This Friday and Saturday, April 13-14, the Library will continue its celebration of spring and the National Cherry Blossom Festival through its Spring Fling Pop-Up Exhibit. Among the many items on display from the Library’s collections is a selection of books and broadsides (see image above) from the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division featuring spring-themed poetry. The majority of items on display in the “Poetry Room”—technically, room LJ-110, which houses the personal library of Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes—are drawn from the Division’s fine press collections. (If you aren’t familiar with fine press books, in a nutshell they are finely crafted books, usually printed in limited editions, that emphasize high-quality design, type, and illustration in order to elevate the physical book itself to a work of art.)
Below you’ll find citations for all of the items in the Poetry Room display. Each citation is followed by a few notes about the item adapted from the “cheat sheet” used by those of us staffing the room, and several are accompanied by a teaser image that I hope will whet your appetite to see the works in person.
If you plan to be in the D.C. area this Friday or Saturday, I hope you’ll consider visiting the exhibit to get an up-close look at these amazing, and rarely shown, items.
Tracy K. Smith. US & CO. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2012. (signed copy)
When Tracy K. Smith, the current U.S. Poet Laureate, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, her publisher Graywolf Press printed this celebratory broadside of her poem “US & CO.” Smith was recently appointed to a second term as Poet Laureate. She will be celebrating the conclusion of her first term with a reading of her poems and discussion with Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post’s “Book World,” on April 19 from 7-9 p.m. in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. (Register for the event here.) Her most recent book, Wade in the Water, was published on April 3.
For additional information about Smith’s life, work, and activities as Poet Laureate, see the Library of Congress web guide Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith: Online Resources.
Geoffrey Chaucer. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. A Facsimile of the William Morris Kelmscott Chaucer. Cleveland, World Publishing Company, 1958.
This book, commonly known as the “Kelmscott Chaucer,” is one of the most important fine press books ever published. Published in 1896 by William Morris, founder of the Kelmscott Press, and featuring illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones, this book was Morris’s reaction to, and attempt to correct, what he saw as the widespread publishing of poorly produced books. The book took years to produce; 425 copies were printed on paper, 13 on vellum.
The Library of Congress holds three copies of the 1896 edition of the Kelmscott Chaucer, one of which is on vellum. The facsimile edition on display in the exhibit’s Poetry Room is turned to the first page of the Canterbury Tales’ General Prologue, in which the narrator describes the regenerative powers of spring. It begins:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote….
(When April with his showers sweet
The drought of March has pierced to the root….)
Walt Whitman. Memories of President Lincoln. Portland, Maine: Thomas Mosher, 1912.
This collection includes four poems on the death of Lincoln written by Whitman: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”; “O Captain! My Captain!”; “Hush’d be the Camps To-day”; and “This Dust Was Once the Man.”
The 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass includes a poem cluster titled “Memories of President Lincoln” that features these four poems. This 1912 book published by Thomas B. Mosher pulls out and prints separately the four Lincoln poems.
The poem featured in the Spring Fling display, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” is a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated on April 14, 1865. In the poem’s opening lines, the speaker associates spring lilacs with the loss of Lincoln, who is symbolized by the “great star”—Venus—in the second line.
Scholars believe that the lilac imagery in the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), another item featured in the Spring Fling display, is an allusion to “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”
A digitized copy of Memories of President Lincoln is available online through the Internet Archive.
Edna St. Vincent Millay. Grace from Simple Stone. Lithographs by Enid Mark. Wallingford, PA: ELM Press, 1992.
A compilation of fifteen poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, with accompanying lithographs by Enid Mark, published in celebration of the centenary of Millay’s birth. Along with Ars Botanica (see below), this book is one of two published by Enid Mark‘s ELM Press displayed in the Spring Fling exhibit. The poem featured in the display is Millay’s “Spring.”
The Library of Congress’s Manuscript Division is home to the Edna St. Vincent Millay Papers, 1832-1992, which includes more than 45,000 items. Additional details about Grace from Simple Stone can be found on the ELM Press website.
