Fruit of the Plume: Julia and her dead Robin


My medieval archivist colleague teaches a monthly paleography workshop for library staff; it’s one of the highlights of my day job. The entire point of the class is simply to improve our ability to read handwriting from the early modern period, chiefly through examples of secretary hand from 1550-1700. Recipes, correspondence, lists, wills, charters, newsletters, charms; anything and everything written by hand.

The most challenging and most fun reads, however, are always poetry. So much so that “Bad Poetry in Bad Hands,” as my colleague calls it, is the uproarious highlight of any session. To honor its spirit I thought I’d start a column sharing poems from our vast collection of 15th-19th century English-language poetry in manuscript. Since I can’t promise that all the poems will be bad, nor all the hands they’re written in, a different title will have to do.

Thus, for your reading pleasure, I happily present this, the first installment of “Fruit of the Plume.” It’s an undated poem entitled “Julia and her dead Robin, by E. S. J.

Image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Images courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Images courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it qualifies as bad poetry or a bad hand. Even a bad poem can make you think, of course, and the theme of this one reminds me of Robert Herrick. It set me to thinking about some of the poetic tropes I’d like to talk about on the blog--in this case birds, and the ladies of Cavalier poetry. Coming soon, then! For now, my transcription:

Julia and her dead Robin
      By E. S. J-

Thou little thing, thou once didst sing
And cheer my Julias Heart;
Death struck the blow, and thou didst go,
But I felt Robins dart.
Thy song so sweet, did morning greet,
And wak’d me oft from sleep;
Now like a thief, comes sullen Grief,
And wakes me but to weep.
Thy infant age in that sad Cage,
I reard with tender Love;
Sweet as the Glade, thy House I made,
And peacefull as the Grove.
Now all alone, for thou art gone,
Thy harmless breath is stopt
For evry song, that thou hast sung,
A Tear hath Julia dropt.
Yet Robin hear, the fate is near,
Of me as well as thee;
Some Angels Breast will be thy rest,
But mine must sorrow be.
Yet hopes I have, that from the Grave,
We both shall rise at last;
To sing in bliss, and with a kiss,
Forget the woe’s thats past. [sic]

[Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Osborn Shelves Poetry Boxes, Box 10, Item 55]