National Poetry Day – Illuminated Poetry Manuscripts

Today, October 8th, is National Poetry Day in the UK. The theme for this year’s events is Light in recognition of 2015 being the UN International Year of Light (and Light-based Technologies). The United Nations observance aims to raise awareness of the achievements of light science and its applications, and its importance to humankind.  Colour and illumination are obviously key concepts in thinking about light. And though we do not have any scientific archives that exemplify light we do have some poetry which is both exquisitely written and beautifully illustrated. These are part of the Persian manuscript collection and although I do not have the expertise to read them, I can certainly marvel at the time, skill and patience involved in their creation.

Firstly a copy of Bustan, a moral poem by Musharrif ud-Din Sa di Shirazi. This copy is undated and though the script is fairly plain, the cover is beautiful:

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Persian Manuscript 246 is entitled Panj Ganj or Khamsah Nizami. It contains the five principal poems of Nizami Ganjavi but besides the poetry it has beautifully illuminated first pages and is illustrated with paintings:

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This particular version has written on one of its front pages that it was presented to the RAS by Lieutenant Colonel (Charles Joseph) Doyle, one of the original members of the Society.

The next manuscript I have chosen is another copy of  some of Nizami Ganjavi’s poems, Makhzan al-Asrar and Laila Majnun dating to AH 882 (CE 1477). This has on one of its front pages the signature R.M Binning, An Indian civil servant who also donated manuscripts to other academic libraries. Again it contains some beautiful illustrations:

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And finally a Shah Namah. Though our most spectacular Shah Namah is currently housed at Cambridge University Library, we still have this beautiful copy. It has 14 full-page coloured miniatures and other page decorations  and is a Mughal manuscript dating from the early 17th century.

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So, not many words from me on this blog but lots of “illumination”. All these manuscripts and are other collections are available to view and study in our Reading Room. Please do contact if you would like to find out more.