T. S. Eliot’s Ariel Poems

Front covers of the first series of Ariel Poems by T. S. Eliot, with illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer and Gertrude Hermes.

Front covers of the first series of Ariel Poems by T. S. Eliot, with illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer and Gertrude Hermes.

Another blog post from a couple of weeks ago gave you an overview of the Ariel Poems, a series of pamphlets published by Faber & Gwyer (now Faber & Faber) in the 1920s and 30s.  A second series was also published in 1954. The pamphlets are printed on brightly colored paper covers with a black and white illustration and a single folded sheet of paper inside containing a colored illustration and a poem. The Burns Library is lucky enough to own a complete set of these beautiful pamphlets.  Publisher Faber & Faber describes the series as having “inventively paired an unpublished poem by a leading writer of the day with new artwork from an eminent artist” (Faber & Faber). The poets range from Thomas Hardy to Hilaire Belloc and the artists include Eric Gill and Albert Rutherston.

Journey of the Magi colophon

Colophon for T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, PR 1225 .A7 no. 8 Ariel, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The collection is intriguing for many reasons—the combination of poets and artists, the modern artwork, the pamphlets’ original purpose as both poems and potentially Christmas cards—including its many ties to other collections in the Burns Library: eight of the twenty-one poets are represented in the various archival collections at the Burns Library, as well as a few of the artists. But before any of these considerations is the title of the series itself, a title later adopted and used by T.S. Eliot for the five poems that he wrote for the series.  Eliot wrote of the series, “ ‘Nobody else seemed to want the title afterward, so I kept it for myself’” (Faber & Faber).

The presence of this smaller subset of poems bearing the same title provides a good starting place from which to examine the series. Eliot’s poems are representative of the original purpose of the pamphlets, which was to appeal to the Christmas market with seasonal poems that could also be used as greeting cards. His ‘Ariel Poems’ are comprised of Journey of the Magi, A Song for Simeon, Animula, Marina, Triumphal Marchand The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.

Illustration for T. S. Eliot's poem <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21345800900001021"><i>Marina</i> </a>by E. McKnight Kauffer, PR 1225 .A7 no. 29, Ariel, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration for T. S. Eliot’s poem Marina by E. McKnight Kauffer, PR 1225 .A7 no. 29, Ariel, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Journey of the Magi, A Song for Simeon, Marina, and Triumphal March are illustrated by E. McKnight KaufferAnimula is illustrated by Gertrude Hermes, and The Cultivation of Christmas Trees has illustrations by David Jones.  E. McKnight Kauffer was an American designer and painter who designed advertising posters for a variety of companies in England and America. He also worked as a designer for the Nonesuch and Cresset Presses, two presses that are represented in various collections at the Burns Library. The images Kauffer created for Eliot’s poems are blocky, geometrically oriented prints that present complicated figures that are not immediately representational. Gertrude Hermes was an English sculptor and wood engraver who, like Kauffer, worked for the Cresset Press as well as the Gregynog Press and the Golden Cockerel Press. She also designed parts of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and taught wood engraving at the Central School from 1948-1963. Her illustrations for T. S. Eliot’s Animula are full of detail, delicate lines, crosshatching, and light.

Illustration by David Jones for <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21345827940001021"><i>The Cultivation of Christmas Trees</i></a> by T. S. Eliot, PR 6007.A95 C5 1954 General Folders, John J. Burns Library. Boston College.

Illustration by David Jones for The Cultivation of Christmas Trees by T. S. Eliot, PR 6007.A95 C5 1954 General Folders, John J. Burns Library. Boston College.

David Jones was an English painter, draughtsman, print-maker, illustrator, and poet. He was part of Eric Gill’s community in the 1920s and his work was shaped by war, grace, myth, and epic. His illustration for The Cultivation of Christmas Trees is both mystical and medieval, reminiscent of the Unicorn Tapestries while utilizing images from the poem.

The poems range from the overtly Biblical subjects of Journey of the Magi and A Song for Simeon to the more abstract subjects of the later poems. Faber & Faber describe the poems thus “all meditate on spiritual growth and anticipate the dialogue of self and soul achieved in…Ash-Wednesday” (Bush). What the Ariel pamphlets do well is to allow the reader to focus on the individual poem. With their easily handled small format and simple construction, these pamphlets privilege each individual text. If you would like to read T. S. Eliot’s Ariel Poems in their original format, visit the Burns Library Reading Room.  To learn more about T.S. Eliot’s connection to Boston College, visit https://flic.kr/p/bqk4QY.  If you have further questions, contact the Reading Room at (617)-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Rachel Ernst, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & Ph.D. student in the English Department

Works Consulted

Bush, Ronald. “Eliot, Thomas Stearns.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxford.dnb.com/view/article/32993.

“Gertrude Hermes.” Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/gertrude-hermes-1277.

“The Ariel Poems.” Faber & Faber. http://www.faber.co.uk/9780571316434-the-ariel-poems.html

Wilson, Andrew. “David Jones.” Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/david-jones-1370

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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One Response to T. S. Eliot’s Ariel Poems

  1. Pingback: “A deeply textured trove of learning and reference”: The Gift of David Jones – By Francesca Brooks - The Marginalia Review of Books

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