WRITING POETRY: Manuscript Verse, 250 BC to 2000 AD

MS Gg.4.6
The poet Jean de Meun, author of the continuation of ‘Le roman de la rose’, at his desk. From a French manuscript of the ‘Roman’, c. 1340. MS Gg.4.6. (Original document not on display.)

In poetry, the intrinsic musical and meaningful properties of language are refined into an art form that fuses sound with sense. The world’s great poets have combined heightened sensibility with masterful linguistic technique to create remarkable expressions of the human spirit.

Although rooted in oral traditions, and seldom fully realised until spoken aloud, poetry has existed in written form for thousands of years. This exhibition celebrates the writing of poetry: it examines the inspirations for poems, explores the place of poetry in the University, and highlights the ways in which poetical manuscripts have been studied to establish accurate texts and to understand the creative act.

The exhibition draws together some of the Library’s finest cultural treasures. On display are manuscript poems from ancient, medieval and modern times, from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Come and see a papyrus fragment of Greek verse from around 250 BC discovered in an Egyptian mummy, Cædmon’s Hymn from the Moore Bede manuscript of 737 AD, satirical poems seized by government agents from the printer of a seditious periodical in 1730, the manuscripts used by Edward FitzGerald in the nineteenth century to make his famous translation of the ‘Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’, and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If–’, with crossings-out and additions in the poet’s own handwriting.

Exhibition open 11 May to 18 December 2004
(closed 30 August and 16-23 September inclusive)

Monday-Friday 09.00-18.00, Saturday 09.00-16.30. Sunday closed.