Treasures of the TPNHA Collection - Scott Cleary

Treasures of the TPNHA Collection – Scott Cleary

When Iona College was given the Thomas Paine National Historical Association Collection in 2013, it became the world’s second-largest archive of materials related to the American revolutionary, citizen of the world, and putative founding father Thomas Paine. Also included with that Paine–related material were documents and photographs created by William van der Weyde, founder of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, notable turn-of-the century photographer and photo-journalist, and occasional poet. Still uncatalogued, van der Weyde’s materials are a hidden gem in the Ryan Library archive, ready and willing for any archivist and researcher to explore.

As my students will tell you, and I repeat ad nauseum, I am a “poetry guy.” I enjoy reading and talking about poetry, and I especially relish teaching it to unsuspecting undergraduates. When I first discovered that van der Weyde had written and published poetry under the pseudonym William Manley, I was intrigued by what he could have written. I was pleasantly surprised to find a poet of moderate ability, and whose manuscript poetry reveals a passionate, intense, self-reflectively romantic (not Romantic) poet whose verse, while not reaching heights sublime or cottages ruined, is nonetheless an intriguing mix of pathos and delight.

My contribution to this Iona College English Department blog will be small glimpses at van der Weyde’s poetry specifically, and the joys of discovering manuscript and typescript poetry generally. First up is this short poem from 1890.

Courtesy of the TPNHA Collection, Ryan Library, Iona College

It is a Valentine’s card writ poetic. Perhaps a little heavy on the opening line’s “doth,” the poem’s luminescent imagery, coupled with the anthropomorphized “day,” leads nicely into a kind of delayed zeugma, where the day’s smile alights both the new and true love, but likewise the poem’s central symbol for that love: “fond hearts united.”

The next stanza shifts the ground quickly and engages in a tonal and narrative position van der Weyde takes in a number of his poems: that of both defense and competition. It will surprise no reader to learn that van der Weyde had a few marriages, and his poetry is infused with pervasive, creeping doubt about his ability to love, and his lover’s desire to love him. Those are differences without distinction for van der Weyde, and in this poem the plaintive tone of those first two lines, “Then may not I, with lover’s vie,/ To call this fair day mine” are a surprise. Having just left “fond hearts united,” the reader now encounters the narrator calling the “day” “fair’ and “mine” and not his lover. The displacement of both beauty and possession from lover to the still smiling (presumably) day, almost perfectly represents a contemporary Valentine’s anxiety, where the Valentine is not as important as the object purchased, the experience reserved, or the memories created. The day itself, not the one loved or loving, is the object of affection.

This is why the narrator both “yearns” and “learns,” because to learn to yearn is the real meaning of Valentine’s Day. The rhyme hides the abiding sorrow,  and the reader notes what is both yearned and learned. Not true love. Not self-giving. Nothing save “To be your Valentine.” Nothing save a self -induced state wholly dependent on the absent (in the poem) love of and for the other. And so, in this poem with absences, displacements, and altered states, van der Weyde expresses the essential heart of  pre- (post) modern love.

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