T.S. Eliot. The Waste Land. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922.
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, first published in 1922, is one of the most important poems of the 20th century. The poem is well-known for its many and dense allusions, the first of which occurs in its opening lines, featured in the display: “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.”
These lines allude to the Prologue of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, in which April is accompanied by its “sweet showers” (“shoures soote”). In the Canterbury Tales General Prologue, April is depicted as a welcome time of renewal and rebirth; in the opening lines of The Waste Land, Eliot provides a surprising reversal and April becomes an unwanted cruelty, a symbol of desolation placed in direct contrast to “Winter,” which “kept us warm.”
Some scholars believe that Eliot’s reference to lilacs in the second lines is an allusion to Whitman’s “When Lilacs last in the Door-Yard Bloomed,” another of the items featured in the display.
William Shakespeare. The Poems of William Shakespeare. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1941.
This collection of Shakespeare’s poems is turned to Sonnet 98, in which the speaker describes his separation from a close friend or lover. It is spring, when “proud-pied April . . . Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,” but the season cannot measure up to the delights of the absent friend. As the speaker notes in the final couplet, although it is spring:
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
William Carlos Williams. Spring and All. Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923.
“A practicing physician for more than forty years, William Carlos Williams became an experimenter, innovator, and revolutionary figure in American poetry. In reaction against the rigid, rhyming format of nineteenth-century poets, Williams, his friend Ezra Pound, and other early-twentieth-century poets formed the core of what became known as the ‘Imagist’ movement. Their poetry focused on verbal pictures and moments of revealed truth, rather than a structure of consecutive events or thoughts and was expressed in free verse rather than rhyme. Spring and All, Williams’s first book of poems in this modern style, greatly influenced poetry in the rest of the twentieth century and beyond.”
Williams was appointed Consultant in Poetry (the earlier term for U.S. Poet Laureate) in 1952, but did not serve in the position.
Ars Botanica: A Collection of Poems. Lithographs by Enid Mark. Wallingford, PA: ELM Press, 2004.
Enid Mark (1932-2008) was known for her lush flowers, and her illustrations make a perfect complement to the 14 featured poems on flowers and growth by contemporary women poets in Ars Botanica, produced by Mark’s own ELM Press. Each poem is by a different poet, and all but one are original poems written for the book. For the Spring Fling display, Ars Botanica is turned to the page featuring Massachusetts poet Celia Gilbert’s “About the Peony, Festive Maxima.”
The ELM Press website describes the unique lithographs by Mark that accompany each poem:
Facing each poem is a photo-based duotone lithograph of the plant, printed in warm gray and black tones. A second lithograph, derived from a hand-drawing of the same plant, printed in glowing floral colors that vary from page to page, appears on a translucent sheet tipped into the gutter between the duotone image and the poetry. This translucent page lays over the poetry; when turned back over the duotone image the text is more fully revealed.
Toni Morrison. Five Poems. Silhouettes by Kara E. Walker. Las Vegas: Rainmaker Editions, 2002.
This book is the only published collection of poetry by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Morrison’s 1988 novel Beloved, perhaps her best-known work, won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a 1998 movie featuring Oprah Winfrey.
Each of the five poems in the book is accompanied by a silhouette image by contemporary artist Kara Walker, a winner of MacArthur “genius grant” in 1997. The book has been called “the first demonstration of collaboration between two of the most important living African American artists” (Callaloo 34, no. 3, Summer 2011). Only 425 copies of the book were issued by Peter Koch Printers.
The Psalms. Pownal, Vermont: Mason Hill Press, 1978.
Mason Hill Press printed 175 copies of this fine press edition of the Psalms. The text is based on the King James Version (1611) and adapted into verse by reference to the Hebrew of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica . The colored initials are engraved in wood by Mark Livingston. In the Spring Fling display the book is open to Psalm 42, which uses Spring imagery in some of its lines.