The Evolution of the Manuscript: from “The Cloud” to “Individuality”

Manuscript, from Sidney Lanier, “Hymns of the Marshes II, The Cloud.” Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

Featured above is a picture of the manuscript for Sidney Lanier’s poem entitled “Hymns of the Marshes II, The Cloud,” later re-named “Individuality.” Unlike a popular print version, locatable here, this manuscript from the Johns Hopkins Special Collections awards the reader a unique experience with the text.

First, it imbues a sense of artistic creation and progression into the poem, demonstrating that authors need to continually edit and alter their works before they achieve a final, printable product. Secondly, it removes a sense of context for the reader; within the printed version, the reader experiences the poem in relation to other poems within the series, more specifically within the context of the other “Hymns of the Marshes.” In a manuscript form, however, the poem must stand alone and define itself within the parameters of its own meter and rhyme.

Thirdly, the printed version removes the presence of authorial intimacy. As demonstrated on the bottom of the photograph, Sidney Lanier made many first-hand changes to the poem, crossing out the words “self” and “strait-lace” to replace them with the words “lock” and “in issue bind,” and these changes allow the reader to temporarily enter the mind-space of the artist and consider what prompted such specific modifications. Sidney Lanier once famously said, “Music is love in search of a word,” so it is no surprise that many of his changes pertained to the sound of the word, or rather its musicality, as opposed to its meaning. Lastly, the presentation of the poem in print not only removes the author’s handwriting, another personal aspect, but also adds a visual aid – a small picture of the marshes featured above the poem. This addition of the picture further formalizes the poem in print form and establishes a more official presentation.

And lastly, as previously mentioned, the title of the poem changed from “The Cloud” to “Individuality,” and the Hopkins Special Collection contains the intermediate version of the poem, in which Lanier crosses out the former title and replaces it with the new one. Since he went through many versions of the text, several books have been printed to highlight his various drafts, one of which is locatable here.


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