennol fel y ddynes odinebus yn narlun Gustave Doré, ac mae’n gorwedd yn swrth wrth draed Arthur fel y gwna’r wraig odinebus yn narlun Augustus Leopold Egg, Past and Present (1858; Galeri Tate, Llundain).

He paus’s, and in the pause she crept an inch
Nearer, and laid her hands about his feet.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Vivien

The ‘wily Vivien’, who seduces Merlin into telling her a charm that enables her to imprison him in an oak tree, provides rich opportunities for book illustrators.


Mae’r ‘Vivien gyfrwys’, sy’n hudo Myrddin i roi gwybod iddi am swyn y mae hi’n ei ddefnyddio i’w garcharu mewn derwen, yn cynnig cyfleoedd euraidd i ddarlunwyr llyfrau.

‘It is not worth the keeping: let it go:
But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no.
And trust me not at all or all in all.
O Master, do ye love my tender rhyme?’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson's Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes?]

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selections from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, [illuminated by Sir Richard R. Holmes, London, 1862?]

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s seductress plays with Merlin’s beard as he places his hand upon his brow, aware of the doom that is about to befall him.


Mae Vivien fel y’i darlunir gan Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale yn anwesu barf Myrddin wrth iddo gyffwrdd ei ael, yn llwyr ymwybodol o’r anffawd sydd ar fin ei daro.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Brickdale depicts another, less obvious, scene in her illustration of a Queen who has been ‘charmed’ by her husband so that no other man can see her (apart from a male viewer of this illustration, of course). It is this magic charm that is passed on to Merlin and, by him, to Vivien.


Mae Brickdale yn darlunio golygfa arall, llai amlwg, yn ei darlun o Frenhines sydd wedi’i ‘swyno‘ gan ei gŵr fel na all unrhyw ddyn arall ei gweld (heblaw dyn sy’n edrych ar y darlun, wrth reswm). Y swyn hon a gaiff ei phasio i Fyrddin, a chanddo ef i Vivien.

And so by force they dragged him to the King.
And then he taught the King to charm the Queen
In such-wise, that no man could see her more,
Nor saw she save the King, who wrought the charm.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.

Gustave Doré’s atmospheric black and white plates point to the climax of the story as Vivien follows Merlin into the wild wood and seduces him under an oak tree, the snake-like roots of which creep around the couple.


Mae’r platiau du a gwyn, llawn awyrgylch gan Gustave Doré yn cyfeirio at uchafbwynt yr hanes wrth i Vivien ddilyn Myrddin i’r goedwig wyllt a’i hudo o dan dderwen, â’i wreiddiau megis nadroedd yn llercian o amgylch y ddau.

And then she followed Merlin all the way,
Even to the wild woods of Broceliande.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Before an oak, so hollow, huge and old
It looked a tower of ivied masonwork,
At Merlin’s feet the wily Vivien lay.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

The final scene here shows the broken oak tree, which has been struck by lightning, and the equally broken Merlin, who has ‘told her all the
charm’.


Mae’r olygfa olaf hon yn dangos y dderwen wedi torri, wedi’i tharo gan fellten, a Myrddin yntau wedi torri wedi iddo ‘ddweud y swyn wrthi’.

For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,
Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vivien, illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: Edward Moxon, 1867.

Mariana

There are two Marianas represented here: the first is from a poem published by Tennyson in 1830, which takes as its source the figure of Mariana from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, who waits for her lover to return. The second, ‘Mariana in the South’, published in 1832, tells of a female living in a state of extreme loneliness. The illustrations suggest the extent to which Mariana is inevitably bound up in the cultural moment in which she is pictured.

John Everett Millais’ heroine buries her face in her hands in a pose that Millais used in other illustrations.


Caiff dwy Fariana eu darlunio: y gyntaf wedi’i seilio ar ddelwedd mewn cerdd a gyfansoddodd Tennyson ym 1830, sy’n delweddu Mariana fel y’i disgrifir yn nrama Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, yn disgwyl i’w chariad ddychwelyd. Yr ail yw ‘Mariana yn y De’, a gyhoeddwyd ym 1832, sy’n adrodd hanes menyw’n byw mewn unigedd dirfawr. Mae’r darluniau’n cyfleu’r modd y mae Mariana’n anorfod yn gaeth i’r diwylliant y gwelwn hi ynddo.

Mae arwres John Everett Millais yn claddu ei hwyneb yn ei dwylo mewn modd y defnyddiodd Millais yn ei ddarluniau eraill.

