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Poetry from the Year 420

By Harriet Staff

OK, actually it was published in 1620, but we couldn’t resist. Stephen J. Gertz, for the BookTryst blog, writes about English poet John Taylor, whose epic poem “In Praise of Hemp-seed,” catalogs the benefits and uses of cannabis:

“Apothecaries were not worth a pin,
If Hempseed did not bring their commings in;
Oyles, Unguents, Sirrops, Minerals, and Baulmes,
(All nature’s treasures, and th’Almighties almes),
Emplasters, Simples, Compounds, sundry drugs
With Necromanticke names like fearful Bugs,
Fumes, Vomits, purges, that both cures, and kils,
Extractions, conserves, preserves, potions, pils,
Elixirs, simples, compounds, distillations,
Gums in abundance, brought from foreign nations.”

And though Taylor’s poem, like one of those nights when one might have been really really really high, has now been nearly forgotten, Gertz points out that in his own time, Taylor was a popular poet, and even centuries later, kept the collectors buzzed:

It is a measure of how literary reputations, popularity, and book collecting tastes ebb and flow that in 1902 a copy of the 1630 folio edition of The Workes of John Taylor sold for an astounding half of what a Shakespeare Second Folio (1632) fetched, 100% more than what a first edition of John Donne’s Poems (1633) sold for in the same year (Out of Print & Into Profit, p. 203).


Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011 by Harriet Staff.