Thought for the Day: 19th century poetry and the daily newspaper

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Newspaper clippings are a common type of content in larger collections of personal or family papers. Though a lot of them help record news about the family or about important current events, many are simply interesting pieces of writing someone wanted to remember.

Poetry was a pretty common interest for late 19th c. newspaper clippers, if our collections are any indication. Especially thought-provoking or inspirational poems were often gathered together with other quotes into a single section, with a title like “Thought for the Day.”

Though the poems might be written by local celebrities, they were more frequently culled from previously published work by popular poets of the day, such as Eugene Field, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

ella wheeler wilcox poem

Still other poems come from writers many of us still read in English class. For example, Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was still apparently quite popular around the turn of the 20th century:

wordsworth poem

As was Percy Shelley (1792-1822).

Shelley, from Prometheus Unbound

This is an abridged version of the final stanza of his verse drama Prometheus Unbound (1820), given in its entirety here:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than Death or Night;
To defy Power, which seems Omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change nor falter nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan! is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life; Joy, Empire, and Victory!

Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1882), is perhaps the most common among the clipped. The 1847 poem given below is actually titled “Tears, Idle Tears,” but the heading it was given for the newspaper is maybe more descriptive:

tennyson poem

Fellow Victorian Robert Browning (1812-1889) is known for verse that was the opposite of uplifting and inspirational, so it’s not surprising that the poem we find as a “Thought for the Day” is among the best of the minority. “Rabbi Ben Ezra” (1864) so moved John Lennon, for example, that he wrote a love song based on it, “Grow Old With Me“. This is the poem’s first stanza:

robert browning poem

Robert’s wife, fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), is probably even more famous, especially for this sonnet, number 43 of her Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850):

elizabeth barrett browning poem

Popular American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), best known for “Paul Revere’s Ride” and The Song of Hiawatha, also pops up from time to time, as seen in this lesser-known 1878 poem:

longfellow poem

Rudyard Kipling of Jungle Book fame is represented by “The Vampire” inspired by a painting by artist Philip Burne-Jones:

kipling poem

Kipling’s poem (and Burne-Jones’s painting) came out in 1897, bringing us up to within a few years of when these works appeared in the newspapers they were clipped from. It reminds us that late 19th and early 20th century folks found real, everyday value in poetry, from the tried and true to more recent offerings. They held familiar lines in their hearts the same way we collect song lyrics or movie quotes. I bet if Facebook had been around 100 years ago, they would’ve made fantastic GIFs and memes. 🙂

To find clippings of all sorts in Acumen, enter into the search bar genre:clippings. For more poetry, enter subject:poetry.

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