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‘Little Things’: Poetry, the Periodical Press, and Good Words
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Over the past 9 months, I have read a lot periodical poetry, focusing on the illustrated (and unillustrated) poetry published in the Cornhill Magazine, Once a Week, and now Good Words.  My research has surprised me as I am beginning to understand periodical poetry as central to the development and cohesion of a periodical’s literary identity.

This function of poetry is evident in all of the aforementioned periodicals; however, it is, perhaps, most obvious in the religious periodical Good Words, which asserts its purpose and editorial agenda in the very format of the periodical.  For example, each volume (of the first three volumes at least) opens with an editorial address written by Norman Macleod and each issue (as far as I can tell) concludes with a section titled “Good Words for Everyday in the Year” (or a variation thereof).  In thinking about what to write for VPN, the brief editorial opening the January 1860 made me pause.  Macleod writes, “we ask our readers to unite with us in expressing the honest prayer before God, that ‘good words,’ and good words only, may be published from week to week in these pages—words of truth and soberness, wisdom and love, such as will help make this year a good one to us all, and each succeeding year of our existence still better” (1: 1).  Macleod includes all the contents of the periodical under this mandate, and, indeed, the poetry does contribute this overall vision.

The first poem published in the periodical is a short lyric titled “Little Things.”  It is worth quoting in full:

Scorn not the slightest word or deed,

Nor deem it void of power;

There’s fruit in each wind-wafted seed,

Waiting its natal hour.

A whisper’d word may touch the heart,

And call it back to life;

A look of love bid sin depart,

And still unholy strife.

No act falls fruitless; none can tell

How vast its power may be,

Nor what results unfolded dwell

Work, and despair not: give thy mite,

Nor care how small it be;

God is with all who serve the right,

The holy, true, and free.

Preceding the final section of the issue (“Good Words for Every Day of the Year”), the poem succinctly affirms the periodical’s editorial agenda (and, by extension, the power of language), noting that each word or deed contains the potential to “touch the heart / And call it back to life” (1: 15) or to make sin depart.  The placement of the poem further compliments the content of the poem and its connection to the periodical’s editorial agenda.  It appears just before the recurring feature “Good Words for Every Day of the Year,” which presents readers with excerpts from the Bible followed my an interpretive and didactic paragraph.  This last section offers a reading and mediation for each day, emphasizing the moral power of good words to prompt religious or Christian thoughts and behaviors.

The potential of literature, language, and faith described in the poem thus appears to be one of the main tenets of the periodical, and I hope to explore it further.  For now, such networks and inter-periodical connections help to develop my understanding of poetry’s central role in the development and affirmation of a periodical’s literary identity.

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