Shelter from the Storm, or, ESPN Features the Rare Book Collection

Confessio Amantis (1483) by John Gower and printed by William Caxton (Incunabula 532.5), alongside James Joyce’s first edition of Ulysses (Patton Collection, PR6019.O9 U4 1922)

Fans of UNC football got a glimpse into the Rare Book Collection during Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. In the second quarter, ESPN featured Wilson Library’s Grand Reading Room as well as two books from the Rare Book Collection. Sports fans across the country had a chance to see UNC’s first millionth volume: John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, printed in 1483 by William Caxton. Alongside it was a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), number 20 of 100 signed by the author.

ESPN chose to showcase Wilson Library’s Grand Reading Room in part because of Hurricane Matthew and the appeal of one of UNC’s most beautiful interior spaces. The Grand Reading Room is open for study—or shelter from the storm—during Wilson Library’s regular operating hours.

Remembering Easter 1916

Yeats PR5904 .E3 1916

One hundred years ago on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916), members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army occupied the General Post Office in Dublin. Upwards of 2,000 Irish men and women participated in the Rising.

On the first day of the insurrection, Pádraic Pearse read aloud the Proclamation of the Republic, which stated, “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”

After six days of fighting against the British Army, the leaders of the Rising surrendered. The seven signatories of the Proclamation, along with nine others who participated in leading the rebellion, were executed.

W. B. Yeats began writing “Easter, 1916” during the last of the executions. According to George Mayhew, the final drafts were completed while Yeats stayed in France with his long-time muse, Maud Gonne, and her daughter Iseult. Gonne’s estranged husband, John MacBride, was one of the executed leaders of the Rising. His death prompted Yeats to propose marriage for the second time to Gonne and then to her daughter; both women rejected him.

Yeats PR5904 .E3 1916

Easter, 1916 was privately printed by Clement Shorter in a run of 25 copies for distribution among Yeats’s friends, likely in October or November of 1916. The copy above, held at the University of North Carolina, is numbered 19.

In the poem Yeats struggles with the personal and political complexities of the Rising, and the difficulties of grappling with these within a memorial poem. Gonne wrote to Yeats: “No, I don’t like your poem, it isn’t worthy of you & above all isn’t worthy of the subject.” Today it is the most remembered and read poem of the Easter Rising, particularly for Yeats’s refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.”

“Easter 1916” wasn’t distributed widely until it was printed in The New Statesman October 23, 1920, and then in Yeats’s 1921 volume of poetry, Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The 1916 version reveals its differences upon comparison to the 1921 version.

Yeats PR5904 .E3 1916, Yeats PR5904 .M52 1920

Book History Students Visit the RBC

Incunabula 232
Incunabula 232

This semester the Rare Book Collection was thrilled to host a visit from graduate students in Dr. Ryan Shaw’s INLS 550: Reading the History of the Book course. We gave them a tour through material book history, heard about their researches in RBC’s reading room, and let them get up close and personal with some excellent teaching examples from the Collection. Books and other items were laid out at different stations, exposing students to topics such as the transition from manuscript to print, the differences between hand-press and machine-press books, binding styles and practices, paper, typography, format, early indexing systems, and non-Western book traditions.

Up close with Ms. 98
Up close with Ms. 98

The students examined a Latin manuscript of Spanish origin, written in 1173 in north Castile or Navarre. This manuscript, on parchment, features rubrication, pricked margins, and an ornamental initial.

Rare book research librarian Emily Kader described the process of making paper by hand and showed the students an example of a watermark with the help of a light sheet.

A volume from the Incunabula collection showed the students an early example of a concordance. This book was meant for use by the clergy and contains explanations of difficult words in the Bible. It also features capital spaces left by the printer, here filled in by hand in red, a tradition held over from medieval manuscript culture.


IMG_6415_So. Pam. 1209_

Emily Kader explained the concept of bibliographic format showing a bound octavo volume alongside an unbound pamphlet made up of one sheet of paper, that had been printed and folded into an octavo gathering.

PA6525.Z5 M2
PA6525 M2 1584

A 1584 edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses provided the students with an example of a book containing an early modern index.

BP183.3 .A1 1863
BP183.3 .A1 1863

A nineteenth-century manuscript containing Islamic prayers, decorated with vivid pigments and gold leaf allowed the class to see a traditional type of Arabic binding. This style of binding features a flap that extends from the back cover, folds over the book’s fore edge, and tucks under the front cover of the book.





Graduate student Kathleen Monahan helped the students navigate the Liber Chronicarum, better known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, of 1493. The students examined the book’s woodcuts and were able to locate an image depicting Pope Joan.