“My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana’, in Poems, illustrated by J. E. Millais.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana’, in Poems, illustrated by J. E. Millais. London: E. Moxon, 1857.

Lamb’s Mariana looks like a quintessential Victorian heroine as she meekly holds back a curtain and peers out of the window.


Mae Mariana fel y’i darlunir gan Lamb yn edrych fel arwres Fictoraidd bwysig wrth iddi dynnu’r llen ac edrych drwy’r ffenestr.

With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mariana, with etchings by Mary Montgomerie Lamb (Violet Fane).

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mariana, with etchings by Mary Montgomerie Lamb (Violet Fane). Worthing: O. Breads, 1863.

Sullivan’s Mariana, however, is an altogether more powerful and frustrated figure, who languishes in her fashionable fin de siècle dress.


Mariana fel y’i darlunir gan Sullivan, fodd bynnag, yn ymddangos fel dynes sy’n fwy pwerus ond rhwystredig ar y cyfan wrth iddi ymfalchïo’n ei ffrog fin de siècle.

“My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

The explicitly religious overtones of ‘Mariana in the South’ in which Mariana prays to the Virgin Mary, is represented in the fervor of Rossetti’s heroine, who passionately kisses Christ’s feet, and Sullivan’s Mariana, who prays so ardently that we can see the throbbing veins in her hand.


Mae’r dylanwadau crefyddol amlwg ar ‘Mariana yn y De’, â Mariana’n gweddïo i’r Forwyn Fair, i’w gweld yn drawiadol yn arwres Rossetti, wrth iddi gusanu traed Crist, ac yn yr un modd Mariana fel y’i darlunir gan Sullivan, wrth iddi weddïo mor galed hyd nes y gwelwn y gwythiennau yn curo yn ei dwylo.

And on the liquid mirror glow’d
The clear perfection of her face.
‘Is this the form,’ she made her moan,
‘That won his praises night and morn?’
And ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘but I wake alone,
I sleep forgotten, I wake forlorn.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’ in Poems, illustrated by D. G. Rossetti.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’ in Poems, illustrated by D. G. Rossetti. London : E. Moxon, 1859.

Till all the crimson changed, and past
Into deep orange o’er the sea,
Low on her knees herself she cast,
Before Our Lady murmur’d she:
Complaining, ‘Mother, give me grace
To help me of my weary load.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’, in A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Mariana in the South’, in A dream of fair women & other poems, illustrated by Edmund J. Sullivan. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

The exhibition is open to all, and will run until December 2016.


Mae’r arddangosfa yn agored i bawb, a bydd yn para tan fis Rhagfyr 2016.

Tall Trees, Ancient History

Working with Special Collections means I’m never short of inspiration. Frankly, it’s hard to move for the stuff. However, recent encouragement has stemmed from much further afield…

… all the way from Offa’s Dyke to be precise. Having read about Robert McBride’s  project of recording and authenticating the ancient trees along this early earthen boundary, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly, what an ‘ah-mazing’ job – second only to rummaging through old books (though I should point out that McBride’s efforts are voluntary); secondly, how crucial this work is, today especially.

The history of trees is often overlooked yet they are essential elements of our historical and cultural landscapes. Forests and woodlands were initially seen as forbidding and wild terrain, a symbol of the uncivilized. It is no coincidence that the word ‘savage’ derives from the Latin silva, meaning forest or wood. Since prehistoric times, human advancement hinged on the clearing and consumption of these woods, a recurring process throughout the Roman and Saxon eras, where woodlands were felled to make way for human settlements and pastureland. By the end of the 17th century, with the growing need for industrial fuel and building materials, only around 8% of England and Wales remained covered by forest. Some saw this a sign of progress. For contemporaries a ‘wilderness’ did not refer to a stark wasteland, but rather a dark, untamed wood. See, for example, how definitions of ‘forest’ and ‘wood’ in Edward Phillips’ The New World of Words (London, 1671),  are understood as something ‘wild’ and ungodly!

E. Phillips The New World of Words title pages

Edward Phillips, The New World of Words: or, a General English Dictionary,  (London, 3rd edition, 1671). First published in London in 1658, this was the first folio English dictionary and featured many unusual, foreign and specialist words.

Forest definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Phillips’ definition of a forest, 1671: ‘…abiding place for Deer, or any sort of beasts, that are wild…’

Wood definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Explanation of the term wood, 1671: ‘that signifies mad, or furious.’

