Edward Bawden’s lithographs for ‘Travellers’ Verse’ must have seemed incredibly exotic to the readers of this anthology of poetry when it was published in 1946. In the grey post-war years of rationing and limited travel these colourful images must have provided a sense of escapism, featuring as they do Oriental temples and mosques, kites soaring above the Acropolis, statues of river gods in Rome, blue Norwegian fjords and Venetian palazzi. The verse was chosen by M.G. Lloyd Thomas and the book features poems by the likes of Edmund Spencer, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Lord Byron and Thomas Gray. The images are decorations rather than direct illustrations, although some relate closely to particular poems. Bawden had been an Official War Artist posted to the Middle East during the Second World War so perhaps his experiences fed into these images.
The volume was part of a series called ‘New Excursions into English Poetry’ which was edited by W.J. Turner and Sheila Shannon and printed at the Curwen Press. The series formed a highlight of English book illustration and also included ‘The Poet’s Eye’ with John Craxton’s wonderful romantic decorations and ‘English, Scottish & Welsh Verse’ with landscapes by John Piper. A few years ago I wrote a book called ‘Poets in the Landscape:The Romantic Spirit in British Art’ which featured several of these illustrated poetry anthologies, but these days it is so hard to find an affordable copy that has not been chopped up. It’s a shame that projects like this happen so rarely today - except perhaps for those by the Enitharmon Press and a few other enlightened publishers.