Profile: Jim Doelman

Brescia English professor strikes poetry gold by identifying George Herbert poem

james_doelman_with_herbert_book_horEvery now and again a researcher will make a significant discovery when looking for something else entirely, and the discovery proves to be significant.  When examining a manuscript in the British Library, Jim Doelman discovered that George Herbert was the author of the poem –– On the death of Mr. Barker of Hammon, and his wife who dyed both together. The poem had been misidentified many years ago.

To authenticate his finding, Doelman conducted some scholarly detective work and discovered someone else had misidentified those initials. Doelman also established that the poem was written about Herbert’s aunt and uncle who died within months of each other. The poem has never appeared in any anthology or journal as Herbert’s because of the misidentification of those initials, so this was a significant discovery. Dr. Doelman states “It’s one of these moments when you feel like a detective who has found the evidence”.

After the discovery was authenticated by the scholarly community, Doelman published an article about his finding in an issue of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), a weekly journal of literary culture and reviews. The poem will be fully verified when it is included in the next published anthology of Herbert’s work.

“One of the reasons I do so much work with manuscripts is that fact that there are thousands of poems that have never received scholarly attention. It keeps things fresh when we make new discoveries.”