Monday, August 7, 2023

Philip James Bailey

Philip James Bailey (1816―1902) is a Victorian poet primarily known for his extensive 1839 poem Festus, a version of the Faust legend, which he later revised for a second edition in 1845. Festus was very popular ― gaining admiration from such poets as Tennyson, Longfellow, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning ― but his subsequent books did not sell well. When these further books failed to gain popularity, Bailey tried to incorporate extracts from several of these poems into Festus, wherever he could make the lines fit, which extended the poem with every new edition.

Mischa Willet has edited a new critical edition of Festus (2021, Edinburgh University Press) based on the first American edition of 1845. He explains, “The poem explores themes of love, faith, and redemption, as well as the relationship between God and humanity. It also reflects the tensions between traditional religious values and the emerging scientific and secular worldviews of the time, as well as the social and economic upheavals that accompanied the Industrial Revolution.” This is the first new edition of the work in over a century.

Philip James Bailey travelled extensively in his later years ― living in London and Devon before returning to his birthplace in Nottingham. He was buried in Nottingham Rock Cemetery.

The following poem is from his collection The Angel World and Other Poems (1850).

A Ruin

In a cot-studded, fruity, green deep dale,
There grows the ruin of an abbey old;
And on the hill side, cut in rock, behold
A sainted hermit's cell; so goes the tale.
What of that ruin? There is nothing left
Save one sky-framing window arch, which climbs
Up to its top point, single stoned, bereft
Of prop or load. And this strange thing sublimes
The scene. For the fair great house, vowed to God,
Is hurled down and unhallowed; and we tread
O'er buried graves which have devoured their dead;
While over all springs up the green-lifed sod,
And arch, so light and lofty in its span―
So frail, and yet so lasting―tis like man.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.