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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

5 - Wild Honey from Various Thyme: apian aestheticism and the lyric book collection


The fin de siècle is notorious for its fascination with the beautifully presented book, and one of the glorious aspects of reading Michael Field's poetry is the contact with the book objects themselves. Whether it's the vellum cover of Long Ago, the russet suede cover of Whym Chow: Flame of Love or the gilt-embossed green silk of Wild Honey, there is overwhelming evidence that the presentation of their poetry was of the utmost importance to Bradley and Cooper. Any study of the poetry must engage, at some point, with the book object: the qualities of its physical production (the cover design, for example), as well as its production history and the arrangement of poems within the collection. All of these aspects inform my study of a volume usually neglected by critics: Wild Honey from Various Thyme.

A glance at this book will explain immediately why I have married this approach with this particular text. The cover design is striking, with a dark-green silk embossed with a simple repeated gilt bee and honeycomb woodcut, designed by Charles Ricketts, with a corresponding motif of bees and flower-bells on the spine. Bradley and Cooper's letters to Charles Ricketts and John Gray, as well as their diaries, are full of their plans for this book, and particularly its name and cover. The design was completed not without some trouble. Ricketts had great difficulty drawing the bees that Bradley and Cooper so desired:

Your request for a book cover also fills me with grief and consternation [….] Not only do I object to drawing all the little cells in the honeycomb (the proper word is sells) but I find that I must go to the Natural History Museum to ascertain what a bee looks like. […]

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