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A Masterwork in Poetry and Illustration Comes to the Rare Book Room

Stephen Crane, perhaps best known for his novel “The Red Badge of Courage,” read by high schoolers in English classes all over America, is less well known for a volume of poetry titled “War is Kind.” 

Published in 1899 by New York publishers F.A. Stokes & Company, in an era when book covers were decorated with gold and colored inks and poetry often rhymed, Crane’s volume of poetry received a different visual and artistic treatment that, when combined with his verse, make this volume a masterwork. 

The cover of “War is Kind” by Stephen Crane

The cover of “War is Kind” by Stephen Crane

The Libraries purchased the book with funds provided by an endowment given to the Rare Book Room by donor Robert D. Hughes, a WVU graduate who received a Master of Arts Degree in Learning Sciences in 1977. Along with an endowment to be used for the purchase of rare books and book conservation, Hughes left his own extensive personal collection of rare books as well as his collection of the letters of literary authors to WVU’s Rare Book Collection at the Wise Library. 

A poem lamenting the death of husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, Crane’s “War is Kind” recalls the immense loss of life during the Civil War. Though he was born after the war, it figured prominently in his literary works. Crane’s prodigious output is remarkable for a writer whose brief life tragically ended at age 28 from tuberculosis. 

Do not weep maiden, for war is kind. Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky And the affrighted steed ran on alone, Do not weep. War is kind. “War is Kind” by Stephen Crane

“War is Kind” was released months before he died in June 1900. A brief five stanzas, the poem is laid out across the pages of the book rather than on a single page. 

The beauty of Crane’s poetry  is equaled by the beauty of the art and the handmade blue paper that forms the text. Will H. Bradley, the artist who created the illustrations and the cover’s design for the book was, and remains, one of America’s premier artists, well known for his poster art and his magazine, the Chap-Book. 

According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bradley’s influences included the Japanese aesthetic so popular at the time. As a master of the poster style, Bradley worked “in flat, broad color planes and cropped forms,” which is evident from the cover illustration. His style drew upon the Art Nouveau movement as well as the work of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. 

To experience this remarkable volume first hand, please contact Stewart Plein, curator of rare books and printed resources, for an appointment to view this beautiful work of art and poetry.