Sylva or a Discourse of Forest Trees 1664 1

Title page of John Evelyn’s Sylva: or a Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber (London, 1664)

Nevertheless, attitudes were shifting towards a consideration for conservation and planting. Not necessarily a new development in itself, but with the economic demands of building a Royal Navy, and the growth of iron and glass manufacture, organized attempts at planting were becoming more evident. The work of John Evelyn is indicative of this. Sylva, published in London in 1664 is a study of British trees, designed to promote the planting and repair of the country’s forests and saplings for the ‘Glory of His Kingdom’. ‘Him’ being Charles the II who, incidentally, found sanctuary in an English oak during the final battle of the Civil War.

Change was afoot socially too. Whereas wooded territories were primarily cultivated for wild beasts and deer for hunting purposes, these deer parks and Royal forests were increasingly appreciated for their aesthetic and distinctive qualities. The gentry could distinguish themselves physically and socially in a country house set in a landscaped park, whilst fashionable society could parade itself in the open setting of city parks and gardens. The great tree-lined avenue became a familiar aristocratic feature, and trees were increasingly planted purely for their visual charm.

Austen A Treatise of Fruit Trees illustration detail

Engraving by John Goddard from Ralph Austen’s A treatise of fruit trees: shewing the manner of grafting, planting, pruning and ordering of them in all respects, (Oxford, 2nd edition, 1657), showing the ‘enclosed’ garden as well as gardening tools and a planting plan.

Hence by the eighteenth-century, any landlord worth his salt planted trees on his land. The following notebook for example, lists the different trees planted on an estate in North Wales, details of trees given to tenants, where they were planted and their history.

Trees also held a sacred and magical significance. The Yew, for example, generally understood to be the longest living tree in Britain, is found in most churchyards. Wales appears to have the world’s largest collection of ancient yews. The most famous is the Llangernyw Yew in the grounds of St Dygain’s Church, Conway, North Wales, believed to be over 4,000 years old! The old Welsh saying ‘gorwedd dan yr Ywen’, ‘sleeping under the Yew’, when referring to one’s demise, suggests that they were seen as a symbol of immortality and sanctuary for the dead. The existence of a holy well or spring near such trees also suggests their sacred origins. Ffynnon Digain (St. Digain’s Well) lies about a mile outside of Llangernyw, whilst in Carmarthenshire the Ffynnon Gwenlais yew grows above the source of the Gwenlais stream, and was noted by both Edward Lhuyd in the late seventeenth century, and Richard Fenton in 1804. The Welsh custom of tying rags to the branches of trees growing near a holy well, whereby the rag is ‘offered’ to the Saint or to God as a healing ritual also reflects their sacred qualities.

Moreover, their magical traits are evident in the medieval Welsh poem Cad Goddeu – the Battle of the Trees. Preserved in the 14th century manuscript Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin), the poem refers to Gwydion’s enchantment of the trees of the forest where they rose up as warriors against the forces of Arawn, king of the underworld. ‘Rush, ye chiefs of the wood’, reads one line, while the rest of the poem describes, amongst others, the ‘Alders, at the head of the line’, the Yew at ‘the fore’, and ‘The Ash… exalted most’.  Does this scene Ring any bells? Ring(s) being the operative word! For whilst this particular story inspired Tori Amos’ song, Battle of the Trees, and John Williams’ composition ‘Duel of the Fates’ for Star Wars: Episode 1, I can’t help wondering if Cad Goddeu was also the source of inspiration for the Battle of Isengard in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings?

Cruben yr Ellyll

Image of Cruben yr Ellyll from E. Salisbury’s scrapbook on Meirioneth, c. 19thC

Through all ages then, and worlds, our trees have provided physical emblems of our historic and cultural heritage. Some, like the Pontfadog Oak, where it’s believed the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army before defeating the English at the Battle of Crogen, or the Cruben yr Ellyll,  The Hollow Demon Oak,  where legend has it the body of Hywel Sele was interred by Owain Glyndwr, have a historic worth, while others have been a source of wonder, like the Crooked Oak of Pembrokeshire which inspired the Welsh poet Waldo Williams to pen ‘Y Dderwen Gam’ – ‘The Crooked Oak’. Some have even survived great battles! And so the moral of this blog post is to never underestimate the importance of our ancient trees. They truly are blooming marvelous – pun intended!

