Lanier’s “Sunrise”

Sidney Lanier, one of the South’s prominent nineteenth century poets, wrote some of his finest works while living in Baltimore. Lanier’s connection to Johns Hopkins University, as a lecturer in the English department when the University was newly established, explains why Johns Hopkins sought to create an archive of Lanier’s life and works.

The images to the left represent artifacts from “The Sidney Lanier Papers, 1838-1972, Special Collections, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.” The bound manuscript from 1880 depicts Lanier’s “Sunrise,” one of his most highly regarded poems. Examining this manuscript provides information on the process of re-writing and revision behind Lanier’s published works. Lanier gifted this manuscript to Father Taff, who mounted the leaves and bound them together with a hard binding and black leather covering. Taff’s decision to bind this manuscript undoubtedly made reading this early version of “Sunrise” easier. Taff ensured that this bound version maintained the austere appearance of a manuscript: he did not include any decorative elements, such as endpapers. Instead, the emphasis is on Lanier’s exquisitely handwritten manuscript of “Sunrise” with its images of nature and verse steeped in musicality. The colophon at the end of this manuscript indicates that this version was completed in December 1880, while Lanier was bedridden from his illness (Lanier suffered from tuberculosis when he contracted the disease in a Union prison during the Civil War). It also includes Lanier’s signature.

While Lanier’s manuscript of “Sunrise” from 1880 was intended for a small audience of close acquaintances, the newspaper clipping of “Sunrise” in an article titled, “Sidney Lanier, Disciple of Holiness”, would have been viewed by the masses. The article does not indicate the title or the date of the publication. Printed in common typeface, this clipping includes a brief commentary on Lanier and a photograph of the poet, as well as the published version of “Sunrise” from 1881. In the contemporary world, Lanier is often not as widely acclaimed as other poets of his time, such as Whitman. However, the commentary in the newspaper clipping attests to Lanier’s success, indicating that, during his time,  “he st[ood] in the front rank of the later nineteenth century American poets.” Overall, the newspaper clipping lacks the personal touches, such as his signature and the note on his illness, that can be found in Lanier’s manuscript.

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