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Christmas verse.

by John Begg; Abraham Colish; Arnold Bank; Oxford University Press,; A. Colish (Firm),; J.S. Cushing & Co.,; Haddon Craftsmen, Inc.,; Kurt H. Volk Inc.,;

  Print book : Poetry

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Christmas Verses - Typography Rules Through the Centuries   (2009-11-14)


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by JaneYett


Christmas Verses - And Typography! - Through the Centuries

Christmas Verses -  And Typography! - Through the Centuries


Review of Christmas Verses, University of Oxford Press, New York, 1945, for WorldCat, November 2009, by Jane Yett


Clearly a labor of love, Christmas Verses races through centuries of Christmas poetry, but, more importantly in this book, through centuries of manuscript and typography styles, passionately cradled in the book by avowed Typophiles

The script itself, changing with the the dates of the verses, evolves toward an ever more simple style, through 16 poems. The first is hand-written calligraphy, for the medieval verse in Latin, "RHYTHMUS DE NATIVITATE DOMINI", and the last is Times New Roman font, "the most recent innovation in English type design...with the sharp cutting" that makes it new.  

The up-to-date font is used with as sharp a poem, T.S. Eliot's steady "Journey of the Magi":  "A cold coming we had of it...The ways deep and the weather sharp...And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory, Lying down in the melting snow."

Through the centuries, the poetry moves around the stable, like a camera gliding around the set of a Hollywood movie, describing the scene from angles unaware. Even with the poems set in a row in the book, their angles are too stubborn for the lines to join.

One verse describes "a silly tender depth of dirty mire."

In contrast, in what I would call "The Breast Song," a more recent romanticism by Hawker, King Arthur's waes-haelers are instructed to combine partying with reverence for a perfect breast, certainly with no thought of mire. Guests fill their reeds with wine from a lidded bowl, rounded to resemble Mary's breast, "meant, with a touching simplicity, to blend the thought of our Christmas gladness with the earliest nurture of the child Jesus...thus glowed the breast...Drink-hael! so Jesu pressed Life from its mystic spring..."

The progress and wobble of Christmas verse through time raises the question of whether the book is all about the same religion, except that the main characters keep the same names.

Excellent as the poetry is, the poems, and the Christmas theme, are just transports, like toast is just the transport for a good plum jam. The obvious joy of the book's creators is in the typography, which shifts for each poem.

The creators of this lovely, small, and rare book are  "Typophiles Running Rampant Through the Centuries," with the joy of sharing an obscure art. A note at the back says the first 330 copies are for distribution to the Typophiles, capital "T", suggesting an organization, with a lot of members, or with a few who eagerly stuff the Christmas stockings of their loved ones with Christmas Verses, ever hoping to hear the echo of a shared joy. Over half a Century later, a few of the little books remain, in a few libraries, and a copy found its random way to me. What a delight to hold and read the pamphlet, a transport for viewing centuries of culture.

And now it's digitized. Enjoy.



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