Poetry News

The case of the mysterious 500 year old poem found in West Virginia

By Harriet Staff

Elaine Treharne, on faculty at Florida State, found quite a treasure in the West Virginia University Library Rare Books Room: a poem by Elizabeth Dacre, over 500 years old, with quite the story behind it. The entire piece can be found here, but here's a taste:

The mystery began more than 500 years ago in England.

But it surfaced in recent months in an unlikely place – the Rare Book Room in West Virginia University’s Charles C. Wise Library.

It remains unsolved.

Was Elizabeth Dacre’s poem an academic exercise in copying the style of love?

Or was the erotic poem telling her own story?

Even with these unanswered questions, the discovery goes beyond a captivating tale and points to the practical concerns of today’s research University: the need for research in every discipline, the importance of gifts to a University and the sheer surprise of what might hide around the next corner or on the next page.

But that is jumping ahead of the story.

It starts with the discovery of a mystery – during a guest lecture to WVU students last summer by Florida State University faculty member Elaine Treharne.

She and the students headed to the Rare Book Room on the sixth floor of the Downtown Library where Treharne happened to open a 1561 edition of works by Geoffrey Chaucer that includes The Canterbury Tales.

She opened it, and saw the Latin poem pasted in the back of the book.

From that moment, time works backward.

Go read the story in all its detail on love, loss, women's role in education, politics and more. And that's not all, you can also read the poem itself, look at photos, and listen to audio. Amazing.

Originally Published: December 13th, 2011