 

Stephen Duck, Thresher and Poet

portrait2

Portrait of Stephen Duck, from Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1764)

Although now largely overlooked, the “Thresher Poet” Stephen Duck was an 18th-century celebrity. Critics and scholars have been generally dismissive of the quality of his verse, yet he enjoyed the patronage of Queen Caroline from his introduction at court in 1730 until her death in 1737, and was rumored to have been considered for the laureateship.

Duck spent his early years as a poor agricultural labourer, receiving a rudimentary education until the age of 14 when he left school to work in the fields. According to “An account of the author” written by his friend and supporter Joseph Spence, he “had a certain Longing after Knowledge; and when he reflected within himself on his Want of Education, he began to be particularly uneasy.” Duck would work extended hours in the fields to earn extra money which he spent on books. Once he had the books, he finished his work as quickly as possible, “that he might get Half an Hour to read a Spectator, without injuring his Master.” Together with a friend who had lived in London and amassed a small library, Duck would read, re-read, and discuss the few dozen volumes that were available to him. Spence, describing this early period in the poet’s life, records their collection as follows:

“Perhaps you would be willing to know what Books their little Library consisted of. I need not mention those of Arithmetick again, nor his Bible: Milton, the Spectators, and Seneca, were his first Favourites; Telemachus, with another Piece by the same Hand, and Addison’s Defence of Christianity, his next. They had an English Dictionary, and a Sort of English Grammar, an Ovid of long standing with them, and a Bysshe’s Art of Poetry of latter Acquisition: Seneca’s Morals made the Name of l’Estrange dear to them; and, as I imagine, might occasion their getting his Josephus in Folio, which was the largest Purchace in their Collection: They had one Volume of Shakespeare, with Seven of his Plays in it. Beside theses, Stephen had read three or four other Plays; some of Epictetus, Waller, Dryden’s Virgil, Prior, Hudibras, Tom Brown, and the London Spy. You may see I am a faithfull Historian, by giving you the Bad with the Good.”

Duck was particularly drawn to Milton’s Paradise Lost, reading it over “twice or thrice with a Dictionary, before he could understand the Language of it thoroughly… [H]e has got English just as we get Latin. He study’d Paradise Lost, as others study the Classics.” Inspired to try and imitate Milton’s verse, began to compose a few poems, most of which he claims to have thrown onto the fire, considering them to be of little or no literary merit. When rumors began to circulate about a poor thresher who could write couplets, a young gentleman of Oxford requested of him a letter in verse. The result, Duck’s first composition of more than a few disconnected lines, is preserved as “To a Gentleman, who requested a Copy of Verses from the Author.”  

1733_title_page

Cardiff University holds the 1733 edition of Poems on Several Subjects, and the 1753 and 1764 editions of Poems on Several Occasions.

The letter’s favourable reception inspired Duck to continue his efforts, which were published in up to ten pirated editions between 1730 and 1733 under the title, Poems on Several Subjects. These early editions attracted attention on a much wider scale and earned him an audience in the court of Queen Caroline. Duck was well received by the queen, who rewarded him with an annuity of £30 or £50, a house, and, in 1735, a position as keeper of the queen’s library in Merlin’s Cave, a Gothic building in Richmond Gardens. He was introduced to literary giants such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, both of whom subscribed to his 1736 volume of poems. Although they had nothing good to say about his poetry, Swift and Pope both spoke highly of Duck as a humble, genial, and virtuous man.

Today, scholars are beginning to revisit Stephen Duck’s literary contributions. In her chapter in A Companion to Literature from Milton to Blake, Bridget Keegan suggests several areas of study where Duck’s work is of value, such as documenting the everyday lives of 18th century working-class people; or the concept of “genius” in the 18th century literary landscape. She argues that Duck’s success may be seen to pave the way for the rise of the Romantic movement and other self-educated poets such as Robert Bloomfield, Robert Burns and John Clare.

threshers_labour

The opening verse of “The Thresher’s Labour,” from the 1733 edition of Poems on Several Subjects.

With its mock-heroic language and inversion of traditional pastoral imagery, Duck’s poem, “The Thresher’s Labour” anticipates the themes of destruction and corrupt greed in Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village.” As the first writer in what would become a class of “peasant-poets,” Duck also inspired many contemporary imitations and responses from other working-class authors, including Robert Tatersal (The Bricklayer’s Miscellany) and John Bancks (The Weaver’s Miscellany). Perhaps the most famous of these responses is The Woman’s Labour by Mary Collier. Offended by Duck’s portrayal of female agricultural workers as lazy chatterboxes, she composed a rebuttal in verse, cataloguing her own struggles as a washer-woman in London. Despite their literary sparring, however, Collier acknowledged her admiration for Duck and composed an Elegy on his death many years later.

