Lanier’s Lines Go Green

A manuscript: a pile of plain, stapled, yellowed sheets titled Sunrise sits next to an old, green book called Hymns of the Marshes. How are they related? Well, Sunrise happens to be one of Sidney Lanier’s poems about the Marshes of Glynn in Georgia, those same marshes that this book embodies.

The manuscript of the poem is lovely to look at; Sidney Lanier’s charming handwriting could be a love letter font. But of course, this is not the font that is published in the book. Sunrise is printed in something closer to Times New Roman, but it benefits from being published with the rest of the poems in Hymns of the Marshes. The book is bound in publisher’s binding and the title is embossed in gold, which is like a statement of the marshes’ value in nature.  “Sunrise” starts the book, just as the sunrise marks the start of the day.

Sidney Lanier, Hymns of the Marshes, (New York: CHarles Scribner’s Sons, 1907). Image Courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University.

The text is centered as it is in the manuscript and written on recto sheets, but it is paired with photographs. There is one picture on the first page to accompany the text, and on the succeeding page is another photograph on the right with a couple of lines on the verso side. Such organization may seem like it would speed up the reading, but it slows readers down by encouraging them to concentrate on single pages of text. This helps them envision the sunrise on every page verses every two pages. This method is enhanced by the blank verso pages because text on the recto sheets is isolated, which helps readers focus more.

Sidney Lanier, Hymns of the Marshes, image following a page of text (New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907). Image Courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University.

The photographs influence the reader’s sense of setting, but the other poems in the book also shape his or her perspective of Sunrise because together, they provide a holistic view of the marshes. Thanks to the thought that was put into printing the Hymns of the Marshes, Sunrise is experienced more in the book than it can be from the manuscript.

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