IMG_6428_Incunabula 148.2_Nuremberg Chronicle
Incunabula 148.2

The Nuremberg Chronicle provided early modern readers with an illustrated history of the world as it was known in Europe in the fifteenth century.

Estienne PA6297 .A5 1547 and Estienne PA6278 .A2 1546 v.-10

The students compared different styles of binding, here with two copies of the same edition, one bound by a former owner in pigskin, the other bound by a former owner in calf.

IMG_6431_Victorian Bindings_GB1877 .F67 G7
GB1877 .F67 G7

The students also examined a volume from the RBC’s Victorian Bindings Collection, a fine example of the late nineteenth-century innovation of decorated publisher’s bindings.

We welcome classes with relevant interests to visit the Rare Book Collection and integrate its holdings into their curricula. Teachers and students who are interested in using the RBC for teaching or research can get in touch with us at

Poets of the First World War

Here at the Rare Book Collection we are gearing up for the centennial of World War I, and we’re expecting an influx of students, scholars, and other curious visitors to work with our extensive international holdings of related materials. To prepare, we are combing the collection, assessing what we have, and looking for those special items that might be of particular interest.

KIC Image 4
PR6037.A86 O43

One item of note is a first edition of Siegfried Sassoon’s The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, Sassoon’s first book of poetry about his experience at the front. Sassoon published this volume in 1917, the same year he began treatment for neurasthenia (more commonly known as “shell shock”) at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he met fellow poet Wilfred Owen.

Sassoon’s poems, at their most caustic, register his disgust with war authorities in Britain, whose casual use of propaganda from the safety of the home front Sassoon critiques. Other poems, like “To His Dead Body,” convey his deep affection for his fellow soldiers while unflinchingly recording their deaths: “When roaring gloom surged inward and you cried, / Groping for friendly hands, and clutched, and died, / Like racing smoke, swift from your lolling head / Phantoms of thought and memory thinned and fled.”

KIC Image 5
PR6037.A86 O43
KIC Image
PR6037.A86 O43  / Courtesy of the Estate of George Sassoon

What makes our copy—a second printing of the first edition—special is that it reveals how Sassoon used his time at Craiglockhart to create literary networks with fellow poets. Pasted to the back endpaper is a letter from Sassoon to Douglas Ainslie, a Scottish poet who was known to Oscar and Constance Wilde as well as Arthur Conan Doyle. In the note, written on Craiglockhart stationery, Sassoon tells Ainslie that he regrets not being able to meet him for lunch but says he hopes they can meet at a later time. Sassoon admits that he is “keen to know whether you like my poems, & equally impatient to read your own.” Ainslie’s autograph on the front endpaper suggests that the book was his. All the pages are cut, so we can surmise that Ainslie read Sassoon’s work. One can only wonder what, in fact, he thought about it and whether the two men got the chance to meet!

We are most grateful to the Estate of George Sassoon, Siegfried Sassoon’s son, for kindly granting permission to reproduce this letter. Readers who wish to publish the letter should contact the estate.

The Rare Book Collection has print holdings of many World War I writers, in addition to the extensive Bowman Gray Collection of World War I posters, postcards, and pamphlets, as well as other documents relating to the war. We welcome readers to explore our holdings in the second floor reading room of Wilson Library.

Sensational Songs

Here in the Rare Book Collection, our materials often tell stories, both through their contents and what we can infer about their former owners. The other day I explored our catalog to see whether we have any broadside ballads—a printing genre related to the oral tradition of storytelling through song.

According to The Ballads Project at the Bodleian Library, “Broadside ballads were popular songs, sold for a penny or half-penny in the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries.” The Bodleian also describes them as “one of the cheapest forms of print available” at that time.

Ballad singers would peddle broadsides in busy streets and markets, advertising their wares by singing their contents. Ballads spread news, gossip, and legends and often told tales of romantic tragedy and terror.

Miscellaneous poems. / PR1181 .M5

In the RBC there is a slim volume of twelve eighteenth- and nineteenth-century broadside ballads bound together. The majority are murder ballads, an especially popular form that divulged the details of crimes both real and imagined. The murder ballads here include “The Wittham-Miller, or the Berkshire Tragedy,” “The Unhappy Lady of Hackney,” and “The London Damsel.” It is appropriate that this collection should find its way to UNC, as North Carolina ballad singers to this day sing murder ballads like “Omie Wise,” “Bolamkin,” and “Rose Connolly.”

What is most delightful about this little volume is that it also includes a manuscript ballad. Pasted at the front is a hand-written version of “The Merry Haymakers” (number 153 in the Roud Broadside Index), which tells a simple story of lads and lasses making hay. Upon the arrival of a piper, they throw down their rakes and begin making merry!