Sadly, Stephen Duck’s story does not end well. After Queen Caroline’s death in 1837, he found himself without a patron as his celebrity waned. Rather than continue his literary career, he devoted himself to scholarship and took holy orders in 1746. He served as a military chaplain from 1747 to 1751, then briefly as preacher to Kew chapel. In January 1752 he was appointed to the rectory of Byfleet, Surrey where he proved a hard working and popular parish priest, but between 30 March and 2 April 1756 committed suicide by drowning at Reading.

frontispiece

The frontispiece of the pirated 1733 edition of Poems on Several Subjects.

 

Discovering the Edward Thomas archive: a student perspective

This guest post comes from Sarah Murray, a final year English Literature undergraduate. Sarah recently worked on a project in Special Collections as part of the Poetry in the Making module led by Dr Carrie Smith. The students were tasked with exploring the Edward Thomas archive, to find items to inspire short films. These would present arguments about Thomas’ life and work, with reference to primary sources. An extract from one of the films is featured below.

During our first visit to Special Collections, we worked closely with archivist, Alison Harvey, who collected a huge range of material from manuscripts of poems to Thomas’ personal diaries, to flower cuttings, to personal items, such as his clay pipes.

We were able to spend time looking through this material, and quickly realised that the diversity of materials the archive has to offer meant that there was a huge scope for creativity in the upcoming project.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings - a typical scene at our table.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings – a typical scene at our table.

My group was struck by the regular communication between Edward Thomas and fellow poet Robert Frost, and decided to concentrate on the profound impact Frost had on Thomas’ birth as a poet. Armed with more material than it was possible to process, we visited the archive regularly, pouring over the correspondence between Thomas and Frost.

The calming atmosphere of Special Collections made a welcome change from the rest of the Arts and Social Studies Library, and if it was not for the fact that I would be eternally thirsty, I would do all of my writing in the archive! (It’s funny how the moment you know you can’t have something, that’s immediately all you want in the world.)

After much research, constructing our arguments and a lot of video editing, the four groups in our class each created and submitted a ten minute film as part of the module assessment and it was surprising how different each one was. Almost as if we had sat down and allocated different approaches to take.

Uniquely, the work we produced was showcased to the English Literature department. Although slightly embarrassing to watch and listen to ourselves on the big screen (there was a lot of face covering and even a quick exit), the opportunity to share our videos with members of the department who were interested and surprised by the originality of our arguments, made the project seem incredibly worthwhile.

litmodulestudentsFor me, the experience was eye opening as it provided us with the thought processes and concerns that preceded the published versions of Thomas’ eloquent poetry. I hadn’t really considered the apprehension that a poet may experience when writing, perhaps having been consumed by the Romantic idea that inspiration for a complete product is found while sitting peacefully at the top of a hill. The ability to immerse ourselves in the material that led to the publication of Thomas’ poetry enabled us to understand the man and consequently, the poet and his poetry in a deeper sense.

Samantha Palen, third year English Literature and Journalism student, adds: “As an amateur poet myself, I had long ago rejected the Wordsworthian / Romantic idea of writing poetry, if purely for the fact that British weather means that writing anything whilst strolling through the countryside proves nearly impossible. However, I was surprised to learn the range of materials in the archive that fed into the final published poems; classically you imagine that a poem is written, edited through various manuscripts and then published, bish, bash, bosh. What I didn’t take into account was all of the materials that fall outside of this process, the photographs, the diaries, the correspondence with friends and family, which arguably have a greater impact on the creation of a piece of poetry. All of this took some time to get my head around and the sheer amount of information available seemed incredibly daunting, but all of the archive staff were incredibly helpful in making this an incredibly enjoyable experience!”

All in all, this project was definitely more challenging than anything else I have been required to do as part of my degree and was a welcome change to the thousands of words of essay I have written across nearly three years of reading English Literature. I greatly enjoyed the time we spent in Special Collections. Cardiff University is very lucky to have such a rich collection of historical and literary archives and the opportunity to make use of this material enriched my knowledge of a subject I am passionate about. Finally, I am very grateful to Carrie for providing us with this new and exciting academic opportunity and to Alison for her time and commitment to supporting us throughout the project.