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Facing Pages: Layout in the Williams Manuscript of George Herbert's Poems by Lillian Myers There has been considerable critical interest in the Bodleian manuscript of George Herbert's poems since the publication of the facsimile edition in 1984 and, more recently, Mario A. Di Cesare's fascinating diplomatic edition.1 The response to these two publications has largely reinforced the significance of this manuscript in understanding Herbert's achievement, yet its one great limitation must be kept in mind if further insight into Herbert's intention is to be gained. As Amy M. Charles, Di Cesare, and a host of others have pointed out, Herbert never saw the Bodleian manuscript.2 It is a copy of Herbert's original notes, now lost, that was produced under the supervision of Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding soon after the poet's death. The Williams manuscript, on the other hand, was copied under Herbert's close supervision and edited in his own hand.3 It, of course, has its own limitations. It is an early draft of The Temple including only a third of the poems, many of which are in an order different from that of the later and fuller work. However, a close examination of its pages reveals the careful and deliberate layout of the poems. In her bibliographic description of the Williams manuscript Margaret Crum notes that the book was already bound when the poems were copied, that it is a type of notebook common in the seventeenth century and often used from front and back, and that guide lines were ruled according to the exact requirements of each stanza.4 Charles observes the careful arrangement of the poems according to a deliberate, "visually effective" plan and the use of facing pages to present related poems or one complete poem.5 It looks as though the positioning of "The Church-porch" and "The Church Militant" was marked out and that these poems were copied first with the poems of "The Church" arranged carefully within the confines of the remaining space.6 A close examination of the Williams manuscript has convinced me that had Herbert supervised the copying of the Bodleian manuscript it would be a significantly different work. Herbert was a very visual poet. This is clear from the layout of individual poems, especially "The Altar" and "Easter-wings," but is also evident in his layout of the collection as a whole as we have it 74Lillian Myers in the Williams manuscript. He seems to use facing pages to present one visual unit, so that a visual unit begins on the verso of the preceding folio and ends on the following recto. This means that the verso marks the beginning and the recto the end. This is evident in his layout of the obviously paired poems such as the two "Easterwings " poems and "Love" 1 and 2, and indicates a relationship between poems where this may not be immediately obvious, such as the unit comprising "Good ffriday" and "The Sinner." In this way Herbert seems to use facing pages to define a unit of thought, but clearly many of his units are longer than two pages. Where this is the case the unit still begins on the verso and ends on the recto. For example, "The Thanks-giving" begins on the verso, continues through the following recto and ends on the next verso, with "The Second Thanks-giving" positioned on the following recto to complete the unit of four pages or two sets of facing pages. In longer poems the principle still holds. For example, the refrain of "The Sacrifice," "Was ever grief like mine?," is written in full the first three times it appears and thenceforth only at the top of each verso page, not at the top of every page as Hutchinson has it/ Every other time it appears it is in the abbreviated form "Was ever gr.," forcing the reader to supply the whole line, possibly with the intention of heightening the power of the question. In the penultimate set of facing pages, "Never was grief like mine" forms the last line of the recto page, the end position, and this pattern is duplicated on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 73-82
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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