It is fascinating to read this pastoral ballad alongside grisly tales such as “The Wittham-Miller” above. In the late eighteenth century, collectors as well as Romantic poets like Robert Burns were beginning to pay attention to the oral tradition of ballad singing, which was related to the broadside tradition. Indeed, “The Merry Haymakers” exists in both. But ballads that survived in the oral tradition tended to be more lyrical and less news-driven. Perhaps this is an example of some of that early fieldwork and the cultural shift toward Romanticism.

Below is an image of “The Merry Haymakers” followed by a transcription.

Miscellaneous poems. / PR1181 .M5
Miscellaneous poems. / PR1181 .M5

In ye Month of July ye prime time of ye yeare
down in yondor Meadow thare runs A Riuer Cleare
& many a little fish dos in that riuer play
many a lad and many a Lass was abroad making hay

Then came in the seythe men to mow this meadow down
with budget & with bottle of Ale ye is so Brown
all Labouring men of Courage bould came there [say] to fiye
Lets whet & blow & stoutly for ye grass Cuts uery dry

Thare is Tib & Tommy with pitchfork & with Rake
with Molly Nel & Susan Came thare their hay to Make
Sweet Yug Yug Yug Yug Sweet the nightingale dosth Sing
from Morning till ye Euening as thay weare a hay making

but when brite phebus the Sun was going down
a mery disposed piper Aproaching from the Town
Puld out his pipe & Taber Resoluing for to play
which made em all lay down thare Rakes
& to Leave off Making hay

Then Jouning in a dance wee Trip it one a green
Though tired wth out Labour no wearyness is Seen
Each triping like to faires our dance we do pursue
with Leading up & fasting of till ye Morning its in vein

Then Each Lad he Takes his Lass the Morning being come
& layes down on thare hay focks till ye rising of the Sun
& Sporting all ye while ye harmless birds do Sing
& arise Each Lad & take ye Lass & away to hay making

Sisters Outsider: Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, The First Cities (New York, 1968)  /            PS3562 .O75 F5 1968

UNC’s Rare Book Collection has extensive holdings of twentieth-century print materials, many of which provide insights into literary friendships, partnerships, and circles. History has placed the poets Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde in separate camps—di Prima with the Beat Generation and Lorde with the Black feminist movement. However, the RBC’s rich Beat holdings tell a very different story.

Di Prima and Lorde were both born in 1934 and attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan. As teenagers they were close friends. According to Alexis De Veaux, together they “wrote poetry and skipped classes. . . . They held séances, burned candles, and ‘called up the poets.’” The two young women later went their separate ways. Lorde stayed on in New York City and earned her bachelor’s degree at Hunter College. Di Prima went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, dropping out in 1953 to return and join the bohemian scene in Greenwich Village. In the ten-year period after 1958, di Prima published five volumes of poetry and founded Poets’ Press with her husband Alan Marlowe. Lorde published sparingly but gained a reputation as an important up-and-coming young poet. In an interview with Adrienne Rich, Lorde recalled di Prima urging her to publish her poetry and saying, “You know, it’s time you had a book. . . . You have to print these. Put ’em out.”

Audre Lorde, The First Cities (New York, 1968) / PS3562 .O75 F5 1968

Lorde followed her advice and prepared to publish her premier volume, The First Cities, with di Prima’s Poets’ Press. In 1967, while the book was in production, di Prima was pregnant with her second child. On Christmas Eve she went into labor in her Greenwich Village apartment and called on Lorde, who arrived just in time to deliver the baby. In her introduction to The First Cities, di Prima memorializes this event and their sustained friendship:

I have known Audre Lorde since we were fifteen,
when we read our poems to each other in our Home
Room at Hunter High school. And only two months
ago she delivered my child.

A woman’s world, peopled with men & children
and the dead, exotic as scallops.

“Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde read at Intersection” (San Francisco) / PS3507.I15 Z58 1970z / Lawrence Foushee London Fund

The two women continued to support each other’s work over the next decade, as evidenced by a broadside advertising a poetry reading they performed together in the 1970s. In 1974 di Prima founded another press called Eidolon Editions. Lorde sent her seven poems, which Eidolon Editions published as Between Our Selves in 1977. The cover shows a West African Adinkra symbol of Siamese crocodiles.

Audre Lorde, Between Our Selves (Point Reyes, 1976) / PS3562.O525 B4

Both di Prima and Lorde wrote from marginalized points of view and were on the outside of mainstream literary culture. These material examples of their alliance attest to their efforts to promote themselves and each other in a literary landscape dominated by male voices. Such intersections cannot be understood by reading individual poems isolated in anthologies or in collected works. The original, often ephemeral, editions to be found at the RBC demonstrate in a tangible way how poets work to create communities of poets.